Stock Watch for Philadelphia Flyers' Top 5 Prospects
For the first time in a long time, the prospect pool for the Philadelphia Flyers is well stocked and awfully encouraging.
On the heels of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers have now chosen a player in the first and second round of the draft in three straight years for the first time in more than 25 years.
A club starved for a franchise defender, Philadelphia has used each of its last two first-round selections on promising young blueliners and those players add to a prospect pool that features a series of solid, two-way forwards and a hulking netminder.
The Flyers don't appear to have any instant, high-impact youngsters but rather, a solid crop of up-and-coming talent with which to build around.
Here's a look at the stock watch for Philly's top five prospects.
Scott Laughton, Forward
The best forward in Philadelphia's farm system, Scott Laughton is a legitimate contender to join the Flyers full-time this season.
The 20th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the 6'1", 190-pound center has spent each of the last two seasons with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and has seen his offensive production increase across the board through those two campaigns.
Laughton closed the 2012-13 season with a then-career-high 23 goals and 56 points before topping each of those totals last year with a 40-goal, 87-point campaign.
The Oakville, Ontario native doesn't project as a big-time point producer at the NHL level, but his strong two-way game, competitive motor and tenacious work ethic should translate into third and fourth-line minutes at the game's highest level for many years to come.
With Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Vincent Lecavalier and newly acquired R.J. Umberger, the Flyers already have a plethora of centers on their roster. Still, the 20-year-old Laughton appears set to join their ranks and should see time as Philly's fourth-line center this season.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Defense
Defense is the strongest position in Philadelphia's farm system, and Shayne Gostisbehere is the most NHL-ready of any of the Flyers' defensive prospects.
Philly's third-round pick (78th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Gostisbehere has spent the last three seasons at Union College and has developed into one of college hockey's most dynamic blueliners during that time.
The Margate, Fla., native has increased his goal, assist and point production over each of the last three years culminating in a nine-goal, 25-assist and 34-point campaign a season ago. For his efforts, Gostisbehere finished third among all Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) defensemen in scoring and was one of the key spark plugs in Union's run through the Frozen Four and the 2014 Men's Ice Hockey Championship.
At 5'11", 170 pounds, Gostisbehere is a bit undersized by NHL standards but uses his dynamic skating and above-average hockey sense to compensate for any lack of physical stature.
With Kimmo Timonen back for another season and Nick Schultz signed via free agency, Philadelphia's blue line remains a bit crowded. Timonen, Schultz, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann should all qualify for regular minutes on Philly's back end next year.
Still, Gostisbehere is ready for the next level and should split time between the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the coming season.
Samuel Morin, Defense
While Gostisbehere is the most NHL-ready among Philadelphia's defensive prospects, Samuel Morin is the Flyers' blue-line prospect with the greatest upside.
The 11th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Morin is a monster on the back end.
At just 19 years old, the St. Henri, Quebec native is already 6'7" and 210 pounds. He's a strong skater with a long reach who plays with a physical edge.
Morin has spent each of the last three seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and has developed and improved his overall game during that time.
After zero goals and just eight total points in 62 games during his rookie season in 2011-12, Morin responded with four goals, 16 points and 117 penalty minutes in 46 games two seasons ago before finishing with a career-high seven goals, 31 points and 121 penalty minutes last year.
With still two years of junior eligibility remaining, Morin is still at least a season or two away from joining the Flyers on a full-time basis. That said, it wouldn't be a surprise if the hulking defender was ready to begin his professional career in Lehigh Valley this fall. If not, he'll enjoy another campaign in Rimouski before joining the Phantoms a year from now.
Stock: Holding Steady
Travis Sanheim, Defense
One of the newest members of the Philadelphia Flyers, Travis Sanheim is already one of the orange and black's most promising prospects.
The 17th overall selection in June's NHL Entry Draft, Sanheim is a 6'3", 180-pound blueliner who is solid in virtually every aspect of the game.
An above-average skater on the back end, the Elkhorn, Manitoba native is an offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman with great vision. On a very strong Calgary Hitmen team, Sanheim chipped in five goals and 29 points in 67 games last season.
But the 18-year-old blueliner doesn't just excel on the offensive end.
He's solid positionally in his own zone and possesses good reach to negate scoring opportunities for the opposition. In his rookie season in the highly-competitive Western Hockey League (WHL), Sanheim posted a plus-25 rating and just 14 penalty minutes.
The young defenseman won't turn 19 until late March and still needs to develop into his solid frame, so expect him to enjoy at least another season or two with the Hitmen before the Flyers even consider moving him into the professional ranks.
Stock: Holding Steady
Anthony Stolarz, Goaltender
The best goaltending prospect in Philadelphia's farm system, Anthony Stolarz is likely only a year away from joining the Flyers on a full-time basis.
The 45th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Stolarz is a massive 6'6", 220-pound butterfly netminder with exceptional net coverage and strong lateral movement.
In 35 appearances with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, the Jackson, N.J., native registered a 25-5-2 overall record to go along with a 2.52 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. All told, Stolarz has notched 38 wins and just eight regulation losses in 55 games over two seasons with the Knights.
With Ray Emery re-signed to a one-year, $1 million deal, the role of Steve Mason's backup for the coming year appears set. But there are netminding jobs available in Lehigh Valley, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Stolarz begin his professional career with the Phantoms this Fall.
If all goes well this season, Philadelphia won't need to secure Mason's backup via free agency next summer. Instead, they'll simply promote Stolarz.