The Philadelphia Flyers’ 2016-17 season is all but over, so now is as good a time as any to look ahead at what general manager Ron Hextall might do to prepare his club for next year.
The Flyers won’t be Stanley Cup contenders in 2018, but they should be able to take a step forward with contributions from some of their prospects.
Improved Forward Depth
One of the Flyers’ most glaring needs is scoring. They’re especially weak at left wing. Michael Raffl’s 11 points make him the team’s highest-scoring player listed at that position. The next forward prospect to make the team may help fill that void – winger Oskar Lindblom, who plays for Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League.
He finished the season one goal behind the league leader. And now that his contract is up, he’s expected to make the jump to North America by next season. The Flyers may find it hard to turn away that kind of goal-scoring winger next season. And for what it’s worth, his teammates think he’s ready.
More Defensive Prospects
Even with Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov earning spots on the Flyers roster, the defensive pipeline is still far from dry. Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms may both make the team next year. Morin is 6’7” and weighs 227 pounds, and his physical game could be a nice complement to the Flyers’ defensive corps.
Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon told Sam Carchidi of Philly.com that Morin is going “to be a shutdown guy, a penalty killer. His focus isn’t about getting points. It’s about doing what he’s going to do in the NHL.”
Sanheim, meanwhile, would bring more offense to the blue line.
In 63 games with the Phantoms, the AHL rookie has put up 29 points. And that skill doesn’t come at the expense of size. The Phantoms list him at 6’4” and 199 pounds.
Flyers fans have reason to be excited about Morin and Sanheim. But The Hockey News wrote that if Philippe Myers keeps playing like he has been in the QMJHL, he might crack the roster before either of them. Myers was an undrafted free agent when the Flyers signed him, and that move looks like it will pay dividends.
After training camp, the Flyers may have some tough decisions to make regarding their defense. But that, as they say, is a good problem.
Future Starting Goalie?
Between the pipes, the Flyers will likely have a rookie prospect serving as backup to whoever winds up as the starter next year. Michal Neuvirth has a two-year deal, but the Flyers will have to expose a goalie in the upcoming expansion draft. The safest bet seems to be one of the Phantoms’ goalies, Anthony Stolarz or Alex Lyon. Neither has had a great year statistically, so the job may be entirely up for grabs at the start of training camp.
Providence beats #Phantoms, 7-3, as Lyon and Stolarz both are shelled. Laughton had his 14th goal.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) March 6, 2017
Help From the 2017 Draft
Before the Flyers determine their 2017-18 roster, though, they’ll make their picks at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. As it stands now, they’ll probably pick somewhere between 10 and 14.
Based on their current roster, the Flyers’ biggest hole is at left wing. Adam Kimelman predicts that the Flyers will draft 18-year-old Nikita Popugaev, a Russian currently playing for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. Although he’s 6’5” and weighs 202 pounds, scouting reports put more emphasis on his offensive skill than his physicality.
He has great skills and an excellent knack for the opposition’s crease. His ability to score is an asset and will help his NHL Entry Draft ranking. Paired with his frame, he is one of those players any NHL team would love to draft. However, despite his size, he is not a power forward, but he can create space for other players. (Alessandro Seren Rosso, The Hockey Writers)
Another possibility, if the Flyers get a high enough pick, is Maxime Comtois of the QMJHL Victoriaville Tigres. At 6’2” and 200 pounds, he’s another prospect with good size and good hands. What’s more, he can play all three forward positions, and he has a strong defensive game.
“He’s a pretty complete guy,” NHL Central Scouting’s Troy Dumville said. “He’s a big, strong guy and can play a lot of different roles on the team. He plays penalty kill, is good defensively and goes to the net hard. He’ll be a guy I can easily see being in the top 10.” (Adam Kimelman, NHL.com)
Hextall’s staff has done an impressive job so far. Whoever they take first this year will need time to develop, but he will likely have a significant impact on the team before long.