The 2019-20 NHL season served as a coming-out party of sorts for the Philadelphia Flyers. The calculated approach of former general manager Ron Hextall aided in restocking a baron cupboard of prospects over the last five years, but new GM Chuck Fletcher has taken things a step further. The team and its players finally made good on their immense potential, resulting in the number two spot in the league’s toughest division. The bruising tactics that made the organization famous have fallen by the wayside, now two-way play and offensive depth are the calling cards for this edition of the Flyers.
The season may yet be salvaged after the coronavirus shutdown, but with no concrete solutions in place, there is no harm in reading the tea leaves for next season. The club’s newfound success presents challenges for players on the fringe of the roster, mainly finding consistent minutes. Realistically, there will only be one or two roster spots up for grabs heading into next season, despite a surfeit of quality players within the organization waiting to ingratiate themselves to the coaching staff and management. These are the players on the bubble who will be vying for a roster spot next season.
The Flyers cut it pretty close in terms of getting Laczynski’s contract finished following his four-year career at Ohio State University. Originally a sixth-round pick in 2016, Laczynski has improved his stock immensely since then. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, plays a well-rounded game and has an above-average shot. He finished with 143 points in 138 collegiate games, but it has been speculated that the system that he played in at Ohio State may have stifled his offensive flair.
He has mostly played center up to this point in his young career, but a shift to the wing is not out of the question. Everything about his game, from his skating to his defense, seems to be pro-ready. Without any glaring flaws, he may have an edge heading into next season, though he may start his pro career with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Another recent signee, Wade Allison spent four years playing at Western Michigan University, where he tallied 98 points in 106 games. A winger, Allison has suffered injuries that slowed his progress; many believe that the Flyers intended to sign him to a contract sooner, but he opted to focus on recovery and finish his college career. He profiles as a power forward, standing at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, but he is also a shifty skater with a solid shot and good vision.
Allison is also a very vocal player, noticeable during the Flyers’ rookie camp last summer. While not exactly a hockey skill, strong communication is a good place to start for a first-year pro and being liked by teammates is always a good thing. If he can stay healthy, it will be fun to watch Allison’s high-energy style and persistence in getting to the front of the net at the next level. Also weighing in his favor: The Flyers never miss on ginger players. It had to be said.
The new kid on the block, Sandin went undrafted and has been playing professionally in Sweden for the last five years. The older brother of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin, Linus is a bit of a mystery heading into next season. He was tied for third in goals in the SHL last season with 19 in 51 games for HV-71, but will likely be a depth forward rather than a true scorer in the NHL.
The Flyers continue to be active scouting in Sweden, with several prospects playing professionally there. This leads to the belief that management was impressed by what they saw from Sandin, and likely wouldn’t have signed him if he was expected to spend the bulk of his time in the AHL. At this point, Sandin seems very Michael Raffl-esque with the potential for higher offensive output. If he can prove effective on the penalty kill, it would go a long way toward his roster permanence.
Frost made a strong impression in his 20-game stint with the Flyers this season, yet his roster spot for next season is not yet secured. He is undoubtedly the most highly-touted player on this list, but the team’s depth at center and the desire to have Frost play the position is the biggest obstacle to date.
Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes have a firm grasp on the number one and two center spots respectively and, upon his healthy return, Nolan Patrick will take the third-line center role, leaving just the fourth line as an option. Sure, the team could put Frost there and call it a day, but with a 20-year-old first-round pick with the potential to be a playmaking top-line center, this course of action may hurt his development more than help it.
Frost’s slick stickhandling, smooth skating stride and vision make him capable of playing on virtually any line. However, the team’s goal should be to maximize talent. His showed his ability to back-check in his time with the big club, an indication that he can and should stay at center at the highest level. The wing is an option, but the Flyers will be hard-pressed to find a way to get Frost in the lineup for good next season.
Bunnaman also got his first crack at the NHL this season and was mostly hitting his stride before the trade deadline. His point totals weren’t flashy, but he had developed chemistry while centering the fourth line alongside Nicholas Aube-Kubel and Raffl. The trio formed a strong possession line that was relentless on the forecheck.
This is exactly the model that teams look to emulate in their bottom offensive groupings: an energy line that can steal shifts. Even if the points never pick up for Bunnaman, he has shown that he can play a specific role in the NHL, which is no small feat. While not the most exciting option, he is up to the task at the bottom of the lineup.
Friedman’s place in the organization may very well be determined in the next few months. He has progressed from the college ranks to the AHL and has been a mainstay for the Phantoms for the last three seasons. He has some offensive skill, decent skating and is no liability in his own end. The trouble with Friedman is that the Flyers have invested a ton of draft capital in rebuilding their defense from scratch, meaning he’s been leap-frogged a few times by blue-chip prospects.
It is no fault of Friedman’s either. He has been consistent in the AHL, so much so that there isn’t anything left for him to prove at that level. In the handful of games he has seen in the NHL, he has been respectable if unremarkable, adhering to the adage that “if no one notices you on defense, you’re not making mistakes.” The Shayne Gostisbehere situation will have major implications for Friedman, as will Robert Hagg’s and Justin Braun’s contract negotiations. How the Flyers approach this offseason could be the difference between Friedman receiving an extension or not. He will be vying for the sixth or seventh defenseman spot.
Kase saw his first NHL action this season, playing in a meager six games for the Flyers. He scored just one goal but didn’t seem out of place. Playing on the fourth line, Kase showed off his strong skating ability and aggressive style of play. He has never been a potent scorer, even in lesser leagues, but he is the kind of player who frustrates opponents. He is not particularly physical, but he is always around the puck and makes smart reads to steal possession. He doesn’t make big mistakes, which makes him a solid choice for a fourth-line winger with good speed.
Much of what was said about Bunnaman can also be said about Twarynski. He had spurts of strong play on the fourth line this season and can be an effective forechecker. He is a power forward at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds and has shown offensive aptitude in the past.
He isn’t afraid to put the puck on net and has a decent shot. Consistency is the missing piece of the puzzle right now. He is primarily a winger, which helps his case, but even if he doesn’t make the team to start the season, he will likely remain near the top of the call-up list while in Lehigh Valley. He is an NHL player, however, finding the right role for him will be important.
Coming off major shoulder surgery, former first-round pick Rubtsov was gaining momentum before going down with an injury. He is a responsible two-way player that has been looking to reclaim some of the offense that made him a touted prospect.
How he recovers from surgery will help inform the Flyers’ final decision.
No one has had worse injury luck to start their career than Samuel Morin; he has torn his ACL twice. He is likely a bottom pair defenseman in the NHL, and his ability to maul people is also attractive for a team lacking some toughness, but health is the big question.
He has resumed skating after his most recent ACL tear and will look to bounce back heading into next season.
Zamula is heading into his first season as a pro. An undrafted free agent, he has flashed top-pair potential, especially in international play for Russia at the World Junior Championship. He suffered a season-ending back injury, but his ceiling remains lofty. He will be a player to watch in Lehigh Valley. If he succeeds there, the NHL may call for him sooner than later.
Competition Breeds Excellence
With so many prospects reaching the peak of their development at the same time, the roster decisions are getting tougher and tougher in Philadelphia. There will be several players who end up on the outside looking in that are capable of playing in NHL. Having this kind of depth is a good problem to have, but finding the ideal line combinations will be a challenge, especially with so many viable options for so few spots in the lineup. Chuck Fletcher has a contender on his hands, now he must fill in the last few blanks to complete a championship roster.
Temple University Graduate, Former hockey player and coach interested in all things Flyers