Over the past three drafts, the Flyers have made a conscious effort to address the future of their defense. They’ve selected eleven defensemen in that span, after taking eleven defensemen total in the previous six drafts. The result is a cupboard flush with strong defensive prospects, but barren on offensive talent.
Hockey’s Future recently took a stab at giving out awards for the Flyers’ prospects this year, but I decided to take a different path towards evaluating them.
Best Offensive Forward: Scott Laughton
When your most skilled offensive forward’s best skill isn’t scoring goals, you know you’re lacking in offensive talent. Laughton possesses solid offensive instincts, but his ceiling is that of a 2nd line center. The more likely outcome for Laughton is that of a very strong 3rd line center that chips in 30-40 points per year.
An argument could be made for Jason Akeson, but there are a few factors that led to him not taking the award. 1. He’s unlikely to realize that potential, as his game without the puck prevents him from receiving consistent minutes in the NHL. 2. He is unsigned for next season, and it’s unclear whether the Flyers will even retain him. 3. In the only same-age (20), good comparable season Laughton outscored Akeson by 7 points in eleven fewer games in the OHL.
Best Defensive Forward: Scott Laughton
As mentioned, much of Laughton’s value is derived from his play away from the puck. He can kill penalties, is a strong two-way player, and plays an in-your-face style. He leads by example, and is a coach’s dream that can do it all on the ice.
Best Overall Forward: Scott Laughton
Safe to say that if you’re the organization’s best offensive and defensive prospect, you’re the best overall forward prospect.
Best Offensive Defenseman: Shayne Gostisbehere
This one was a tough call, but the diminutive defenseman from Florida got the decision here. His 2014-15 season was cut significantly short due to an ACL tear, but he flashed his offensive potential by putting up 5 assists in 5 games in the AHL before the injury.
A strong skater with a booming shot, Gostisbehere has power play quarterback written all over him. He put up 34 points in 42 games in his final season at Union, leading them to an NCAA title. In the championship game, he racked up a goal and two assists, and was an absurd +7.
Best Defensive Defenseman: Samuel Morin
The 6’7″ behemoth selected in 2013 has not seen his stock rise massively since the draft, but he continues to show signs of progress. He made the Canadian WJC team this year, but was mostly relegated to bottom pairing and spare defenseman duties. He filled those roles well, playing effectively on the penalty kill and in defensive situations.
In the QMJHL, he has been a key cog in the defense that brought Rimouski a title and berth in the Memorial Cup. Morin uses his size effectively to play the body, and his long stick blocks passing lanes. He’s a monster in front of the net and in the corners, but needs to work on his decision making with the puck.
Best Overall Defenseman: Travis Sanheim
The best prospect the Flyers have, Sanheim enjoyed a meteoric rise this season after barely being on anyone’s radar in 2013. He put up a combined 83 points in 84 games for the Calgary Hitmen in the regular season and playoffs.
A true “4 S” defenseman, Sanheim brings the size, skating, sense, and skill needed to be a #1 defenseman in the NHL today. He’s not overly physical, but plays a very smart game and uses his hockey sense to defend effectively. His best attribute is his skating, which is already NHL-level.
Best Goalie: Anthony Stolarz
With only two goaltending prospects in the system, this was an easy decision. Stolarz did not have a great rookie season on the AHL, but he was playing behind a very poor team in his first season. The two seasons prior, he registered save percentages of .920 or better playing for the London Knights of the OHL. Look for Stolarz to claim the starting role for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms next year.
In a recent interview, Flyers scouting director Chris Pryor stated the Flyers would look to add another goalie or two to the system in the 2015 Draft.
Make-or-Break in 2015-16: Petr Straka
Signed after a strong overage season in the QMJHL, Straka was advertised as a top six or bust player. He possesses good hands and skill, but lacks physicality and defensive awareness.
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) February 2, 2015
Entering the third year of his entry level contract, Straka saw his point totals decline by three in his second AHL season compared to his first, despite playing six more games. If Straka wants to earn another contract next summer, he must take charge and be one of the leaders of the Phantoms’ offense in 2015-16.
2015-16 Breakout Candidate: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
After a lukewarm start to the season, Aube-Kubel went on a tear in the second half of the season. He racked up 57 points in 37 games, then tacked on another 15 in the playoffs. Equally adept as a passer and scorer, Aube-Kubel has good wheels and plays a responsible two-way game.
If he can continue to improve next season, he’ll cement himself as a legitimate top six forward prospect.
What About the 2015 Draft?
Of course, it’s likely whoever the Flyers pick at #7 overall will immediately lay claim to at least one of these awards. Ron Hextall has already said it’s likely the Flyers will select a forward at #7, and he’ll likely immediately become the Flyers’ best offensive and overall forward prospect.