Over the past few years the Flyers have started drafting and developing their own defensemen. After losing Chris Pronger to a career ending injury, losing out on Ryan Suter, and being unable to pry Shea Weber out of Nashville, the Flyers realized that they may not be able to replace the top end of their blue-line immediately.
Therefore, in the first three rounds of the 2012-2014 drafts, the Flyers spent 5 of 9 picks on defensemen (3 picks of forwards and 1 goalie). Right now, the top prospects in the Flyers system are defensemen. That may change later this month, but for now, defensemen dominate the ranks.
Unlike my 10-6 rankings, this is the list will surely cause some debate and disagreement. Every Flyers fan has an opinion on these prospects who have been nicknamed ‘The Four Horsemen’ or ‘The Big Four.’ They will each be featured on this list and I’m sure many readers will disagree with my rankings.
Like the 10-6 rankings, I have based the list on three criteria. It is based upon where they currently are in their development, what tools they have (size, skating, smarts, etc), and how good they can become (their ceiling).
5. Robert HaggPosition: Defense (left)
Size: 6’2″ – 204lbs
2014-2015 League: AHL
2014-2015 Team: Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Statistics: 69GP – 3G, 17A – 20P
NHL Projection: Hagg projects as a smooth skating two-way defenseman. Although he has some offensive skill, he will likely be more of a defensive defenseman at the professional level.
The Flyers 2nd round pick in the 2013 Draft has had a bumpy ride as a prospect. In the summer of 2012, he was being projected as a top 10 pick in the 2013 draft. An up and down 2012-2013 campaign left Hagg somewhere in the late 1st round/early 2nd round discussions. Therefore, when he was sitting there at the 41st overall pick, he was too good for Philly to pass up.
Hagg has a good set of tools with which to work. He has decent size, is a smooth skater, has an underrated slap shot, and makes smart decisions with the puck (when he is focused). He logged plenty of minutes on the penalty kill last year and put up respectable numbers offensively.
However, unlike the other prospects, there is no one area in which Hagg is elite. He has the potential to be a good NHLer and he is still very young. It is also worth noting that he is the only Flyers prospect who has been playing professionally for the past three years.
Therefore, it is little bit more difficult to get a read on Hagg and his development. Overall, he may be the closest Flyers defenseman to the NHL.
4. Oskar Lindblom
Position: Left Wing
Size: 6’1″ – 192lbs
2014-2015 League: SHL
2014-2015 Team: Brynas
Statistics: 37GP – 8G, 7A – 15P
NHL Projection: Although he may never be the type of forward who can carry a line, he could turn into a tremendous complimentary piece. He could become a big, skilled, top-six forward. His skating will need some work.
When all is said and done, many will say that I have put Lindblom too high on this list. However, I believe that he was one of the steals of the 2014 draft.
Lindblom was not an unknown commodity heading into the 2014 Draft. In fact, in many circles, he was a potential 2nd round pick. However, as scouts began to pick apart his skating, his draft stock fell. The Flyers were able to pick up Lindblom with their 5th round selection.
Not only did Lindblom put up solid numbers in the SHL as an 18 year old (his birthday is very late, he will turn 19 in August), but he was also one of the top performers at the World Junior Championships. In the WJC tournament, many players were over one year older than Lindblom, yet he still managed to earn nine points (4G, 5A) in seven games.
I will concede that Lindblom benefited from linemates Wiliams Nylander and Adrian Kempe (both 1st round selections in the 2014 Draft). But Lindblom was still a top line forward for the team and showed that he can hold his own with the top forwards of his age group in the world. I know many will disagree with how high I have Lindblom, but I could not be more pumped about this kid.
3. Shayne GostisbeherePosition: Defense (left)
Size: 5’11” – 160lb7
2014-2015 League: AHL (2 game NHL call-up)
2014-2015 Team: Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Statistics: 5GP – oG, 5A – 5P
NHL Projection: Gostisbehere projects as a top-four, puck moving defenseman who can quarterback a power play. His size may limit him from being relied upon for huge minutes at the NHL level.
If not for a ACL injury that cost “Ghost” much of the year, I doubt we would still be talking about him among the prospects this summer. Gostisbehere has the most electrifying skills of any Flyers defense prospect, and maybe any Flyers prospect in general.
During training camp and the NHL preseason Gostisbehere looked like he could be NHL ready. During his abbreviated AHL season he averaged a point per game and played in all situations for the Phantoms.
As an undersized defenseman, Ghost may not quite have the ceiling as some of the other prospects. One must also take into account the fact that he missed almost an entire year of games. Therefore, I have placed him third on the list. But, if he can make a full recovery and get back to the level of skating and speed he once had, he may end up being even better than the man I’ve placed at number two.
2. Samuel MorinPosition: Defense (left)
Size: 6’7″ – 225lbs
2014-2015 League: QMJHL
2014-2015 Team: Rimouski Oceanic
Statistics: 38GP – 5G, 27A – 32P
NHL Projection: Samuel Morin has the potential to be a top four defensive defenseman. His skating and size make him an ideal defenseman for a “shutdown” role in today’s NHL.
Although he is not as flashy as some of the players who were left on the board when the Flyers picked him 11th in the 2013 NHL Draft, Samuel Morin has proven to be a solid pick up for the Flyers.
Despite the hype that surrounds Morin’s “meanness” and/or “nastiness” and/or “Flyers-like-ness,” what makes Morin such an intriguing prospect is his package of size, skating, and decent skill. Morin is not a “shutdown” defenseman in the mold of players like Nicklas Grossmann or Brooks Orpik. Rather, he uses his skating and long reach to his advantage in a manner similar to a player like Braydon Coburn.
Charlie O’Connor put it well in this series of tweets:
Morin’s skillset *should* help him protect the blue line – good speed so he can be aggressive w/long reach w/o worrying about being burned.
— Charlie O’Connor (@BSH_THG_Charlie) May 29, 2015
Grossmann/Schenn have good size. But they get burned defending entries because they have to give space or else skaters will blast by them.
— Charlie O’Connor (@BSH_THG_Charlie) May 29, 2015
In terms of defensive ability, Morin can use his long reach to deny entry into the offensive zone, while also using his skating ability to keep forwards to the outside. Therefore, even when he fails to deny zone entry, he will not get burned off the rush. His immense physical presence and/or active stick can muscle forwards off of the puck deep in the defensive zone to regain possession. Then his great first pass can kick start the breakout.
The player I just described is what teams should look for in shutdown defensemen. Instead of relying on skill-less, slow moving glaciers, teams should be targeting smooth skating, smart defensemen. Morin has the potential to be that guy.
If Morin can do all of the things listed above, then any offense he adds will just be icing on the cake. He may not be NHL ready next season, but when the time comes, Morin will be a key piece to the Flyers blue-line.
1. Travis Sanheim
Position: Defense (left)
Size: 6’3″ – 184lbs
2014-2015 League: WHL
2014-2015 Team: Calgary Hitmen
Statistics: 67GP – 15G, 50A – 65P
NHL Projection: Sanheim has the potential to be a top pairing, two-way defenseman. He possesses solid offensive instincts, good size, and is an incredible skater.
I will be the first to admit that I thought the Flyers were reaching when they used the 17th overall pick in 2014 to select Travis Sanheim. But as I examined Sanheim further, I became cautiously optimistic about the pick.
Sanheim did not disappoint. For the 2014-2015 season, he led the WHL is points by a defenseman, he won his team’s Top Defenseman award, and he was one of the final cuts of Canada’s World Junior Championships team (every defenseman who made the team was a year older than Sanheim).
Throughout the season Sanheim showed off his elite skating ability, an amazing offensive awareness, and he played top minutes for the Hitmen. We all know that Ron Hextall wants to be patient with prospects, but Sanheim seems to be improving faster than anyone has anticipated.
Of all of the Flyers defense prospects, Sanheim seems to be the most likely candidate to become that elusive top-pairing, two-way defenseman that the team has coveted since the loss of Chris Pronger.
It seems evident that the future of the Flyers blue-line is bright. It is frustrating to watch their current defensemen, knowing who they have in the pipeline. Even when these prospects finally hit the NHL, there will be a learning curve. But eventually, they will have their time to shine, and what a wonderful time that will be.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these rankings of Flyers prospects. I’d love to hear how you would rank them. Feel free to let me know in the comments section or on twitter.