Over the past few seasons in addition to being obsessed with Flyers hockey and the rest of the NHL I became particularly interested in the NHL Draft and the scouting and preparation that goes with it. This past 2012 draft was the first one that I really dug into and from there it became an obsession. The draft, the junior leagues, the European leagues, I just love prospects. This segment will highlight a handful of Atlantic division prospects that you ought to know about this year and for the years to come. I’ll work backwards from the Islanders to the Flyers.
(For each player I will give an estimated time of arrival (ETA). Spring 2013 would be the start of this season. Fall 2013 is obviously the start of next season. Lots of these kids are in camp now and could potentially play in their five NHL games before their contracts kick in, but only the ones that I predict “Spring 2013” are the ones that I think will be playing for this full NHL season.)
Ryan Strome (6-0, 180lb. Center): The 5th pick in the 2011 draft (yes, he was taken a few picks before Couturier) spent last year in the OHL putting up 68 points in 45 games. This season while an alternate captain in juniors he picked up where he left off with 62 points in 32 games. He represented Canada for the past two years at the World Junior Championship totaling 9 points in 12 games. He’s an extremely skilled player that can dazzle with the puck as shown in this highlight here. He has truly elite potential and will be on the Island sooner rather than later. ETA: Fall 2013
Brock Nelson (6-4, 192lb. Center) : After a dominant sophomore season with the University of North Dakota with 47 points in 42 games last season, he’s started off hot in the AHL with 23 points in 28 games so far this year. The 30th overall pick in 2010 year is projected to be a shut down center. With his big frame and “shut down” abilities I would compare him to a Sean Couturier with a heavier physical game without the top-end offensive potential that Scooter has. ETA: Fall 2013
Matt Donovan (6-0, 203lb. Defender): While this offensive defender’s point per game fell from 44 points in 72 games in his rookie AHL year to 19 points in 37 games this year, its far from a reason to think that he’s falling off in his progression. Donovan has the highest offensive upside of any Islander defensive prospect and could be the heir to a top PP role very soon. He was a steal in the fourth round of 2008. ETA: Fall 2013
Griffin Reinhart (6-4, 197lb. Defender): This past draft in Pittsburgh there was one clear cut top defender (Ryan Murray, 2nd overall to Columbus) and about 5-8 depending on who you asked who would be the second one picked. The Islanders shocked people (me, especially) when they took Reinhart over Matt Dumba (Minnesota, 7th overall), Morgan Rielly (Toronto, 5th overall), and Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg, 9th overall) who dazzled in Ufa this past holiday season for the US in the WJC winning defensive player of the tournament honors, helping the Americans to the gold. While Reinhart looked slow for his Canadian team, in my opinion, for someone to be considered a legit top-pair prospect (especially in the Atlantic) during the tournament, most scouts still think that he can reach that potential. He had 36 points in 58 games last year in the WHL and only 14 in 32 games this year. While I’m sure he’ll eventually be a fine NHL player, as a Flyer fan, I’m just glad they took him over the other guys I mentioned. ETA: 2014
Scott Mayfield (6-4, 200lb. Defender): After his 34th overall selection in 2011, Mayfield chose the University of Denver. His picked up pace at the end of his freshmen season where he totaled 12 points in 42 games continued into this past year with Mayfield picking up 11 points already in only 23 games. He is a physical defender but Mayfield is clearly a step below the above prospects as far as how quickly he can reach the NHL. ETA: 2015
Anders Lee (6-3, 210lb. Left Winger): Anders is a big, physical, power forward who scored 34 points (17 goals) in 40 games at Notre Dame last year. This year as a 22 year old, he’s got 19 in 22 games and projects to be a middle-six winger with top-power play potential. With Tavares, Strome, and Nelson looking like a fantastic group of centers in a few years, they surely will need wingers. Tavares and Strome especially are smaller guys, Anders Lee could be the Scotty Hartnell to Ryan Strome’s Claude Giroux in a few years from now (especially considering Tavares will draw teams top checkers just like Richards and Carter did when Giroux was just a pup). ETA: Fall 2013 to Fall 2014.
Ville Pokka (6-0, 196lb. Defender): Pokka was the 34th overall pick in this past years draft and the experts that had Pokka going to the Flyers at 20th overall and would consider him a steal at 34th overall. He got 35 valuable games experience in Finland’s professional league, SM-Liiga, although he only had 3 points. This year in the same league he’s already got 9 (4 goals) in only 29 games thus far. He’s been on Finland’s U-20 WJC team for the past two years at only 17 and 18 and he’s pretty much the prototypical Finnish defender, think Kimmo Timonen. He thinks the game well, he moves the puck well, he’s not physical; however, he doesn’t have nearly the defensive prowess of Timonen yet. ETA: 2015+
Recap: With Ryan Strome the Isles possess the best prospect in the Atlantic Division as Strome has true top line center potential. Brock Nelson and Anders Lee provide much needed size to make the way for the skill guys like Strome and Tavares. The defensive corps of Donovan, Reinhart, Mayfield, and Pokka all project to be middle-pair guys as of right now but Donovan and Reinhart have some top-pair qualities. This extremely talented group of prospects truly has the potential to help the Islanders climb out of the Atlantic Division basement.
Jon Merrill (6-3, 206lb. Defender): After a 22-game suspension last year for an undisclosed violation of team rules, the Michigan Wolverine got off to a rough start this year when he cracked his vertebra in a pre season game. He returned at the turn of the year and has 2 assists in 3 games. The 38th overall pick in 2010 is described as an excellent thinker and if he can get it together with his off ice issues and his injury history he has to be looked at as a potential candidate to co-staring in NJ’s defense with Adam Larsson. ETA: Fall 2013
Eric Gelinas (6-4, 206lb. Defender): The late blooming offensive defender was picked 54th overall in 2009. He can skate well for a big man but doesn’t necessarily throw his weight around. His 37 points in 75 games were good for 2nd on the Devil’s AHL affiliate last season and he’s right on that same pace with 8 in 19 games (19 goals in the past two seasons). He’s got the solid point shot that comes with being a 6-4 offensive defender as well. ETA: Fall 2013
Alexander Urbom (6-4, 215lb. Defender): Selected the round after Gelinas in 2009 his game couldn’t be more different. He’s the big bruiser that Gelinas is not. His 16 points in his past 79 AHL games are a testament to that, but that didn’t stop him from being named an AHL all star in 2012. ETA: Fall 2013
Damon Severson (6-2, 193lb. Defender): The well-rounded defender was picked 60th overall at this past year’s entry draft after a 37 point in 56 game junior season. He’s continued that torrid pace to the tune of 32 points in 43 games. He’s much further removed from the NHL compared to the previous three guys, but Severson has the upside of a second pair defender. Unlike Urbom and Gelinas who excel at one side of the ice, Severson is a solid player in all phases of the game without a specific strong point. ETA: 2015+
Stefan Matteau (6-2, 210lb. Left Wing): Only 32 points in 45 USHL games wasn’t enough to stop the Devils from taking Matteau as their first round pick in this past years draft at 29 overall. He made the jump up north to play in the Quebec league this past year and has 18 goals, 28 points, in 35 games. Good numbers, but not great in that offensive league. His dad was a former Ranger and Stefan brings the solid physical two-way play you would expect as the son of a former NHLer. He projects to be a middle-six forward. ETA: 2015+
Scott Wedgewood (6-1, 187lb. Goalie): Could Wedgewood be the heir to Marty Brodeur? This past draft Wedgewood was taken 86th overall in the third round. He’s got some international experience playing three games in the 2011 WJC for team Canada. His talent isn’t eye popping, nor is his size, but with the lack of goalie depth in the farm and Marty Brodeur getting older and fatter by the day, its possible that Wedgewood could eventually be the Devil keeper. ETA: Could be the 2014 opening day starting goalie if Brodeur plays for one more year after this one.
Recap: The devils lack the truly high-end talent in their prospect pool, but they do have Adam Larsson who is no longer considered a prospect and is only 19. The four defenders are all typical Devil defenders averaging over 6-3 205lbs. Matteau is another “typical Devil” prospect with the size, speed, and physicality combination that has helped the Devils play stifling defense over the Brodeur era. Wedgewood may not have the highest potential of the goalie prospects in the NHL but he’s shown enough as a 20 year old to have some experts saying he’ll take over for the Hall-of-Famer when he hangs ‘em up.
Chris Kreider (6-3, 230lb. Left Winger): There have been two different Chris Kreiders over the past two years. There’s last years version, the 19th overall pick in ’09, the guy who had 45 points in 44 games leading Boston College to the national championship and then helped the Rangers with 5 goals in 18 playoff games having never played an NHL regular season game. Then there is this year’s version, the version with only 5 goals and 12 points in 33 AHL games. Most scouts think he’ll pick up right where he left in the playoffs for a few reasons. His size is obviously optimal for a top line winger and his speed is, in one word: blazing. He’s also got a seriously NHL ready shot. The one question is his hockey IQ, which could be an issue in the Rangers tight system, but I doubt it. ETA: Spring 2013 (starting in their top-6)
JT Miller (6-1, 195lb. Center): The hard-nosed, gritty, two-way center was fantastic in Ufa at the World Junior Championships a few weeks ago. His checking line played a crucial role in shutting out Team Canada (Nugent-Hopkins centered their top line) and then stopping the Swedes to only one goal while leading the US to the gold. His 9 points in 7 games with an “A” on his chest isn’t too shabby either. Last year he had 62 points in 61 games in juniors, so he clearly has some offensive upside. With only 15 points in 29 AHL games, I’d be surprised if the Rangers called their 2011 first rounder up now, especially with Brian Boyle as their checking center (…now if Boyle gets hurt, we could see a JT Miller audition). ETA: Fall 2013
Calle Andersson (6-2, 208lb. Defender): I think the Rangers got a steal at 119 overall this past year if Andersson comes across the pond. He dominated the top junior league in Sweden with 36 points in 49 games last year as a 17-year-old in a U-20 league. His stint with the pro club in Sweden this year hasn’t resulted in very many points, only 2 in 32 games, but it’s the experience as an 18-year-old in a men’s league that counts. His 20 points (10 goals) in only fourteen U-20 games shows that his offensive side hasn’t gone anywhere. He had 3 points in 6 games at the WJC this past year en route to winning the silver medal. Although he’s a puck mover, he doesn’t skate all that well. ETA: 2015+
Michael St. Croix (5-11, 179lb. Center): Another late rounder, St. Croix was taken at 106 overall in 2011. He tore up the WHL with 105 points in 72 games as an 18-year-old but he’s taken a step back in the scoring department with only 49 in 44 games. He’s a high-end skill guy without much of a defensive game. He’s a longer-term project with a pretty high risk, but the upside is obviously there for St. Croix. ETA: 2015+
Brady Skjei (6-3, 200lb. Defender): I’m not going to lie, Skjei was one of the defenders that I would have been okay with if the Flyers had taken him at 20th overall. Like Kreider, Skjei’s top skill is his near elite level speed. He only had 23 points in 60 games in the USHL last year, but after being selected 28th overall by New York this past year, he joined the loaded University of Minnesota defense. They use a 7 or 8 man defensive rotation depending on the match-up, so don’t read too much into his 2 points in 20 games. The Golden Gophers are the top ranked team in the nation (new Flyer prospect Mike Alt is also a blue liner for Minnesota) and Skjei will continue to develop in their system. ETA: 2016
Dylan McIlrath (6-5, 215lb. Defender): The Flyers didn’t have a pick in the 2010 draft. If they did have their late first round pick, this guy was a guy I could see the Flyers taking. The Flyers didn’t have a pick and the Rangers took him 10th overall, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Most experts expressed concern for the pick because he doesn’t have any offensive potential at all (23 points in 52 games) but he’s poised to be one of the most physical blue-liners in the business in a few years and he will be tough to play against. He currently has 31 PIMS in 7 AHL games with an assist. He is also a dominant fighter. ETA: 2014 Fall
Cristobal “Boo” Nieves (6-3, 184lb. Left Winger): As a high school kid he put up 39 points in 26 games but the issue with drafting US high school kids is always the lack of competition they face. This year as a freshman at Michigan he’s got 14 points in 22 games, a solid point total for an 18 year old. He skates well, he’s got solid hands and good vision. He was taken 59th overall this past draft. ETA: 2016+
Recap: The thing that makes the Ranger prospect pool unique is its diversification. You have a power winger (Kreider), a shut-down center (Miller), a puck-moving defender (Andersson), a thoroughbred skating defender (Skjei), a bruising defender (McIlrath), a skilled playmaking center (St. Croix) and a skilled playmaking winger (Nieves).
Joe Morrow (6-1, 206lb. Defender): 64 points in 62 games in the WHL for this offensive prospect. Morrow was taken 23rd overall in 2011 and has looked fantastic since. 8 points in his first 30 AHL games is a solid jump to the pro game, but those 8 points don’t do justice in explaining his offensive prowess. The only question mark is his defense (as is usually the issue with offensive defenders) and it should keep him in the AHL for the whole year this year. Other than the defense issue, he can skate, handle, shoot, pass, what have you. ETA: Fall 2013
Simon Despues (6-4, 229lb. Defender): His name should be vaguely familiar as he played a few playoff games against us after Braydon Schenn demolished one of their D-men earlier in the series. Last year he had 15 points in 45 AHL games and he’s tailed off slightly this year with only 7 points in 34 games. You would think the 30th overall pick in 2009, given his size, would be a shut down defender… but you would be wrong. He’s a skilled PP quarterback with a question mark in the defensive category. ETA: Spring 2014 (I think he’ll be on next years playoff roster, but not the opening day roster)
Beau Bennett (6-1, 190lb. Right Wing): He left Denver after his sophomore year (13 points in 10 games) to play in the AHL this year where he has succeeded to the tune of 24 points in 30 games. The 20th overall pick in 2010 was given a shot to play with Sid in the shortened training camp, but he was just recently optioned back to the AHL. Aside from his injury risk, he’s a skilled winger who can handle it, pass it, but his shot his best asset. ETA Fall 2013
Olli Maatta (6-2, 202lb. Defender): Olli Maatta was the guy I really wanted the Flyers to draft at 20th overall. I thought our organizational need for defenders outweighed the traditional drafting of the best player available. We went best player available, passed on Maatta, and the Pens scooped him up at 22. He’s Finnish and he’s described as an extremely intelligent defender. His skating is his weakness but I still really liked the calmness he brought to the game. Liked being the key word, looks like I’m going to have to learn to hate him. He’s even got a pretty solid physical game for a European. ETA: 2015
Derrick Poulliot (5-11, 190, Defender): Just like I hated the Penguins grabbing Maatta at 22, as a Flyer fan I L-O-V-E, love the selection of Derrick Poulliot at 8th overall. The Penguins are loaded in the puck-moving defender category. With LeTang, Morrow, Despues, and now Pulliot, they just don’t seem to have room for all of them. Maybe I’m wrong and they all get into the line-up, but as I mentioned when the Isles took Griffin Reinhart, I was just so elated that the Pens didn’t grab Jacob Trouba. The front office has to be kicking themselves for not taking Trouba, although they do have a good prospect in Poulliot. He had 59 points in 72 games last year and has 38 in 38 this year. From an outsider looking in it seems as if they will eventually move Kris LeTang and have his role absorbed by the plethora of young offensive-defensemen. ETA: 2015+
Scott Harrington (6-1, 195lb. Defender): Finally, a defensive oriented defender for the Penguins. Scott donned the “A” for team Canada at the World Junior Championships in Ufa this past year, but Canada failed to medal for the first time in over ten years. He’s said to have very solid defensive skills with a great hockey IQ. He didn’t impress me in Ufa, he just didn’t seem to have his best game going for him, looking more like the late second round pick he was drafted at in 2011 than the higher level prospect some scouts have him pegged as. ETA: Spring 2015 (Playoffs/ late season call up that year)
Recap: The Penguins have arguably the best group of defensive prospects, which is great for them and not so great for us. They aren’t too deep up front, but they never are as it doesn’t take a lot to fill 10 forwards around Crosby and Malkin. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the Penguins moves made over the next few years with the development of their 5 highly touted defensemen.
Your Philadelphia Flyers!
Scott Laughton- (6-0, 180lb. Center) I’m expecting the 20th overall pick in this past draft to play up to five games and then get sent back to juniors. If he truly helps the team I’d be on board keeping him, but once Danny Briere gets back I just don’t see how or where he fits. With Hartnell-Giroux-Schenn, Talbot-Couturier-Voracek, Read-(Briere or Laughton)-Simmonds, Wellwood-Rinaldo-Fedetenko as the lines, there really isn’t any room for Laughts unless we want to throw him on the fourth line. The difference between this year and last year when we kept Couturier was that we had just traded Richards and Carter and needed Couturier’s defensive presence in the line-up. This year we have Giroux, Talbot, Schenn, Couturier, Read, and Fedetenko who can all kill penalties. It just doesn’t make sense to burn a year of Laughton’s cheap, entry level deal to give him minimal minutes on a team with a very good, deep, forward core. With that said, his 33 points in 32 games was a better clip than his 53 in 64 last year. When he gets sent back down to juniors he could be featured in the offense even more if former Columbus Blue Jacket first round pick Boone Jenner makes the Jackets out of camp (Jenner is Laughton’s teams top center, and the role would most likely go to Laughton), and that would be great for his development. ETA: I hope he earns a spot in the fall, but I also hope he doesn’t. It would be great if we can manage to keep him stashed in juniors, sliding his contract until the 2015 season. That’s my hope.
Erik Gustafsson- (5-11, 180lb. Defender): Most people have forgotten about Erik Gustafsson this preseason but I think he’ll win the sixth spot for the Flyers once he gets healthy. He played 24 AHL games and had 14 points---earning himself an AHL All-Star appearance for the second strait year. If you look how the Flyer defense is set up, its not difficult to see where he would fit in. I wrote why I think Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn will be a good pair here. Coburn and Grossmann have been a shutdown pair in the past and will most likely continue together and Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster will battle it out for the 6th spot to play with Andrej Meszaros on the third pair while Gus is out. Gustafsson played a few playoff games last year and managed to net a goal and an assist in only 7 games. With Matt Carle out and Timonen aging, we could really use another puck mover and I think Gus will be that guy. ETA: By the playoffs of 2013
Shayne Gostisbehere (5-11, 160lb. Defender): We may have Braydon Coburn’s brother Greg to thank for finding Shane, considering they were paired together for Union College’s surprise visit to the Frozen Four last year. As a frosh “Ghost” as he’s called had 22 points in 41 games and was taken in the 3rd round by the Flyers. He wowed the US hockey staff enough to go from a long shot to making the squad this past WJC and was a key part in winning the gold medal. He had a sweet one-time goal from the left half wall and had another assist over six games. He also was ejected for one and suspended for another for a retaliatory stick infraction (he gave someone a shot where the sun don’t shine) that ultimately hurt his ice time in the medal round, but didn’t stop him from genuinely impressing me. He’s got 13 points (5 goals) in 17 games this year partnered with Greg Coburn for Union College. ETA: 2015+
Nick Cousins (5-11, 177lb. Center): A physical agitator who can put the puck in the net, play in all situations, and makes opposing fans hate him has drawn many comparisons to Brad Marchand. I dislike Marchand as much as the next Flyer fan, but I’m sure I’d love that production from any prospect in orange and black. He would have made the Canadian WJC team if it wasn’t for a legal investigation going on for a sexual assault (that I believe will fall thru). As the Flyers 3rd rounder in 2011 he had 88 points in 65 games last year and this year has 67 in only 44. Next year Cousins will play for the Phantoms (unless he makes the Flyers) but I believe he can be a middle-six forward for the Flyers soon enough. ETA: 2014
Marcel Noebels (6-3, 201lbs. Left Wing): After a 4th round selection in 2011 Noebels had 58 points in 62 games in the WHL. This year he started with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL due to the excess of NHL players on the Phantoms and lit it up with 30 points in 31 games. Once the Flyers got called up for camp, Noebels got the nod to join the Phantoms and has already scored a goal and added an assist in four games on a pretty awful Phantoms squad. His below average skating could be holding him back but his big frame, puck protection skills and his ability to put points up should keep him in the mix in years to come. ETA: 2015
Jason Akeson (5-10, 190lb. Center): Akeson is an interesting prospect. Went undrafted three years in a row. Signed last year as a 21-year-old to an entry-level deal and lead the Phantoms in scoring with 55 points in 76 games. He started the year with Noebels in the ECHL because the front office wanted him getting lots of minutes and he played well with 10 points in 14 games for an early call up. His success has continued this year with 13 points in 21 Phantoms games. I don’t know what his future can be in the Flyer organization due to Akeson needing top-6 minutes and some sheltering to make up for his lack of a defensive game, but a 55 point AHL rookie has to have some value somewhere. ETA: 2014
Notes on our goalie prospects: Niko Hovinen is a 6’7” Finnish keeper who has struggled in his first North American action. In 16 ECHL games he’s got a 3.14 GAA with an .889 save percentage, both below average to be generous. Cal Heeter was signed out of Ohio State last year and is backing up Scott Munroe for the Phantoms (and he’s now backing up Boucher as well). He’s got a 6-10-1 record with a 2.81 and .911. Lastly there is Anthony Stolarz, the 45th overall pick this past draft. He was attending the University of Nebraska Omaha and was backing up a senior, but chose to leave UNO to head to the OHL’s best team, the London Knights where he’ll battle for ice time going into the playoffs. With the buyout option on the table, these kids have two years to impress the Flyers enough to move on from Bryz. If not, we could be doing a lot of star gazing out in the universe with Professor and Cosmanaut Bryzgalov in the coming decade.
Recap: The Flyers lack elite talent in the prospect pool, but there are solid role players. The puck movers in Gus and Ghost, the 2-way centers in Laughton and Cousins, and the long shots in Akeson and Noebels. With Giroux, Couturier, Schenn, Voracek, Simmonds, Read, and Hartnell all being here for the next few years, we really don’t need scoring as much as we need two-way depth. Obviously we need as much help on defense as possible but with the signing of Foster and the soon to be healthy Erik Gustafsson, we should be fine for the start of the year.
Any questions about any prospect or anything I missed just post in the comments section. I hoped you all enjoyed my preview!