8 forward spots are 100% guaranteed
First, we'll get the locks out of the way. These guys have nothing to gain or lose in training camp, aside from not getting hurt of course. They're simply there to get back into hockey shape and to prepare for puck drop on October 8. They have jobs with the Flyers.
They are (in ABC order): Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, R.J. Umberger and Jakub Voracek.
But the other 28 forwards in camp .... yeah, about those guys. Let's run through them all, their chances of making the team, and what they have to lose or gain in training camp.
Akeson deserves more of a shot at an NHL job, and it's all going to depend on his performance in training camp and preseason. He was very good for the Flyers in the 2014 playoffs -- ignoring that Game 1-costing penalty that nobody will forget, unfortunately -- but has only had a chance to play in two regular season games overall: the season finale in both 2013 and this past season.
Akeson's the Phantoms best scorer. He's proven he can play tough defensive minutes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against a deep team that went on to the Cup Final, and he's also proven that he can keep up with the first line when getting minutes with Claude Giroux, as he did in the 2013 finale vs. Ottawa.
Akeson is a strong, versatile player who can be used basically anywhere in the lineup. Let's hope Craig Berube gives him every chance to crack the roster during camp this year, and the Flyers will be better off if Akeson earns his spot. At 23 years old and still on a two-way deal, it's make or break time for his NHL career. This camp means a lot to Akeson.
Brandon Alderson: The giant 6'4 forward played his first professional season in 2013-14 and is of course hoping that he'll prove enough in camp to earn a bigger role in Lehigh Valley this season. He also, of course, wants to grow into a call-up option for Craig Berube. There are several players ahead of him on the depth and he only scored 21 points in his 71 AHL games last season, so he has an uphill battle.
Nick Cousins: Like his former OHL linemate Alderson, Cousins is entering his second AHL season. His 30 points in 71 AHL games with the Phantoms last year were less than impressive for a guy that was so highly touted coming out of junior hockey, but who knows how much his role on the team and the overall terrible situation in Adirondack played into that. Cousins is a guy who could play himself into contention for a call-up spot with a strong camp and a strong AHL year, but we wouldn't expect him to fight for an NHL job just yet.
Austin Fyten: Far from an NHL job, the 23 year old Fyten is just hoping to land a position with the Phantoms in camp. He's bounced between the AHL and ECHL in his first two pro seasons, playing most of the 2012-13 campaign in the ECHL with Idaho and most of last season in the AHL with Oklahoma City.
The Frenchman has never played in North America before, but the Flyers liked him enough this past offseason to give him an NHL contract. He seems like a front-runner to earn a roster spot in camp this year, but there are obviously question marks given that he's never played on this side of the pond.
He's fast, has international experience, and has played in the Swedish League -- widely considered perhaps the second-best league in the world -- for five seasons. At 29 years old, he's definitely a late bloomer to the NHL, but his signing was Ron Hextall's first move as general manager. The Flyers wouldn't have jumped on Bellemare without a strong feeling of what his NHL potential might be.
If Bellemare impresses in camp, don't be shocked if he's on the October 8 roster. Like Akeson, he seems like a very quick, versatile player who can potentially play anywhere in the lineup -- but unlike Akeson and others, he's going to have to prove it to a coaching staff that's never seen him play before.
Andrew Gordon: This guy's bounced around the NHL a little bit (55 games with three teams), but he was signed this offseason as a Phantoms player and nothing more. He's probably not a call-up option for the Flyers given the better, younger talent in the pipeline, but should be a nice, solid scoring presence in Lehigh Valley this year.
Kevin Goumas: The former University of New Hampshire forward will embark on his first professional season this year and seemed destined for the AHL. He played 11 games with the Phantoms at the tail end of last season but this will be his first training camp and his first taste of a complete pro season. He's merely jockeying for a roster spot in Allentown.
Tyrell Goulbourne: Ah, Goulbourne. Such a typical Flyers draft pick. He was selected in the third round of the 2013 draft, and ... well, we wrote that it was a "waste" of a pick when it was made. Goulbourne is at best another Zac Rinaldo (which the Flyers do not need) and at worst he's Garrett Klotz, another wasted third round pick that's barely ECHL quality, let alone AHL or NHL quality. Goulbourne enters his first pro season after his junior career with Kelowna ended last season and will fall in either Reading and Allentown.
It certainly feels like Scott Laughton's time. He's No. 3 on our list of the Top 25 Flyers Under 25, and his OHL career was extremely impressive. Like 110 goals and 140 assists in 262 career games impressive. Now, the former Oshawa General will embark on his pro career, and after tasting the NHL for five regular season games in 2013, he's definitely a front-runner to earn a job in Philadelphia during camp.
There are questions, though, and the answers don't necessarily hinge on Laughton's own merits.
Where does he fit in the lineup? He's a natural center and the Flyers, as usual, have a ton of centers. Is he better off playing top-six minutes in the AHL to start the year, or bottom-6 minutes in the NHL? Will the Flyers opt to compile a competitive fourth line or will they give priority to agitators like Zac Rinaldo?
We can't possibly have the answers to these questions, and chances are that Craig Berube and the coaching staff don't yet have the answers, either. That's what camp is for, and Laughton has a lot riding on these few weeks in September.
Matt Hatch: Teammates with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on Union's national championship team last year, forward Matt Hatch is on an AHL deal with the Flyers. We'll see where he ends up in the system, but he's another guy on his first camp, just beginning his pro career, and looking to make an impression.
Brett Hextall: Another free agent signed for work with the Phantoms, the GM's son is a gritty, checking-line forward.
Nikita Jevpalovs: This Latvian is in camp on an amateur tryout basis. It's not terribly pressing for him that he earn a contract with the Flyers in rookie camp and training camp since he still has two seasons of QMJHL eligibility left, but he was passed over in the 2014 draft and might feel some pressure to make an impact. For the Flyers, they're just taking a chance on a guy who was probably vouched for by one of their amateur scouts.
We hesitated putting Raffl on the "locks for an NHL job" list. He's almost certainly going to have a job in Philadelphia based on his versatility and ability to play anywhere in the lineup, but we're not going to quite call him a lock.
I mean, spots for guys like Laughton, Akeson and Bellemare -- if they play well in camp -- have to come from somewhere, right? It's not a camp Raffl can just breeze through. There will be pressure on the second-year NHLer to earn his keep.
Andrew Johnston: This guy's been in the organization for two years now, signed in 2012 out of a junior league in Saskatchewan. He's largely played at the ECHL level, although he has played 36 games with the Phantoms across two seasons. With Ron Hextall's focus on adding AHL-level talent into the organization this summer, Johnston seems like a lock for the Reading Royals -- but that just means he has a lot to fight for in camp this year.
Blair Jones: This 27 year old could be a call-up option for the Flyers, and he has 128 NHL games under his belt, most recently with the Calgary Flames. But much like Andrew Gordon, there's younger, better talent around for the Flyers to use as injury call-ups. Jones is likely just an AHL vet who'll make the Phantoms better.
Taylor Leier: There's a lot to like about Leier, another guy beginning his professional career this year. He will be a Phantom this season, but he's one guy we should keep a very close eye on in the Lehigh Valley. He had a great junior career with Portland and was a key piece on Canada's World Junior team last year. He has NHL potential, and we'll get a really strong sense of what that potential is, exactly, during his AHL time this season.
Louick Marcotte: Another QMJHL guy in Flyers camp as an invitee, Marcotte is entering his final junior season. He was passed over in the draft, but with Val-d'Or last season, he was the league's fifth-leading scorer, putting up 100 points in 67 games. That's certainly good enough for a camp invite. Let's see what he can do.
Derek Mathers: Phantoms tough guy. A 2011 draft pick and now a second-year AHL player, he's probably not Flyers material. At the very best, he's a 13th forward who'd sub in as an enforcer at the NHL level, and the Flyers just don't need that role to be filled.
Marcel Noebels: He came over from Germany in 2012, one year after being selected by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He's one guy that's definitely going to have to fight for his AHL job with the infusion of veteran talent into Lehigh Valley this year. It's a big camp for him, and he could find himself in Reading with a bad month.
Darroll Powe: His days as an NHL regular are likely over, and he's just on a minor-league deal with the organization this time around. I remember Powe as the "other guy" traded on that fateful weekend in 2011 when the Flyers shipped Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town, and also sent Powe to Minnesota. He's AHL depth who played 73 games with the Rangers affiliate in Hartford last season.
We talked in-depth about Zac a few days ago, and it's clear the organization loves him. He was signed to a two-year contact extension a full year before his RFA summer, and that doesn't happen unless the organization loves you. But again, we can't call him a lock for the team for the same reasons we can't call Raffl a lock -- if these other guys impress and earn spots on the team, where are they coming from?
Rinaldo is a fourth-line player. His job is never going to be a lock entering training camp, regardless of how much an organization likes him. He might be likely to make the team, but he's still going to have to earn it on the ice in training camp and preseason.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel: The 2014 second-round pick won't be a professional player this coming season, and he's just looking to get a taste of rookie camp and an NHL training camp before heading back north to Val-d'Or for his QMJHL season. Read more on Aube-Kubel here.
Radel Fazleev: Drafted in the sixth-round of June's draft by the Flyers, Fazleev is in the same boat as Aube-Kubel. He's a speedy forward who'll play with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen for his second junior season this year. Read more about Fazleev here.
Chris VandeVelde: The Flyers really seem to love VandeVelde as a call up option. He likely won't make the team out of camp, but if they need a spot call up for a single game or two, VandeVelde seems like a strong bet.
Petr Straka: Signed as a free agent last year after the team that drafted him, Columbus, opted not to sign him, Straka will be an AHL forward this season. He's got a lot of potential, and he played top-6 minutes in Adirondack last season, so it's clear that the Flyers really like him. But it seems like a big year for Straka's NHL hopes. He needs to shrug away the consistency that plagued his first pro season last year and step up, especially with more talent on the Phantoms roster this season. Who knows if he's NHL material, but steps forward this season in Allentown would be a good sign.
Rosehill will probably be the 13th forward on the Flyers this season. He filled that role for most of last season, only getting in 34 of the 82 games on the schedule in the regular season.
As much as the enforcer role in the NHL has diminished in importance in recent years -- it's really been declining since the 2004-05 lockout -- the Flyers are probably going to be one of the last teams to adapt to scraping their goon.
Rosehill is their goon now, and he probably has job security as a result.
Zack Stortini: 299 penalty minutes in 73 games with the Phantoms last season. That's more than four minutes per game in the penalty box on average. There might be a number crunch in Allentown when it comes to forwards on the roster, but just as Rosehill has job security at the NHL level, Stortini probably has it at the AHL level. The only thing that could hurt him is if the team sees him redundant with Derek Mathers, or maybe even Brett Hextall. Seems unlikely, though. Stortini has actually never played a game in a professional league lower than the AHL.
Ryan White: With his injury, White's chances of earning a fourth-line spot in Philadelphia seem pretty slim. that just opens up space for some of the other guys on this list, but it also trims down space in Lehigh Valley.