We trek onward in our Flyers Top 25 Under 25 Midterm Update today, with the middle part of our rankings here for your enjoyment. If you missed them, here were the first two parts:
Now, to players 15 through 11!
15. Petr Straka
This was a pivotal year for Petr Straka - not just for his development as a player, but in deciding his future with the Flyers' organization. After two seasons of underwhelming play in the AHL, Straka was entering the final year of his entry-level contract and needed a big season to convince Ron Hextall that he belonged in the organization's plans moving forward.
Straka certainly jumped out to the type of start that he needed. Already with 17 tallies on the year, Straka has been battling for the AHL lead in goals since the first month of the season. The 23-year old forward has always had offensive skills - they're what got him drafted in the second round by the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2010, and what allowed him to keep up with the pace of the NHL in a three-game stint last season. Straka's problem has been consistency, and under coach Scott Gordon, he appears to have found it.
Unfortunately for Straka, his season screeched to a halt just a few weeks ago. According to Tony Androckitis, Straka blocked a shot in a January 3rd game against Portland, and suffered an injury which turned out to be fairly serious. As a result, he's expected to spend the next four-to-six weeks recuperating. That puts an end to any realistic hopes that he harbored of winning the AHL goals title, but it does nothing to change the fact that 2015-16 has been Straka's most impressive season as a professional. He's certainly making a strong case for a new contract, at the very least.
-- Charlie O'Connor
14. Taylor Leier
Midway through Taylor Leier's second professional season, we're beginning to see the potential of a guy who certainly has an NHL ceiling. A year ago, we were a bit disappointed after Leier put up just 31 points in a injury-bothered rookie AHL year. But in 2015-16 so far, he's nearly matched that total in just 39 games with the Phantoms. His 11 goals and 14 assists are enough to rank him third on the team behind Nick Cousins, Petr Straka and Andrew MacDonald.
And he's talking on a bigger role as well. He's already earned one brief call-up to the Flyers, back in November, and as Tony Androckitis points out, an injury to Straka will require Lehigh Valley to lean on Leier even more in the second half.
Bill Meltzer notes that Leier could someday fill the role of Matt Read on the Flyers -- a smallish bottom-six winger with two-way purpose and some speed. When that might happen is still up in the air, but Leier certainly looks like a guy who is showing he'll be an NHL player someday. Not bad for a fourth-round pick.
-- Travis Hughes
13. Oskar Lindblom
Lindblom has made a huge jump in his game, which might explain a huge jump in his position on this list. Brynäs has benefited immediately from his development the way that the Flyers will in the future.
Lindblom's biggest weakness was his skating speed and his burst, which, paired with poor production in the season leading up to the draft, dropped him down several rounds. The single biggest reason he's jumped up so dramatically in point production and in scouting reports, though, is his improvement in this area. While he still has room to work on his speed and it remains the biggest drawback of his game, he's become much more agile. That is definitely working to complement the rest of his game, a very responsible and mature one at that.
His play for Brynäs has warranted top line minutes, which is pretty heartening for a kid his age. Lindblom also played on Sweden's World Juniors team, and while I didn't watch a ton of his play in the tournament (go USA), his point production was very important for the Swedish team. He was nearly a point per game player, fourth on Team Sweden's roster.
He's a smart player, with guys like Corey Pronman lauding him for his work ethic and his skill, and he plays good hockey in all three zones, often prized for his defensive play. He's also playing on bigger ice overseas, meaning that his ability to outwork players and tire them out in corner and board battles while not sacrificing opportunities to the opposition is all the more impressive.
Lindblom is just continuing to get better, which explains why he was originally predicted to be a second round draft pick. The Flyers made a great choice in Lindblom, and it seems that choice is paying off in spades.
-- Allison J.
12. Nicolas Aube-Kubel
At this time last year, Nicolas Aube-Kubel was becoming one of the fastest-rising prospects in the Flyers' organization. The second-round pick went on an absolute tear in the later part of the 2014-15 QMJHL campaign, scoring at a 1.58 points per game clip from December on after tallying 0.87 through the end of November. The strong finish to his season cemented Aube-Kubel's status as the Flyers' top forward prospect outside of the AHL or NHL (an honor he would then lose to Travis Konecny, albeit obviously through no fault of his own).
That's all largely continued this season, as he's put up 65 points in 42 games to nearly match the scoring rate he was at from December onward last season. He missed a little bit of time early in the year with an injury off of a dirty hit, but otherwise he's been consistently producing again all year. He was even on Team Canada's WJC summer camp roster, though he didn't get a look at the team in December.
As he looks to join the professional ranks next year, what's been exciting to see is that -- as our own Charlie O'Connor mentioned in his piece on Aube-Kubel last August -- some of the questions about him at the time of the draft have already been answered. Size? He'll never exactly be The Hulk out there, but at 196 pounds, he's probably added enough weight to make his 5'11" frame more than playable at the NHL level. Speed? His performance in speed tests at rookie camp quelled any draft-time concerns about that. Defensive ability? It's tough for us to gauge that without watching him play a ton, but the fact that his (I know, I know, it's a bad stat) plus-minus has jumped from +13 last year to +41 this year suggests that teams aren't exactly lighting the lamp with him out on the ice, which if nothing else is a good sign.
It does seem like a long shot that NA-K (abbreviations!) will be on the NHL roster when next season opens up, given the natural adjustment period most young players need for the professional game as well as the Flyers' crowded situation at right wing. How quickly can he adjust to being in a league that he may not be able to dominate from the outset? Will he be able to flash that dynamic scoring touch regularly at the AHL level, all while still being a responsible 200-foot player? That's what'll determine how soon he gets a chance at the NHL club.
-- Kurt R.
11. Jordan Weal
The only member of our list who wasn't even with the organization the last time we did these rankings, Jordan Weal has only been a Flyer for a month and he's already been a source of consternation among the fanbase -- not through his own actions, but more through the fact that we just haven't seen much of him so far.
The 23-year old Weal was, as you know, a throw-in from Los Angeles in the trade that shipped Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn out of town. He's a guy who's shown that he's an elite AHL-level player, with two near-point-per-game seasons in Manchester prior to this one, and he was named the MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs last year. He's got very little left to prove in the AHL, and people in L.A. had figured this would be the year he had a chance to crack their lineup.
That never really materialized, as Weal only got in 10 of the Kings' 39 games before his trade to Philadelphia. And unfortunately, it's been much of the same since then, as he's only played in a single one of the Flyers' nine games since that trade.
So what's the issue here? Why have two different teams seemed so unwilling to put him in their lineup? It's true that he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire in the 11 games he's played so far -- zero points, one single shot on goal, and a -7.1% Corsi-For relative to his teammates (via war-on-ice.com). But 11 games obviously does not a career make, and for a guy who's been lauded for his scoring ability and talent, you have to wonder what the team that's 27th in the NHL in scoring is seeing that is leading them to not put a guy like him in the lineup, just like L.A. did before them. Maybe they know something we don't.
In any case, Weal is not exempt from waivers, so unless he manages to really tick someone off, he'll be with the Flyers for the rest of the year, and chances are he'll be re-signed this summer. But I have to think Ron Hextall looked at the Flyers' bottom-6 struggles and saw Weal as someone who can help the Flyers out this year when he got him in that trade. Let's hope that the next time the young center is able to get into the lineup he proves Hextall right.
-- Kurt R.
How we voted spots 15 to 11:
|15||Taylor Leier||Petr Straka||Mark Friedman||David Kase||Jordan Weal||Danick Martel||Jordan Weal||Mark Alt|
|14||Nick Cousins||Taylor Leier||Nick Cousins||Jordan Weal||Danick Martel||Petr Straka||Nick Cousins||Nicolas Aube-Kubel|
|13||Jordan Weal||Nick Cousins||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Nick Cousins||Taylor Leier||Robert Hagg||Anthony Stolarz||Nick Cousins|
|12||Oskar Lindblom||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Jordan Weal||Petr Straka||Petr Straka||Nick Cousins||Taylor Leier||Taylor Leier|
|11||Anthony Stolarz||Anthony Stolarz||Robert Hagg||Taylor Leier||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Oskar Lindblom||Anthony Stolarz|