Much has been made of the depth of prospects the Flyers have put together defensively in the past few years. Shayne Gostisbehere has already taken the NHL by storm, and as many as five other young blueliners (Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, and Phil Myers) who could reasonably be considered somewhere between "above-average" and "elite" defensive prospects.
To be sure, though, the team's defensive revolution of sorts began with Gostisbehere, an undersized but mobile and offensively talented NCAA defenseman taken in the third round of the 2012 draft. Two years later, Flyers fans watched Gostisbehere light up the Wells Fargo Center en route to a national championship at Union College, and knew then and there that they had a special one on their hands.
Two months after that national title game, in the very same Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers drafted another undersized but mobile and offensively talented NCAA defenseman, clearly hoping they could get lightning to strike twice. Where does he stand two years later?
No. 23: Mark Friedman
Age: 20 (12/25/1995)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Bowling Green (NCAA) - 6 G, 17 A in 42 GP
Nationality: Canadian (Toronto, ON)
Acquired Via: 2014 NHL Draft -- Round 3, Pick 86 (Pick acquired via Boston for Andrej Meszaros)
OK, so obviously that's an unfair introduction for Mark Friedman. Compared to Shayne Gostisbehere, you're not gonna find many defensemen at all who look good, let alone when you narrow the field down to "small college defensemen taken in the third round" (Friedman was listed at 5-foot-10 when the Flyers drafted him in 2014). The parallels are too real not to at least point it out, but to hold Friedman to Gostisbehere's standards is setting him up for failure before he even had a chance.
Still, you can see what the Flyers were going for with the Friedman pick, and among all of the defensemen in the pipeline that aren't in that top level, Friedman is probably the one who projects to have the most upside at this point.
Had everything initially gone according to plan for Friedman, he'd be entering his senior year of college this year, and maybe the Flyers would be a year away from looking to bring him into the fold. But an issue with the NCAA led to him spending an extra year in the USHL, meaning that he'll have two more years at Bowling Green to work on his game.
That extra year in the USHL helped him develop a bit more before he reached the NCAA, and since arriving at Bowling Green he's left a fairly solid impression. SBN College Hockey's Chris Dilks had Friedman at 57th in his ranking of the best prospects in the NCAA earlier this year, specifically having this to say:
Friedman is a smaller defenseman, but extremely strong on his skates with great lateral movement. He is especially effective at moving puck through the neutral zone with strong crisp passes. He also doesn't back down physically from any opposing player, despite not being a huge defenseman. Friedman projects as a reliable second or third pairing puck-moving defenseman at the pro level.
The part about Friedman "[not backing] down physically from any opposing player" is the kind of thing you see said a lot about him. Gritty, high-compete, plays bigger than his size -- these are the types of phrases used to describe him by people like his junior coach and those who watched him there at USHL Waterloo.
Our own Charlie O'Connor, in his notes on development camp across this past summer and last summer, mentioned how Friedman's aggressiveness and confidence coupled with his plus skating ability help him make plays defensively. The label put on guys who look (and score) like Friedman is often "offensively-oriented defenseman who don't defend well", but Friedman is definitely capable of playing a legitimate two-way role for Bowling Green -- and given the fact that he played on both special teams units for the Falcons this past year, they seem to know it.
The offense certainly is there too, though. Friedman has topped a half-point-per-game in each of his two seasons with Bowling Green, with a slight step forward this past season -- a season in which he was actually the highest-scoring defenseman, per-game, in the entire WCHA (Bowling Green's conference). That same intelligence, skating, and drive that serve him well in his own end help him out in the other team's zone as well, and he's got a decent shot to go along with all of that.
Again, Friedman is working uphill here to really make a name for himself in a group of defensemen as deep as the one the Flyers have. He's probably not going to be Shayne Gostisbehere, no matter how easy a comparison it is to make. But there's a lot to like about how Friedman plays the game and the direction he's heading in, and with a step forward this next year, it'll be hard to sleep on him for much longer.
Oh, and for fun, here's an interview he did with Steve Coates during development camp that went up on the Flyers' site a week or two ago. Just watch his facial expression for the first 20 or so seconds of this video. It does not budge one bit. I'm rooting for you, Mark Friedman.
How we voted for Mark Friedman:
How we voted at No. 23:
|David Kase||Roman Lyubimov||Roman Lyubimov||Danick Martel||Mark Alt||Wade Allison||Cooper Marody||Matej Tomek||Jesper Pettersson||Wade Allison|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: