Last week, we sent out a call for you, our readers, to submit your personal ranking of the 25 best players within the Flyers’ organization under the age of 25. Seven days later, after receiving your input as well as the input of nine members of our masthead here at BSH, it’s officially time for the Midterm Update to our Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25.
To borrow some words from the last edition of these rankings...
Long-time readers of the site will be familiar with the way this series works — we last did one in January/February of , and have done three other versions since 2014 — but for those who aren’t, you could probably make some guesses based on the title: the 25 Under 25 is a ranking of the 25 best players in the Flyers’ system under the age of 25 years old. Why 25? Because 25 is an age by which you typically know what a player is, be that an NHL star or a fringe player or an AHL-lifer-to-be, and also because Top 23 Under 23 or something like that sounds weird.
How are players ranked? That’s up to the panelists. One person could put together their list based on sheer upside, another can put more weight on players who have already proven that they are NHLers, a third can make their list based on who they’d trade first if they had a choice, and another still could do one based on which players they think give the best high fives. (Maybe not that last one.) In any case, a variety of different perspectives go into putting together the list.
So that’s that! With the compressed nature of this ranking, what with it taking place mid-season and all, we’ll be taking a slightly quicker look at each of these prospects, checking in on five per day instead of doing a deeper dive on each one. Enough time to see how their seasons are going and what’s changed for them, but not so much that there won’t still be plenty to talk about when we take another look come summer time.
With that introduction, let’s begin.
The voting and panel — and the community ballot!
For the unaware among us, the way this works is fairly straightforward. A number of ballots (in this case, 10) are submitted for the rankings, as each one consists of 25 players ranked 1 (best) to 25 (least-best). Ballots are scored reverse-style, meaning the guy ranked No. 1 gets 25 points, the No. 2 gets 24 points, the No. 25 gets 1 point, etc. Then, those point totals are added up across all ten ballots, and the end result is our final ranking.
Of the ten ballots taken into account for our rankings, nine belonged various BSH contributors: myself (Kurt), Kelly, Charlie, Jay, Travis, Steph, Allison, Al, and Joe.
The tenth ballot was an aggregate of all of the submissions that we received last week. We received a total of 290 submissions, and while a few of those had to be thrown out due to double-voting on certain players or for being highly questionable ballots (there were only two of those!), there were still plenty of ballots left with which we could get a good ranking together.
Some fun facts about those ballots are as follows:
- No one player on the ballot was on 100 percent of the submissions that were counted. Yes, at least one person left the likes of each of Sean Couturier, Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere off of their respective ballots entirely. (My best guess is that these were just complete oversights/mistakes, which is why these ballots were kept in, but still, kind of funny.)
- Similarly, no one player on the ballot completely missed out on voting, which is to say that every single player made it onto at least one ballot. In fact, even the community’s last-place prospect, Jesper Pettersson, picked up 31 points across all of the ballots we received. Good for him, I say.
- Five players received first-place votes. The listing of them will not shock you: Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Ivan Provorov. (Names are listed alphabetically; in the interest of keeping some suspense on how you all voted, I will not yet disclose how many first-place votes each of those guys got.)
- Finally, pat yourselves on the back: the community ballot was the closest of all 10 ballots counted to the one that ultimately ended up representing the top 25 that will be posted. Only one player who made the community’s top 25 missed the ranking, which is better than any of us can say.
So who’s on the ballot, anyways?
First, let’s take a look at what’s changed from last time around. No new names were added from the summer edition, as no young players have been added to the Flyers since then. We did, however, lose three names from last summer’s ballot:
- Mark Alt, who was No. 21 back in the summer, turned 25 in October.
- Petr Straka, No. 19 in the last edition of the rankings, was traded to the Devils in November.
- Roman Lyubimov turned 25 in January after missing out on the rankings in his only chance. Poor guy. We never realized that he may actually be something until after he became too old to be eligible.
With that, the 43-person ballot that was voted on can be seen in full below, with players listed by their primary teams for this current season of hockey.
NHL: Nick Cousins (F), Sean Couturier (F), Shayne Gostisbehere (D), Travis Konecny (F), Ivan Provorov (D)
AHL: Nicolas Aube-Kubel (F), Cole Bardreau (F), Radel Fazleev (F), Robert Hagg (D), Scott Laughton (F), Taylor Leier (F), Alex Lyon (G), Danick Martel (F), Samuel Morin (D), Travis Sanheim (D), Anthony Stolarz (G), Jordan Weal (F), Reece Willcox (D)
ECHL: Tyrell Goulbourne (F), Jesper Pettersson (D)
OHL: Connor Bunnaman (F), Anthony Salinitri (F)
QMJHL: Samuel Dove-McFalls (F), Pascal Laberge (F), Phil Myers (D), German Rubtsov (F)
WHL: Carter Hart (G), Carsen Twarynski (F)
NCAA: Wade Allison (F), Terrance Amorosa (D), David Drake (D), Mark Friedman (D), Tanner Laczynski (F), Merrick Madsen (G), Cooper Marody (F), Matej Tomek (G)
SHL (Sweden): David Bernhardt (D), Linus Hogberg (D), Oskar Lindblom (F), Felix Sandstrom (G)
KHL (Russia): Mikhail Vorobyov (F)
VHL (Russian Minors): Ivan Fedotov (G)
Czech: David Kase (F)
Finally, real quickly, we’ll name off the guys who just missed the cut:
30. Cooper Marody
T-28. Danick Martel
T-28. Anthony Salinitri
T-26. Merrick Madsen
T-26. Tanner Laczynski
So, without further ado, players 25 through 21 on our Midterm 25 Under 25 are as follows.
No. 25: Connor Bunnaman - F, Kitchener, OHL
Far from the “Mr. Irrelevant” of this list, Connor Bunnaman has established himself a worthy prospect with a dazzling year for the Kitchener Rangers. In his 3rd season in the OHL, he has already shattered his career-high goal total through 50 games. With 28 goals already reaching the back of the net, he has a chance to pad those numbers in the 14 remaining regular season games. “The Bunman”, as everyone (me) calls him, is leading all Flyers prospects in goals by an 11-goal margin (Anthony Salinitri is closest with 19). He is one point behind aforementioned Salinitri among all Flyers prospects.
Bunnaman has been relegated mostly to the LW on the 2nd and 3rd lines all season, getting the occasional time in the faceoff circle as well. In 328 attempts, he is winning 52% of his draws. He was touted as a tough two-way power forward coming out of the 4th round in the 2016 draft and frankly not much has changed. The Kitchener Rangers have been far from the powerhouse they were last year. The goalies have given up a combined 198 goals through 50 games. They gave up 195 in 74 games last season. How is this connected? Well Bunnaman went from a lovely +18 last season, to a -7 currently.
It’s been hard to find conclusive review of his defensive play this season, but by all accounts has shown to be an offensive weapon at both 5v5 and on the power play. A nearly 22% shooting percentage may not be sustainable year-to-year, but perhaps we are seeing a late-blooming power winger in the mold of a poor man’s Oskar Lindblom? He’ll have a chance to prove himself again in the OHL next year, as he won’t turn 20 years of age until April 16th of 2018.
— Jay Polinsky
No. 24: Radel Fazleev - F, Lehigh Valley, AHL
We’re still waiting for the first member of Ron Hextall’s inaugural draft class to make his NHL debut, but three of them are currently playing for the Phantoms for their first full year of professional hockey. A sixth-round pick from that 2014 draft, Fazleev saw his stock rise steadily throughout the three years he spent in the WHL, posting a strong 71 points in 59 games in his final season with the Calgary Hitmen. Fazleev was signed to an entry-level contract back in May 2015, and there was reason to believe the Flyers might have picked up a gem late in the draft that they hosted.
Unfortunately, Fazleev’s first season playing hockey full-time in Pennsylvania has been a tough one for him. He’s been one of the most common casualties of the team’s offseason moves meant to bolster the Phantoms’ lineup, as he’s almost exclusively played on the Phantoms’ fourth line. He’s also spent some time as a healthy scratch and even had to spent a couple of days down in Reading at one point (though, in fairness, he only played one game with the Royals before being called back up). While Fazleev likely wasn’t expected to be much more than a bottom-6 NHL forward if he ever made it to the game’s highest level, you’d hope to see a little more than the 10 points he’s posted this season, and the fact that he’s fallen from 17th in the rankings from this past summer to 24th now does suggest that his first pro season has fallen below expectations.
Still, even if we may need to re-calibrate what we should expect from Fazleev, there’s reason to hope that he can get back on track in the near future. He’s a versatile forward, having been drafted at center but having played both center and wing for the Phantoms this year. He’s a strong defensive forward and has spent his fair share of time playing the PK this season. And while it’s disappointing that he’s not playing above the fourth line, it’s tough to expect an AHL-rookie sixth-round pick to beat out the types of AHL veterans that the team has brought in (think Greg Carey, Andy Miele, Chris Conner) right out of the gate, and 10 points in 40 games isn’t that bad considering Fazleev is likely only getting limited even-strength minutes and isn’t playing on the power play. There’s still plenty of work for Radel Fazleev to do before he’ll even have a chance to be looked at as an NHL-caliber player, but his first season with Lehigh Valley shouldn’t diminish his flame as a prospect just yet.
— Kurt R.
No. 23: Mark Friedman - D, Bowling Green, NCAA
The growth in the Flyers’ group of defensive prospects over the past half-decade or so is well-documented by this point, and depending on who you ask, the team may well have a “Big Six” of talented young defensemen, the likes of whom are yet to show themselves on this countdown. While Mark Friedman probably isn’t that far up on anyone’s list, and has never really been looked at as a high-end prospect, he’s almost certainly the team’s seventh-best young defenseman in the system at this time, and his progression in the three years since the Flyers drafted him has likely been exactly what the team was hoping for when they took him in the third round of the 2014 draft.
Friedman hasn’t necessarily taken a huge step forward this year, at least on the surface, and the fact that his position in our 25 Under 25 rankings has held steady from last summer is a reflection of that. But he’s undeniably been moving in the right direction. The projection on Friedman when he was drafted was that he’d be more of an offensive type of blueliner, and we’ve seen more of his offensive potential as time has gone on for him in college. His points per game have risen across each of his three seasons with Bowling Green, and he’s set a career-high in goals this season with eight in 33 games. If you’re looking for a red flag, the closest to one that we can find here is that Friedman isn’t quite shooting the puck as much as he was in his sophomore year, but even that dropoff isn’t too much to worry you (2.31 per game in 2015-16, 2.13 per game this year). On top of that, Friedman’s taking fewer penalties than he was in his first two years, potentially a sign that he’s growing increasingly comfortable with the competition he’s facing in the NCAA.
Currently a junior, it’s likely that we’ll see Friedman play out his senior year next year and sign with the Flyers some time in 2018 after his fourth college season comes to an end. The Falcons are only guaranteed four more games in their 2016-17 campaign, so there’s not that much more time for the 21-year old to leave more of an impression than he already has. And while Friedman’s done a solid job so far, it wouldn’t be too surprising to have him play out his final season of college eligibility. But I very well could be reading this one wrong, and he and the Flyers could reach a deal sooner rather than later and he could be playing in Lehigh Valley next year. It’d be another name to add to an already-crowded blue line in the AHL, but Friedman — if, of course, he’s willing to leave early and the Flyers want him to — may be ready for a new challenge soon, one that could really show us what his potential is.
— Kurt R.
No. 22: Mikhail Vorobyov - F, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL
It’s tough to think of a Flyers prospect more underrated by the general fanbase entering this season than Vorobyov. After all, he missed out on both the BSH staff’s Top 25 Under 25 list and the community ranking back in August, and that was despite scoring 23 points in 21 games in the MHL (Russian junior hockey league) and then spending 28 games in the KHL in his draft +1 season. Sure, the production in the KHL was nothing special (two goals, one assist), but the simple fact that he made it to Russia’s top professional league before even turning 19 years old was impressive enough to warrant at least some hype.
His performance in the WJC just a few months ago finally earned him that well-deserved attention. Functioning as the top-line center for Team Russia alongside top Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov, Vorobyov was one of the surprises of the tournament. He led all players with 10 assists, finishing tied for fourth in overall WJC scoring. The now-20-year old passed the eye test as well, flashing strong offensive instincts, a willingness to create chances from behind the net, and the defensive soundness that so impressed the Flyers prior to the 2015 draft. Kaprizov was the electric player on Russia’s top line who finished most of the highlight reel plays, but it always seemed like Vorobyov would kick things off with a smart read or slick pass to allow the play to happen in the first place.
Vorobyov is now in his second KHL season, and he’s spent the entire season with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. His point totals (three goals, seven assists) again are not eye-popping, but remain perfectly solid for a 20-year old forward in the second-best league in the world. It was the WJC that gave fans a glimpse of what Vorobyov is capable of providing when given opportunity in addition to playing at an age-appropriate level, and the upside that he showcased was tantalizing. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that he is Philadelphia’s second-best center prospect in the pipeline right now, behind only fellow countryman (and 2016 first round pick) German Rubtsov. Vorobyov is likely at least a few years away from a real NHL shot, but there’s at least a chance he could come to North America as soon as next year and join the Phantoms. If so, I suspect his stock will take another substantial leap by this time in 2018.
— Charlie O’Connor
No. 21: Wade Allison - F, Western Michigan, NCAA
The Flyers’ selection of Wade Allison with the 22nd pick in the second round last June was not universally-praised. Allison was the quintessential “late-rising” prospect, in that his overall numbers (47 points in 56 regular season games in the USHL last year) were not overly impressive, but he had nonetheless rode a late surge in performance to an elevated status among scouts. It was Allison’s stellar playoff run in particular that really shot him up draft boards — he finished with 16 points in 11 games and was named MVP of the USHL playoffs.
But there’s a risk/reward element to selecting late-risers, and the Flyers have dealt with both outcomes in recent years. Sometimes, a strong closing kick is truly indicative of a “new normal” for a player, as it was for Travis Sanheim in 2014, who built off a great second half in his draft season to become a point-per-game defenseman the following year. Then, there’s the case of Samuel Morin, whose stock rose into the early first round partially due to a seven-points-in-six-games playoff run prior to the draft that he could not fully sustain in his Draft+1 year (that’s not to say Morin is definitely a bust, but he probably was a reach at #11). So the big question for Allison going into this season was whether he would carry over his scoring prowess and prove to be a potential steal, or if his first year at the collegiate level (with Western Michigan) would be more of a mixed bag.
Allison has looked far more like a Sanheim (who would never have made it to pick #17 had every team viewed him as a point-per-game defenseman) than a Morin so far. Despite playing under a coach primarily known for a stingy defensive style, the 19-year old has still managed 24 points in 28 games, ranking him second on the team in scoring as a true freshman. His potential as a high-volume shooter has been on display as well, as Allison ranks 14th in his conference with 83 shots on goal, good for a 2.96 per game rate. It’s that combination of size (6’2’’, 205 lbs), sniper potential, and improving speed that makes Allison one of the Flyers’ most intriguing forward prospects. Don’t expect him to turn pro anytime soon, but more than any other player in the Philadelphia system, Wade Allison has the potential to finally be the pure goal-scorer that the big club has lacked for years.
— Charlie O’Connor
How We Voted: 25 to 21
|25||Felix Sandstrom||Mikhail Vorobyov||Anthony Salinitri||Connor Bunnaman||Connor Bunnaman||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Pascal Laberge||Danick Martel||Connor Bunnaman||Mark Friedman|
|24||Cooper Marody||David Kase||Danick Martel||Tanner Laczynski||Mikhail Vorobyov||Mark Friedman||Samuel Dove-McFalls||Ivan Fedotov||Tanner Laczynski||Radel Fazleev|
|23||Mark Friedman||Felix Sandstrom||Tanner Laczynski||David Bernhardt||Pascal Laberge||Anthony Salinitri||Wade Allison||Robert Hagg||Mark Friedman||Tanner Laczynski|
|22||Tanner Laczynski||Alex Lyon||Merrick Madsen||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Tanner Laczynski||Mikhail Vorobyov||Connor Bunnaman||Wade Allison||Radel Fazleev||Wade Allison|
|21||Pascal Laberge||Wade Allison||Pascal Laberge||Taylor Leier||Wade Allison||Wade Allison||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Anthony Salinitri||Wade Allison||Mikhail Vorobyov|