We move on with our Midterm Top 25 Under 25 with the second part of our five-day series. If you missed yesterday’s look at players 25 to 21, you can read it here.
With that, let’s move on to players 20 to 16.
No. 20: Nicolas Aube-Kubel - F, Lehigh Valley, AHL
When Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s point production surged from 53 points in 65 games in his pre-draft season to 80 in 61 during his draft+1 year, it certainly looked like the Flyers had dug up a steal with their 2014 second round pick. In a system starved for offensive skill up front, Aube-Kubel at the time provided one of the few hopes for a homegrown top-six forward. But as the Flyers’ system has gotten deeper at forward over the past two seasons, Aube-Kubel’s progression has stagnated a bit. First, he basically repeated his draft+1 production during his final season in the QMJHL (84 points in 61 games) rather than improving on his scoring pace. And now, in his first professional season, Aube-Kubel has struggled to make much of a dent on the scoresheet.
In his defense, the 20-year old forward has not exactly been placed in the most favorable situations. Aube-Kubel has been used almost exclusively on the third and fourth lines, and has rarely received power play ice time. But for a player generally accepted to have the ceiling of a second line forward, his underwhelming point production (six goals, six assists in 44 games) has undeniably been a bit of a disappointment. For comparison, peer Radel Fazleev (also drafted by Philadelphia in 2014) has received similar usage as Aube-Kubel this year and has nearly mirrored his production (10 points in 40 games), despite being viewed as a forward with a much lower ceiling.
This isn’t to say that Aube-Kubel’s chances of being an impact NHL forward are finished. The best-case scenario recent comparable would probably be Nick Cousins, who after strong scoring rates in juniors, was directed to primarily focus on his defense by the coaching staff during his first AHL season and finished with a “disappointing” 29 points in 74 games. The following year, Cousins was given more favorable usage, his production spiked, and now he’s a perfectly useful middle-six NHL forward. It’s fair to hope that Aube-Kubel’s professional career follows a similar path, but by the same token, it’s also understandable that his stock has dropped a bit, especially as Ron Hextall continues to restock the Flyers’ forward pipeline.
— Charlie O’Connor
No. 19: Pascal Laberge - F, Victoriaville, QMJHL
While Pascal Laberge’s 2016-17 hockey season has been nothing compared to the hardship he’s faced in his life otherwise, it’s safe to say that the first year after being drafted by the Flyers has not gone the way he’s wanted.
Laberge was concussed on a brutal, dangerous elbow to the head back in October -- just eight games into his QMJHL season. It kept him out of the Victoriaville Tigres lineup until December, and ultimately, probably, cost him a spot on Canada’s World Junior team as well. (They only got a silver medal, so it’s not like he missed out on too much.)
In total, Laberge has played in 34 games on the year — mostly since the return from the concussion. And in those games, his nine goals and 14 assists are at the very least respectable, if not a touch down from the scoring rate we saw from him during 2015-16 season in the Q.
It’s clear Laberge still has plenty of skill in his repertoire — seriously, look at this shootout goal — and that the physical-but-skilled two-way game that preceded his early-second round draft slot is still reason for Flyers fans to be excited. Don’t let that dangerous, illegal hit get you down on Laberge too much. He’s bounced back from worse.
— Travis Hughes
No. 18: Felix Sandstrom - G, Brynas, SHL
While Sandstrom may be the first of the Flyers goaltending prospects to appear on our midterm rankings, don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s anything less than extremely promising.
Since we last reviewed him, Sandstrom has put in an additional 15 games in the SHL. His numbers have improved slightly from a .903 save percentage last year to a .909 this year -- not exactly blow your mind statistics, but still rather impressive for a 20 year old playing in a league of men. And any improvement over last year is a good sign, right?
But let’s be honest, here — that slight improvement in save percentage isn’t why Sandstrom went from 24 to 18 on our list in just a couple of months. Sandstrom was an absolute beast in this year’s World Junior Championship and shined as perhaps one of the best performers among the prospect class. He put up an impressive .915 save percentage through six games and was named the best goaltender of the tournament. Back when we reviewed him in our previous rankings, we noted that he was one of the more highly ranked prospects in his draft year. With his play on the upswing and an impressive tournament under his belt, he seems to be proving the scouts right.
The only question regarding Sandstrom is whether or not he’ll be brought over to play for the Flyers or Lehigh Valley. While he certainly seems to possess the potential to be a full time NHL player, the Flyers aren’t exactly lacking in options for who eventually takes over the crease. Only time will tell if Sandstrom ends up a regular on the Flyers roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him somewhere in the NHL in the near future.
— Al K.
No. 17: Alex Lyon - G, Lehigh Valley, AHL
The Phantoms’ backup-turned-starter-for-much-of-the-season, Alex Lyon is an interesting prospect to evaluate as we look at his first pro season after the Flyers signed him out of Yale at the end of last year. While college free agent signings should almost always come in with somewhat tempered expectations, Lyon — as we discussed in this space back in September — simply has a long, clear track record of very strong goaltending results, and with those come expectations that similar results will show at the next level.
Lyon’s first year with the Phantoms has been respectable, if not spectacular. His numbers for the season are middling (.911 save percentage), but it’s how he’s gotten there that’s really raised an eyebrow. Lyon’s played in 31 games this season. In 12 of those appearances, he’s posted a single-game save percentage above .940 — a spectacular showing, and one that should allow your team to win a lot of games. But in 12 other appearances, he’s posted a single-game save percentage below .900 — a mark below which you’re not going to see your team win a ton of hockey games. The terms “boom or bust” and “inconsistent” are often thrown around a lot to explain simple game-to-game variance, but it does seem like Lyon’s play in his rookie year fits those types of descriptions fairly well.
Of course, no one should have expected Lyon to be a totally polished product in just his first year of pro hockey, and while we surely need to see good performances strung together more consistently than we have with Lyon this year, there’s clearly still upside here. And Lyon’s picked up more playing time and experience this year than the team likely anticipated he would, due to injuries at the NHL level that kept Anthony Stolarz with the Flyers for much of the season, which can’t be considered anything but good for his development. The Flyers’ goaltending hierarchy is almost guaranteed to look different next year than it does this year, at both the NHL and AHL level, but assuming that Lyon is re-signed this summer (he should be) and isn’t starting next year with the Flyers (he shouldn’t be), he should have the inside track to be the Phantoms’ primary starter next season. We’ll find out then if this year’s flashes of strong play from this year are a sign of things to come at the game’s highest levels.
— Kurt R.
No. T-15: Jordan Weal - F, Lehigh Valley, AHL
[Ed. note: A tie! Wow! Yes, Weal and the next person on our list got the same number of points from the 10 ballots cast, and rather than attempt to break that tie we’ll just list them both at 15th. Another one of these is coming later in the rankings, too, so get pumped for that.]
Ah, Jordan Weal. I kind of feel bad for how the guy was brought on to the Flyers — he’ll always be overshadowed by the fact that Vinny Lecavalier was unloaded to the Kings in that same deal. But even though he may have been the “lesser” part of that trade, there’s reason to believe that the Flyers may have gotten some value in acquiring Weal.
There really isn’t much new to say about Weal since he last showed up on our rankings. As of writing, he has played only one game with the Flyers this season after getting called up to replace an injured Travis Konecny. He wasn’t able to register a point in that game, but...it’s one game. I could foolishly look at some other stats to build a case as to whether he’s good or bad at the NHL level, but again, there really isn’t much to go by.
What we can go by, however, is how Weal has performed in Lehigh Valley this year. He’s performing a tad better than he has in the past, scoring 15 goals and 32 assists in just 43 games. Weal has always been a high point producer in the AHL, but until this year he’s been unable to sustain over a point-per-game.
While he’s been tearing up the AHL, don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s a sure fire bet to maintain a roster spot with the Flyers. After all, Weal is currently 24 years old — not exactly on the younger side of prospects. It’s unlikely that he’ll continue to improve much in subsequent years, so his best shot to make himself a proven NHL player is right now. Of course, I’m hoping that he turns out to be just as good in the NHL as he is in the AHL, but I’m not convinced that’s a sure thing. Regardless, even if he ends up being a career minor leaguer, he’s probably not a bad guy to have in the Flyers system in case they need a call up. If that’s Weal’s floor, I’d say that’s a pretty good value for what the Flyers gave up to get him.
— Al K.
How We Voted: 20 to 16
|20||Mikhail Vorobyov||Mark Friedman||Connor Bunnaman||Mark Friedman||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Connor Bunnaman||Felix Sandstrom||Connor Bunnaman||Merrick Madsen||Pascal Laberge|
|19||Alex Lyon||Radel Fazleev||Radel Fazleev||Cooper Marody||Danick Martel||Robert Hagg||Alex Lyon||Samuel Dove-McFalls||Danick Martel||Nicolas Aube-Kubel|
|18||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Carter Hart||Alex Lyon||Pascal Laberge||Felix Sandstrom||Felix Sandstrom||Radel Fazleev||Merrick Madsen||Anthony Salinitri||Alex Lyon|
|17||Wade Allison||Pascal Laberge||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Robert Hagg||Alex Lyon||Alex Lyon||Mark Friedman||German Rubtsov||Pascal Laberge||Felix Sandstrom|
|16||Carter Hart||Oskar Lindblom||Carter Hart||Wade Allison||Robert Hagg||Pascal Laberge||Taylor Leier||Scott Laughton||Samuel Morin||Jordan Weal|