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Flyers Midterm 25 Under 25 Update: Nos. 15 to 11

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Some of the bigger names in the Flyers’ system start to show up as we reach the halfway mark (and beyond!) of our mid-season ranking of the Flyers’ young talent.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Three
So what is Scott Laughton, anyways?
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The middle fifth of our 25 Under 25 rolls in today. If you missed either of the first two parts, enjoy:

With that, on we go to players 15 to 11.

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No. T-15: Robert Hagg - D, Lehigh Valley, AHL

When we last checked in on Robert Hagg, it was in this series back in September, following what was a disappointing second season with the Phantoms. Hagg’s first year in Lehigh Valley looked like a success, as he’d gotten acclimated to the North American game and logged good minutes on a mediocre Phantoms team. Yet last season didn’t go as planned for Hagg, who was healthy scratched multiple times and saw his point production fizzle from what they were the year before. Reports from Lehigh Valley indicated that Hagg was, at times, trying to do too much, and that he’d possibly fallen back into some habits from his days playing on the big ice surface in Europe. It was surely not a regression you’d want to see from someone in their second year in North America, and optimism surrounding Hagg had certainly waned a bit. And while no one was saying that Hagg was done as a prospect, most would agree that 2016-17 was a crucial year for him to prove he was still a guy the Flyers can pencil into their future.

Fortunately, this year seems to have been a move back in the right direction for Hagg. His point production has already eclipsed that of 2015-16, and while his numbers (5 goals, 7 assists) aren’t blowing the doors off anyone, they’re not bad for a defenseman who doesn’t get any power play time. Hagg’s consistency and mental game on the ice, long something that observers have questioned when it comes to his game, seems to be there this year, as some have found him to be more engaged physically this year than he has been in years past. Hextall has said, via Highland Park Hockey’s Tim Riday (in that piece just linked), that Hagg has taken the step forward that “we had kinda hoped he would take last year”, and Chris Pryor has mentioned Hagg as a guy that he thinks is almost NHL-ready (link here, unfortunately behind the ESPN Insider paywall).

So why did Hagg drop four spots in our rankings? You could argue that it’s mostly a product of the successes of other guys. The four players who jumped Hagg since the fall (listed alphabetically: Carter Hart, Taylor Leier, Oskar Lindblom, and Phil Myers) have all had breakthrough years of sorts, with Leier getting an extended look at the NHL level and the other three all dominating at their respective hockey leagues. While I certainly wouldn’t say that our panel was wrong to rank those players ahead of Hagg in the here and now, it does go to show that Hagg’s development this year has maybe gone a bit under-the-radar. He isn’t taking the AHL by storm and doesn’t exactly make highlight-reel plays on a night-in, night-out basis. But everyone who’s been watching Robert Hagg this year seems to have good things to say about what he’s been up to, and he doesn’t need to be making “wow” plays in to show people that he’s back on the right track. Could we see Hagg’s NHL debut later this year? I don’t know, but the fact that we’re earnestly asking that question after the season he had last year is undeniably a good sign.

— Kurt R.

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No. 14: Carter Hart - G, Everett, WHL

Carter Hart is at the top of the totem pole, as far as Flyers goalie prospects outside of North American pro hockey go. The 2016 2nd-round selection is putting up another stellar season for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. Carter leads the WHL in GAA and shutouts. His eight shutouts not only lead the WHL, they’re double that of the guy in second place, Victoria goalie Griffen Outhouse.

Hart, has posted a 2.01 GAA and .925 SV% through 38 games. He was also selected to the Team Canada U-20 team at the 2017 World Junior Championships. He shared the crease with Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Connor Ingram, as they both backstopped Team Canada to a silver medal. In the tournament Hart’s numbers could have been better as he posted a 2.38 GAA and .906 SV%.

The future is looking very bright for the 18-year old from Sherwood Park, AB. While he does share a very crowded goalie prospect pool with Antony Stolarz, Felix Sandstrom, Alex Lyon, Merrick Madsen, and Matej Tomek, there is a lot of hope for Hart. In the scenario Hart does pan out, think of all of the puns that could be had!

Joe P.

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No. 13: Taylor Leier - F, Lehigh Valley, AHL

It seems Leier continues to sit on the precipice of being a staple to the bottom-6 of an NHL lineup. He’s smart in his own end, a valuable penalty killer, speed/skating ability and even has a bit of a scoring touch as evidenced by his 28 points in 34 games this season. Leier is basically everything Dave Hakstol thinks Chris VandeVelde is, which is kind of frustrating when you think about how bad VandeVelde has been as a staple of the 4th line and his usage on the penalty kill.

Believe it or not, Leier had played 10 games with the big club earlier this season if you didn’t notice. He scored his first NHL goal against the Dallas Stars’ Antti Niemi on 12/17. Still, Leier only managed about 9 minutes a game in his short stint with the Flyers. While still young (22 years old), Leier is already in his 3rd season with the Phantoms and has put up a respectable 108 points in 178 AHL games. This season he has developed great chemistry as the pivot to Scott Laughton in the middle and participated in his first AHL All-Star Game (which he won MVP).

So when will Leier get his shot? Well, the opportunity presented itself when Travis Konecny went down for 4-6 weeks. Sadly was unable to be even considered given that he himself is now injured and hasn’t played since 1/28 due to an undisclosed injury. This isn’t “now or never” time for Leier, but it will be disappointing if he isn’t able to finish off the season strong. Regardless, he should be a factor in Flyers training camp next season. Hopefully Ron Hextall does the right thing and creates a little more room on the roster for the kids.

— Jay Polinsky

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No. 12: German Rubtsov - F, Chicoutimi, QMJHL

Had German Rubtsov’s 2016-17 season ended with the World Junior Championships, there would likely be many Flyers fans fretting today that the team’s most recent first round draft pick was going down the path of a future bust. After all, Rubtsov had been unable to make an impact with his KHL squad in very limited minutes, and was shuttled back and forth between the big club and the Russkie Vityazi Chekhov MHL team from October through December. Sure, Rubtsov posted solid numbers in the Russian junior hockey league (15 points in 15 games). But for a first rounder, Flyers fans were expecting to be dazzled, and decent production in Russian juniors simply wasn’t going to cut it. The WJC just added more fuel to the fire of the belief that Rubtsov was disappointing, as he scored zero points in the tournament and was mostly a non-factor for the Russians.

Of course, the Russian national team notoriously structures its lineup by seniority, so Rubtsov’s usage as a bottom-sixer shouldn’t have come as a major shock. And the fact that an 18-year old wasn’t dominating the second-best league in the world didn’t qualify as the major setback that some interpreted it to be. But it sure felt underwhelming, which is one of the struggles that NHL teams face when drafting Russian players with a high pick. The Dallas Stars faced it with Denis Guryanov last year, as they watched their 12th overall selection be given limited minutes with his KHL club and unsurprisingly post minimal point production. Dallas’ solution was to get their prospect over to North America as quickly as possible once the year ended, and the Flyers took a similar approach with Rubtsov. That move has paid immediate dividends.

Following the WJC, Rubtsov never returned to Russia. While he was treated for a broken nose suffered at the tournament, terms were hammered out for an exit from his KHL contract. Luckily for Rubtsov, he had another club that was essentially saving a spot for him — the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL had selected him in the CHL Import Draft months earlier, and were in desperate need of another impact forward. Rubtsov was finally able to get his KHL contract voided on January 9th, and just ten days later he played in his first QMJHL game. Since then, the hype train has been rolling at full speed, as Rubtsov has more than met all reasonable expectations for his play in North America. In 10 games, the still-18-year old forward has 16 points (six goals, ten assists), which is good for a 1.6 points per game pace. For reference, Travis Konecny scored at a 1.69 clip in his Draft+1 season last year, which gives you an idea of just how impressive Rubtsov’s pace has been so far.

It’s obviously still early in Rubtsov’s QMJHL career, and far from a guarantee that he will keep up this stellar pace. But it’s hard not to be impressed with his quick transition to a new league and the North American game as a whole. Rubtsov hasn’t even been playing his natural center position, instead slotting in at wing alongside Hurricanes prospect Nicolas Roy, yet he hasn’t missed a beat. What’s been most impressive, however, is Rubtsov’s ability to shake off a tumultuous year and finish it not just on a high note, but maybe the best one possible. That speaks to his resiliency, his character, and of course, his high-end hockey skillset.

Charlie O’Connor

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No. 11: Scott Laughton - F, Lehigh Valley, AHL

It is objectively the case that Scott Laughton’s 2016-17 has not gone the way that any of us have hoped it would. After spending all of 2015-16 with the Flyers, the 22-year old forward was injured in a training camp practice, of all places, a few days before camp ended this past fall. He was off the ice for a month, spent a couple of weeks with the Phantoms for a conditioning stint, made it back up to the Flyers just before Thanksgiving, played in two games with the Flyers, was scratched for a couple of games, and was then sent back to Lehigh Valley, where he’s been since then. In the time since being sent back to the Phantoms, Laughton has seen both Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal get chances to play with the Flyers, and at this point it’s unclear what if anything Laughton can do to find his way back to the NHL this season. If this was a make-or-break season for Laughton, it’s safe to say that right now things are breaking — breaking poorly, to be specific.

Yet, I’m gonna stick up for Scott Laughton here, because things are a bit down for him right now and I think somebody has to.

In the two NHL games he played in this year, Scott Laughton looked like an NHLer, at worst. He didn’t score, but his line played very well in both of the games he played in and was frequently buzzing in the offensive zone, which is saying something when you consider that his wingers in those games were Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise. Pick your underlying on-ice metric of choice — shots, Corsi, expected goals — Laughton rated out extremely well in all of them, and he evened-out in even-strength goal scoring (2-2). It was probably this play that buried Laughton, as he had a careless turnover to New York’s J.T. Miller that ended up in the back of the Flyers’ net. Laughton would sit the five games after that incident before being sent back to the Phantoms.

Scott Laughton came into the Flyers’ system with the billing of a solid two-way forward. In his limited time in the NHL, that hasn’t really been the case. Laughton’s best play has come on the wing (where there’s less defensive responsibility), and his work in the defensive zone as a whole has been spotty. But he’s been a respectable offensive forward, and a better one than just the raw stats would suggest. 27 points in 71 games last season seems unimpressive, until you remember Laughton spent a fair amount of time last season as a winger (a lower-scoring position than center, in general), he didn’t play on the power play, his points-per-60 at 5-on-5 were 1.88 (fourth-best on the team last year), and his three most common linemates were Matt Read, R.J. Umberger, and Ryan White, none of whom are exactly offensive mavens.

Laughton’s probably not a game-changer at the NHL level. But on a smaller scale, the same kind of debates that we’ve been seeing all season about the likes of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny apply here: what message do you send by banishing a guy who seems to have some talent because he makes one bad mistake in his own zone? I don’t know what it’ll take for Scott Laughton to find his way back into the NHL this year, short of injuries or an absolutely torrid run of play in the AHL. I’d have him in the lineup ahead of a few of the guys the Flyers have in their bottom-6 right now, but that’s admittedly a low bar to clear and it’s probably not something that Dave Hakstol is going to move on any time soon. At this point, all we can hope for is that Laughton — assuming he’s not the Golden Knights’ choice in expansion this June — gets a fair shake at a lineup spot next year in training camp. Scott Laughton might not be what fans thought he was when the team drafted him five summers ago, but I’m pretty sure there’s an NHL player in there. I’d like to get a chance to find out, at least.

— Kurt R.

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How We Voted: 15 to 11

Rank Kurt Kelly Travis Charlie Jay Steph Al Joe Allison Community
Rank Kurt Kelly Travis Charlie Jay Steph Al Joe Allison Community
15 Jordan Weal German Rubtsov Jordan Weal Carter Hart Carter Hart Jordan Weal Jordan Weal Samuel Morin Robert Hagg Scott Laughton
14 Taylor Leier Nicolas Aube-Kubel German Rubtsov Felix Sandstrom Jordan Weal German Rubtsov Nick Cousins Travis Sanheim Carter Hart Taylor Leier
13 Robert Hagg Jordan Weal Taylor Leier Mikhail Vorobyov Taylor Leier Carter Hart Philippe Myers Felix Sandstrom Alex Lyon Carter Hart
12 Samuel Morin Philippe Myers Philippe Myers Scott Laughton Scott Laughton Scott Laughton Robert Hagg Philippe Myers Taylor Leier Robert Hagg
11 Anthony Stolarz Scott Laughton Oskar Lindblom Samuel Morin Nick Cousins Taylor Leier Carter Hart Alex Lyon German Rubtsov German Rubtsov