As we head into August, it is time for one of our favorite offseason pastimes here at Broad Street Hockey: the Flyers 25 Under 25.
An exercise that has become progressively more fun every year since we started doing it in the winter of 2014, the 25 Under 25 is more or less what it sounds like: a ranking of the Flyers’ best players, across all levels, under the age of 25. 25 is sort of a landmark age in the NHL — it’s typically the age at which a player is seven or so years removed from being drafted, and one could argue it’s the age at which a player is really in the prime of his career. Whether the guy in question is a franchise cornerstone, a solid NHL depth guy, or an AHLer, by the time he’s 25 we’ll pretty much know what he is as a player. (Also, it’s a nice, round number that sounds catchy. We’re not doing, like, the Top 29 Under 29. None of that prime number crap.)
So, until a player reaches that mark, guessing how their careers might play out is a fun exercise in speculation. As such, we’ll be spending roughly the next five weeks breaking down the 25 players who made our final ranking, one post at a time. And with the amount of talent that’s been added to the pipeline this summer, it should be the most exciting version yet. (Not to mention, the one that’s the most fun for us to write!)
We last did a brief update to this program in February, as we took a look at how players’ 2016-17 seasons were going and whether their stock was trending up or down. With the rest of the season well behind us and with several new, exciting names added to the ballot, we’ll be doing more in-depth looks at the players on the ranking this time around.
Player No. 25 on our ranking will be revealed on Tuesday. We’ll get to the honorable mentions in a second, but first, some programming notes.
The panel and voting
12 ballots made up our voting panel this time around. 11 of those belong to our various masthead members: me (Kurt), Al, Kelly, Allison, Jay, Charlie, Bill, Steph, Kate, Travis, and Joe. The final ballot was the community ballot, which we’ll get to in just a moment.
All of our voters received a ballot consisting of 49 players under Flyers team control that are under the age of 25 as of October 4, the day the Flyers will begin their season. Their task was to pick the 25 players with the most value to them right now — and how the voter determines “value” is entirely up to him or her — and rank them from 1 (best) to 25 (least-best). Ballots are then scored by reverse points, meaning the player who is ranked No. 1 gets 25 points, the player ranked No. 2 gets 24 points, the guy at No. 25 gets 1 point, etc. The point totals from all ballots are then put together and scored, and the end result is our final 25 Under 25 ranking.
(As a side note: There were two ties in the top 25. You’ll see what they were later on in this process, but if you’re at all curious about how we broke those ties, there’s a note at the bottom of this post, as it’s easier to explain with an actual example but I don’t want to spoil anything just yet.)
The community ballot
As mentioned, the twelfth and final ballot that factored into our scoring was an aggregate of ballot submissions from the community. We sent out a call two weeks ago for your ballots, and boy, did you all respond: even after throwing out a bunch of them that double-counted players or otherwise didn’t totally follow the instructions, we still had 1,034 ballots that made their way to the final tally. For comparison’s sake, when we did this same exercise last winter, we received 290 ballots, and we were thrilled with that level of response. The massive increase here just goes to show how excited this fanbase is with how the future of this team is shaping up, and it’s really great to see.
Some fun facts about the community ballot, while we’re here:
- Just like last time, no one player made 100 percent of the ballots that were included in the final tally. Yes, one out of the 1,034 ballots we counted did not include Ivan Provorov. Similarly, four did not include Shayne Gostisbehere, six didn’t have Nolan Patrick, seven had no Oskar Lindblom, etc. I did review the ballots that kept those guys (and others) off, and for the most part they looked like legitimate ballots that may have just made an oversight, so they stayed in the final ranking.
- And again, every single player on the ballot picked up votes somewhere. Here’s to 2017 seventh-rounder Wyatt Kalynuk, who received 21 points across all of our ballots to take last place on the ballot.
- Ten players received at least one first-place vote, and here they are alphabetically by first name: Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Phil Myers, Samuel Morin, Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim.
- Finally, as a bonus: this year, on each post in our top 25, we’ll include a breakdown of how the community voted for the player in question.
With the 2017 offseason really behind us, we’ve seen some slight changes to the ballot since last winter’s edition. First, we’ll look at the departed:
- Forward Nick Cousins and goalie prospect Merrick Madsen were dealt to Arizona in a June trade. Cousins was No. 10 on last winter’s edition of these rankings, while Madsen was one of the first players to miss the cut (he was tied for 26th).
- Forward prospect Samuel Dove-McFalls, a 2015 4th-round pick, was not offered an entry-level contract by the team. He did not make the rankings.
- Phantoms/Reading Royals defenseman Jesper Pettersson was not retained by the team. He also did not make this edition of the rankings.
- Finally, Jordan Weal turned 25 back in April. He was tied for 15th in the winter.
So we’ve definitely got at least two names in the rankings to replace. Fortunately, we’ve added eleven new names to the prospect corps since February, and here they are:
- First and foremost, the Flyers added nine players in the 2017 NHL Draft: center Nolan Patrick, center Morgan Frost, winger Isaac Ratcliffe, goalie Kirill Ustimenko, winger Matthew Strome, winger Maxim Sushko, winger Noah Cates, winger Olle Lycksell, and defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk.
- The Flyers also added college free agent Mike Vecchione back in March. This might be his only go-around on the ballot, as he turns 25 in February, so it’ll be interesting to see where he lands.
- Finally, the aforementioned Cousins/Madsen trade brought University of Michigan winger Brendan Warren to the Flyers.
With those changes noted, the 49-man ballot that was sent to our panel is as follows, with players grouped by their primary league in 2016-17:
NHL: Sean Couturier (F) (he’s still on the ballot! for the final time though!), 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), Reece Willcox (D)
ECHL: Tyrell Goulbourne (F)
OHL: Connor Bunnaman (F), Morgan Frost (F), Isaac Ratcliffe (F), Anthony Salinitri (F), Matthew Strome (F), Maksim Sushko (F)
QMJHL: Pascal Laberge (F), Philippe Myers (D), German Rubtsov (F)
WHL: Carter Hart (G), Nolan Patrick (F), Carsen Twarynski (F)
NCAA: Wade Allison (F), Terrance Amorosa (D), David Drake (D), Mark Friedman (D), Tanner Laczynski (F), Cooper Marody (F), Matej Tomek (G), Mike Vecchione (F), Brendan Warren (F)
USHL: Wyatt Kalynuk (D)
U.S. High School: Noah Cates (F)
SHL (Sweden): David Bernhardt (D), Linus Hogberg (D), Oskar Lindblom (F), Felix Sandstrom (G)
Superelit (Swedish Juniors): Olle Lycksell (F)
KHL (Russia): Mikhail Vorobyov (F)
VHL (Russian Minors): Ivan Fedotov (G)
MHL (Russian Juniors): Kirill Ustimenko (G)
Extraliga (Czech): David Kase (F)
With the intro words out of the way, we’ll begin with the five players who just missed the cut.
No. T-29: Noah Cates — LW, Stillwater (US H.S.)
2016-17 season: 20 G, 45 A in 25 GP
Ranking in Winter 2017 25 Under 25: N/A (was not in system)
The Flyers took a shot on a fairly unknown quantity in the fifth round of this past June’s draft, taking a U.S. high school winger from Minnesota named Noah Cates. So far in his career, the claim to fame for the 6’1’ winger — one of the best high school players in the state of Minnesota this past season — has largely been this goal, which sent his Stillwater Area High School team to the state tournament in his junior year:
Fortunately, Cates’ high school career has involved much more than just that goal, and he posted some astounding stats this past season — 65 points in 25 games. Even with the obvious caveat that the U.S. high school hockey system isn’t quite the level of competition that some of the other guys on this list have faced, Cates’ performance this year was impressive, and it seems like there’s some talent to be tapped into here.
Cates will spend this coming season at the USHL level, where he’ll play with the Omaha Lancers before heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall of 2018. Cates has said he’s hoping to add some weight this season, trying to add some strength on to the 165 pounds he’s currently packing. Cates was a high-upside pick late in the draft, and though the Flyers will have up to five years to follow him through the amateur ranks (one year in the USHL plus four at UMD), we may be able to tell quickly if the Flyers really have something in him if this coming season goes well for him.
No. T-29: Carsen Twarynski — LW, Calgary/Kelowna (WHL)
2016-17 season: 17 G, 26 A in 64 GP
Ranking in Winter 2017 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make ranking)
“Adding size on the wing” seems like something the Flyers have been trying to do for years now, and Twarynski — a 2016 third-round pick — represents another attempt at finding a guy like that in the draft. The 6’2”, 198-pound forward saw his scoring totals mostly stay flat in his draft + 1 season, as he tallied 43 points in 64 games out in the Western provinces this past season. His productivity did pick up a bit after a mid-season trade from Calgary to Kelowna, though, as he collected 22 points in 28 games with the Rockets before they made a run to the WHL conference finals.
It’s possible that Twarynski’s ceiling as an NHLer is that of an energy winger, one who can chip in a little bit of scoring but will mostly play in a checking-line role on the team’s bottom-6. That’s fine, and with his combination of size and good skating ability, he’d likely fare well in that kind of a role. Still, eyes will be on him in the WHL this year, as we look to see whether he can add a bit more scoring punch to his game.
No. T-27: Tanner Laczynski — C, Ohio State (NCAA)
2016-17 season: 10 G, 22 A in 34 GP
Ranking in Winter 2017 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make ranking)
Laczynski finds himself just on the top-25 bubble for the second straight time, as he was tied for 26th in the winter version of our rankings. He’s managed to stay around the same spot this time around despite all of the new names in the ranking, which goes to show that he’s still a fairly well-thought-of player in the pipeline who would almost certainly make the cut in a similar ranking for nearly any other team.
Though the 2016 sixth-round pick was a bit older than most college freshmen — he spent his age-18 season in the USHL after going undrafted in 2015, then began play at Ohio State this past fall — Laczynski’s first year with the Buckeyes was an unqualified success. His scoring clip of just under a point per game shows that there’s real offensive potential there. In addition, Laczynski was named to the gold medal-winning Team USA in last winter’s World Juniors, playing in all seven games for the red, white, and blue. (Here’s hoping things go as well for him as they did for the last Flyers prospect to win a World Junior title with Team USA...)
Still, Laczynski has plenty to prove this coming season in Columbus. His gaudy scoring numbers, while objectively impressive, were propped up a bit by strong early performances in Ohio State’s out-of-conference play. He slowed down as the year went on, going without a point in eight out of the Buckeyes’ final 10 games of the season. The goal this coming season for the 6’1”, 191-pound Laczynski will be to show he can sustain his strong performance for an entire college season against strong opponents. If he can? It’ll be really, really tough to keep him outside of the rankings next time around.
No. T-27: Nicolas Aube-Kubel — RW, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
2016-17 season: 9 G, 9 A in 71 GP
Ranking in Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 20
Aube-Kubel’s precipitous drop down and out of these rankings — he was 13th at this time last year — is a sign of just how quickly the Flyers’ system is adding quality players, and of what one single bad year can do for a player’s stock relative to his peers. 2016-17 was Aube-Kubel’s first professional season, and the hope was that the winger who posted two elite scoring seasons in the QMJHL at ages 19 and 20 would carry that over to the pro ranks. That didn’t happen, as Aube-Kubel didn’t reach double-digits in goals or assists despite playing just about a full season’s worth of games.
No one’s suggesting that we give up on a 21-year old winger who, again, had an excellent track record of scoring points in juniors. But the Phantoms’ forward group isn’t getting any less crowded, and it’s not going to get any easier for Aube-Kubel to really make a name for himself. The Alberta native must take a big step forward next season to really keep his status as an intriguing player in this pipeline.
No. 26: Connor Bunnaman — C, Kitchener (OHL)
2016-17 season: 37 G, 15 A in 64 GP
Ranking in Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 25
Bunnaman’s drop out of the rankings from last winter isn’t too surprising — he was just barely in at No. 25, and the Flyers added multiple players this past spring/summer that were locks to make the ranking. But it shouldn’t be read as a rebuke on Bunnaman or the season he had — in fact, the OHL winger may have made a name for himself as one of the system’s best potential goal-scorers.
Bunnaman was 12th in the OHL in total goal-scoring, having lit the lamp 37 times for Kitchener last season. In addition, via prospect-stats.com, Bunnaman was fifth in the league among forwards in total “high-danger” shots. Some of that was likely due to power-play success — Bunnaman’s 17 goals at 5-on-4 were tied for the league lead — but they all count the same on the scoreboard.
The Flyers clearly liked Bunnaman’s season, since they gave him an entry-level contract back in April. He’ll presumably have one more season in the OHL before coming to Lehigh Valley in 2018, and the hope is that he’s able to build on his success from this past season and emerge as an even bigger goal-scoring threat on the wing. Some more 5-on-5 goals from him this season would be an even more encouraging sign of development.
A note on tie-breaks:
If two players were tied in the final ranking (i.e. had the same number of points by the scoring system described above), they would both be considered to be tied at the higher ranking. The tiebreaker to determine who gets the higher/later spot in our post order is which player got the highest overall vote across all of our ballots.
For instance, take the above example with Tanner Laczynski and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Both received 20 points across the 12 ballots we received, so they were tied for 27th. However, the highest vote that Laczynski received across all of our ballots was 19th, while the highest vote Aube-Kubel received across all ballots was 17th. Thus, Aube-Kubel is considered “higher”, and thus his description comes later in the post, where the 27th-ranked player’s description would go, while Laczynski’s is in the spot where the 28th-ranked player’s description would go.