We march on through the teens in the Top 25 Under 25 today, nearing the halfway mark of our countdown. For a full recap of the series so far, please see the bottom of this post.
16. Mark Friedman
Primary Team/League: Lehigh Valley, AHL
2019-20 Stats: 3 G, 195A in 45 GP
Rank in Summer 25 Under 25: 19
Drew (ranked him #18): Friedman gets a solid ranking from me because he’s proven himself to be a third pair NHL defenseman in his limited time here. I don’t think he’s any better than that, but his addition to the squad just proves the depth that the Flyers have!
Mike (ranked him #19): You could probably easily convince me that Friedman could replace Robert Hagg in the lineup and the Flyers would be right where they are. That being said, Shayne Gostisbehere should be playing ahead of both of these men and that would place them as the seventh defenseman, which is just fine. Friedman plays an even game, and stays within himself. He doesn’t make many mistakes but doesn’t offer much at the other end, which makes him suited for an occasional spot start, but not an essential everyday player at this point.
Brad (ranked him #15): Friedman does a little bit of everything, and a lot of things well. I’m pretty confident that he’s NHL ready, and that him not seeing extended time with the big club this season just boils down to a numbers game. He can play both sides of the ice, and should be ahead of Hagg on the depth chart. I don’t foresee him becoming more than a six in the big league, but that’s not really a bad thing. The Flyers’ top four is all but locked for next season already, and there are at least two high-ceiling defenders on the way in Egor Zamula and Cam York. An agile, aggravating to play against third pair defenseman could be an ideal complementary piece for this team.
Kurt (ranked him #15): Hm. I thought I ranked him lower than this, to be honest. I go back and forth on Friedman. For a while I thought he was a guy who won at the lower levels and even to an extent in the AHL by just working harder than everyone else, and while that’s admirable and fun to watch it’s really, really hard to win like that in the NHL when everyone is both really hard-working and really talented. I think he’s got an OK skill set, and he can maybe hang on as a third-pair guy. I don’t think the upper-bound outcome here is much higher than that, but I’d say there’s a decent chance he opens next season with the Flyers even in a 7D role, which is more than I thought I’d say a few months ago.
Maddie (ranked him #17): Big Mark Friedman fan here. He’s NHL ready, he probably was to start this season, but the numbers game and the logjam at defense had him pushed back down to the AHL, but he’s ready. Third pairing might be his ideal role (though I do think he’s someone you could toss onto your second pair in a pinch and he’d be okay there), but it should be pretty clear by now, even after a limited showing in the NHL that he’s talented enough to stick. He should (should? hopefully?) have a space to compete for come training camp, and he’s certainly a better option than Hagg. He brings a well rounded game, and should help their transition game, as that was a particular strength of his at the AHL level. There’s a lot to like here.
Ryan G. (ranked him #25): I see I may have brought down the ranking here. I was a fan of Friedman in the games he played for the Flyers. He has the benefit of being a right-handed defenseman and one that appears to be able to hold his own at the NHL level. I would be happy with him on the third pair, or perhaps even the second for a short stint, but I don’t think his ceiling is higher than that. He certainly has a higher floor than others on this list, which we’ll see hopefully next year with him in the mix for a job on the third pair or at least the seventh defenseman.
Kelly (ranked him #16): Mark Friedman is better than Robert Hagg.
15. Isaac Ratcliffe
Primary Team/League: Lehigh Valley, AHL
2019-20 Stats: 6 G, 9 A (nice) in 53 GP
Rank in Summer 25 Under 25: 10
Drew (ranked him #16): I would’ve loved Ratcliffe to really light up the AHL, but with only 15 points in 53 games, I can’t say he’s remotely achieved to the level I’d hoped. To be fair, it was his first pro season, and the Phantoms were not very good. Also, for a big guy who likes to use his size to his advantage, getting used to playing against grown men couldn’t have been easy. I’m still high on Isaac though. He could be the next great power forward.
Mike (ranked him #14): Just missed this one by a spot, but like where Ratcliffe ended up in these rankings based off his season. The upside is there but I guess we expected just a bit more from him in his first pro season. As Drew mentioned, the Phantoms were bad and it surely didn’t help a guy like Ratcliffe adjust to the competition level. He’s a power forward with soft hands in an organization that badly needs to turn out another one and soon, but he needs more seasoning in the AHL and has to find a consistent effort level night-in and night-out in order to impose his will on opposing teams.
Kurt (ranked him #14): Ratcliffe’s another good case in not overreacting too much based on one season or even part of a season that really does or doesn’t go a guy’s way. 50 goals in his final junior season vaulted him all the way up to 10th in the summer rankings; now in the AHL, it’s clear he’s going to need a bit more time to pull things together. Which is reasonable, and probably should have been expected — as has already been said, it’s a tough transition to go from “way bigger than everyone else” to “just a bit bigger than everyone else”, and Ratcliffe has learned that the hard way this year. A slight drop in the rankings seems like a fair reaction to Ratcliffe’s tough first pro season; next year, when he’s got a year of experience under his belt, we’re going to need to see more here from Big Ike.
Maddie (ranked him #14): Kurt and Mike, hello. I think Isaac Ratcliffe has been sort of a weird case. He was figured to be something of a project when he was drafted, and then he took a massive step forward in his draft+2 season with Guelph, and it seemed like because of that, a lot of people thought he was suddenly way ahead in his development schedule and expecting him to keep developing at that same breakneck speed. And then that didn’t happen, and maybe that seems like a bit of a disappointment. He struggled quite a bit to start the season in Lehigh Valley, the transition to playing at the pro level wasn’t an easy one, but over the last couple of months of the season, he really seemed to be putting it all together—learning to use his size effectively, making better decisions with the puck, etc. He’s still a ways away from being NHL ready, but he’s still more or less on schedule, this is about what we expected when he was drafted. But there’s still a lot to be excited about as he heads into his second pro season next year.
Ryan G. (ranked him #13): Ratcliffe is the type of player – and body type – that I would expect to follow the trajectory that he has. He lit it up in his final two years in the OHL, being able to use his size and skill to simply overpower the opposition. But that all changes in the AHL against professional players. He struggled last year in transitioning to the pro game, and has shown more signs of progression this year. His ceiling is still a top-six forward, IMO, which is why I ranked him so highly.
Brad (ranked him #14): As others have said, Ratcliffe’s first professional season was underwhelming; little offensive production, on-ice shot metrics in the low-to-mid 40s, negative relative numbers. But it’s not that big of a deal. Fellow second rounder Nicolas Aube-Kubel had just 18 points in 71 games during his rookie season — a worse point pace than Ratcliffe — and since then he had been one of the AHL’s most productive players at 5-on-5, and more recently became a real contributor in the NHL with the Flyers. Sometimes the jump from juniors to the AHL is a struggle, as was the case here.
Kelly (ranked him #13): Coming into the ranking article late is a bad strategy because all of the smart and good people above me have already covered my reasoning. So, as Kurt said, Ratcliffe taking a step back in his first pro year was expected and not at all concerning. Prospects need development. It’s a thing! But as Ryan said, I think Ratcliffe has a pretty high ceiling.
14. Bobby Brink
Primary Team/League: Denver, NCAA
2019-20 Stats: 11 G, 12 A in 27 GP
Rank in Summer 25 Under 25: 16
Drew (ranked him #20): I so want Bobby Brink to be the team’s next sniper. All the highlights I’ve seen paint Brink as a phenom. If he continues to improve and light the lamp next year, I see no reason why the Flyers shouldn’t sign him to an entry level deal after 2020-21.
Mike (ranked him #12): Bobby “Brink” Brink (er) knows how to find the back of the net and he did not disappoint in his debut for Denver this past season. While adjusting to the college game and being like three-feet tall, all the man did was pile up numbers in impressive fashion. He doesn’t have ideal size by any means, but his skill level and hockey IQ are off the charts, and there’s time for guys like him at the next level for sure. Nobody is too small anymore, and he’s got the skating ability to pair with his hands to create a dangerous threat anytime he’s on the ice. Should be in for a big, big season at Denver next season.
Kurt (ranked him #12): First of all, great hockey name. Additionally: good at hockey! On the scoresheet, Brink had a similar year to the three college forwards we profiled yesterday, which is noteworthy because they all are between two and four years older than him. Brink was one of the most efficient scorers on a really, really good Denver team this year, made it onto the Team USA WJC team (and figures to again next year), and doesn’t turn 19 until July. He doesn’t fit the physical profile and isn’t a great skater, but damn if he does not do most everything else right on the ice. A lot of his team in Denver is returning next year, so TBD if he gets a chance to really step forward in 2020-21, but if he does — and maybe if he grows physically just a little bit — it’s not hard to imagine the Flyers bringing him on the following year.
Maddie (ranked him #20): I think my ranking here might seem a little deceiving here, because I really like Brink (as kind of a funny aside, I just found a note in my phone from last year, that I ran out of time to do, that was “content idea: potential draft steals/Flyers should target Bobby Brink if they’re somehow able to get a second round pick back”, but I digress). His offensive ability was never in question, but it’s really nice to see that immediately translating to the college level (and as he’s playing in a really difficult and competitive conference this year). The question has been if he’d be able to clean up his skating to take his game to the next level, and from what I’ve seen of him in the WJC and with Denver this season, he’s moving in the right direction. He hasn’t taken a massive step forward (sorry), but it’s still progress. He’s going to spend a couple more years in college, it sounds like, and the big question will be if he can continue on this trajectory (and until we see him do that, I’ll be a bit more hesitant to rank him really highly in this exercise). But, that said, I do really like his potential.
Ryan G. (ranked him #16): The Flyers may have reached a bit to draft Brink, but he’s proving them right so far after a tremendous freshman season. His size will be one of the few things that may give him some problems as he moves up the ranks, but so far he has been able to use his skill and ability to balance that out. It could also to turn out to be just fine for Brink, as smaller players are finding more and more success in today’s game. He’ll likely need another year or two in college, but he could be a top-six winger for the Flyers in a few years.
Kelly (ranked him #20): Maddie, hello. That said... BOOBBBAAAAAAAAY. Like Maddie, while this ranking seems low, it’s not because I don’t like Bobby Brink (should always be addressed by his full, outstanding name imo), it’s just because I know he needs a little work and a little time before we know for sure exactly what we have in him. I worry about his size — not how it will affect his play, but how it will affect how the organization views him and his potential. I have a feeling that, eventually, this will be our Small Goal Boy, and I’m into it.
How We Voted: 16 to 14
|16||Wade Allison||Wade Allison||Isaac Ratcliffe||David Kase||Mark Friedman||German Rubtsov||Egor Zamula||Mikhail Vorobyev||Egor Zamula||Bobby Brink||Tanner Laczynski||Wade Allison|
|15||Mark Friedman||German Rubtsov||German Rubtsov||Mark Friedman||Connor Bunnaman||Mark Friedman||Tanner Laczynski||Cam York||Wade Allison||Wade Allison||Samuel Morin||Connor Bunnaman|
|14||Isaac Ratcliffe||Isaac Ratcliffe||Carsen Twarynski||German Rubtsov||Egor Zamula||Isaac Ratcliffe||Isaac Ratcliffe||Isaac Ratcliffe||Isaac Ratcliffe||Egor Zamula||Isaac Ratcliffe||Mark Friedman|