It’s Friday, and our Flyers 25 Under 25 series is roughly at its halfway point. We’ve discussed a dozen different young members of the Flyers’ organization so far, with a baker’s dozen left over that we’ll dive in on next week. For now, though, as the week comes to a close, let’s do a bit of chattin’ about how things are going in the series.
Who was someone that was on your ballot that didn’t make the cut, and why do you think we should have had them in the rankings?
Kurt: As the person who had the high vote on Wyatte Wylie, I will carry this flag. Points-wise, he had a similar season to fellow WHLer Egor Zamula, who (spoiler alert) will be featured in one of our posts next week. His physical talents aren’t remarkable, but they’re not a liability. I’d be lying if I said I watched a ton of WHL hockey, but the reports I’ve read from those who do suggest that he’s just a smart player, that he’s continued to improve through his time in juniors, and he’s done a good job knowing where to take risks, which is crucial in today’s fast-paced game. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler said in his review of the Flyers system that he’d guess Wylie is playing pretty close to 30 minutes in some of the games he’s playing in. I don’t know how high the ceiling is, and he’s a bit older for his draft year (a November birthday) so he should be beating up on these guys the way that he is, but given that the defensive prospect base isn’t currently super-deep with Myers having graduated, he should get a real chance with the Phantoms next year.
Drew: I agree with Kurt, probably Wylie. He’s kind of a dark horse in the Flyers’ prospect pool and has turned into a fine player. I also would throw Wyatt Kalynuk in the mix as well, but he has less of a case than others.
Brad: Hm, looking at the numbers and I’m now thinking that I definitely should have ranked Wylie; that’s a miss on my part. I guess Zamula gets more of the love around here because of the “undrafted gem” hype and his good preseason performances. Wylie should’ve made the cut. As far as Kalynuk goes, I agree, and did rank him, though it’s important to note he’ll turn 23 next month and we still don’t know what his game looks like at the pro level.
I’ll throw a new name into the mix as well: Linus Hogberg. I didn’t rank him this time around either, so I’m looking back and critiquing myself here, but Hogberg has played top-four minutes in the SHL for two years now and drove play really well in three of his four seasons in the league. It’s arguably the third best league in the world, and he’s been a ~55% Corsi player. He should have made the cut.
Maddie: I was sad to see Olle Lycksell still isn’t getting any love around here. He’s playing well on a struggling Linkoping team, and took a substantial step forward in his second SHL season. He’s a strong forechecker, has good speed and edgework, and he has great hands, his stick handling is just remarkable. It looks like he’s going to spend another season over in Sweden, but he’s always been an interesting prospect to me, and one that I think has NHL upside, and might end up surprising a lot of people when he makes his way over to North America. He’s fun as hell.
Craig: Wylie is a good answer but since he’s already been mentioned a few times I’m going to say either Kalynuk or Kirill Ustimenko. Kalynuk was named captain at Wisconsin and improved his point total from last season on a pretty underwhelming team, while Ustimenko posted decent numbers (.919 save percentage in 31 ECHL games) after a slow start to the season and saw some action in the AHL.
Mike: I’ll echo Craig there and vouch for Kalynuk, who has a great name and enjoyed a breakout season for the Badgers before COVID-19 took over. He’s someone to watch out for this coming season and should absolutely be at least among the top-25.
Kurt: When I was cutting names off of my list to get to my final 25, Lycksell lasted longer than I thought he would. Guy has held his own in Sweden and is very young for his draft year (he doesn’t even turn 21 until August). There’s still steps that need to be taken here — to try and make an apples-to-apples comparison, he this past year was at the same age and point in his career that Oskar Lindblom was in when he was the best forward in Sweden, and wasn’t even close to the same level of player — and so he never really was in contention for my list, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he finds his way onto it by this time next year. Of course, with him and Hogberg (who also was one of my last few out), the Flyers need to sign them both soon or they’ll lose their rights (Hogberg this summer, Lycksell next), so we’ve got that to keep our eye on.
(Also, to speak briefly on behalf of the BSH Community ballot: the only player that made the community top 25 but not ours was Samuel Morin, at 23.)
Ryan G.: I had Hogberg ranked higher than most, due to his ceiling as a defenseman playing in the SHL, which is regarded as one of the best leagues in the world (as mentioned by Brad). He’s still only 21 years old and has been able to hold his own against profesional players in the SHL. He has improved offensively in each of his four seasons in the SHL, where he started as an 18-year-old in 2016. The Flyers need to sign him, but I expect to see him under contract and back in the 25U25 whenever we do this next.
Kelly: I think looking back, and reading some of the others’ reasonings, I would have ranked Ersson. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I felt like I should choose one goalie to rank (besides Hart, obvs) and I went with Ustimenko because I was impressed with his limited AHL time this season.
Among players we’ve talked about so far, who was someone you were significantly higher or lower on than the consensus? Why do you think that was the case?
Drew: I was way higher on Ronnie Attard than anybody, considering I was the only one besides Mike who ranked him. He may not have had the best season at Western Michigan (14 points in 30 games) but he crushed it in the USHL and I think with time Attard can before a pretty good player. His game is very similar to a rover, almost like an Erik Karlsson, and yeah I’d like that. (Note I don’t think Attard has Karlsson level potential but they are both rovers at the blue line.)
Maddie: I’m also a fan of Attard’s (though I think I’d disagree with the comparison to Karlsson, stylistically)—he’s still pretty raw but I liked his first season with Western Michigan, he showed some flashes, improved his skating (one of his bigger weaknesses) some, and did some good work to prove why he was worth taking a shot on in the draft, that his performance in his last season in the USHL wasn’t a fluke, and I think with the proper development, he may well have NHL upside. He has some work to do, still, but I like him and I wish I could have snuck him onto my list.
But I think the one I was higher on than the consensus was Samuel Ersson, as I had him ranked 13th on my list. Like I said in that write up, his draft+1 season in the Allsvenskan was stellar, and I’m still really pleased with what he was able to do at his age and on a poor SHL team in his first season with them. I really like what I’ve seen from him just about at every stage, and he’s one that I think we should maybe be more excited about.
Brad: My rankings wound up being pretty in line with the consensus for the most part, and the player that I deviated from the group the most with hasn’t been revealed yet.
Craig: I’m with Brad that I don’t think I had one player that I overrated or underrated compared to The People. I ranked Sandstrom (22) and Ustimenko (25), which aren’t drastic changes compared to not being ranked. Thinking of it now I don’t think I should have ranked Sandstrom at all.
Mike: I don’t think he was rated totally out of line or anything, but if Jay O’Brien can keep himself healthy, he’s going to be in great hands at a fantastic college program and has loads of skill and potential. Thinking many will be kicking themselves for writing him off after the whole failed Providence experiment.
Maddie: Mike, hard agree, thank you for this.
Kurt: I didn’t have Noah Cates on my ranking and to be honest I think I just blew it there. He took a step forward this year and it managed to fly under the radar enough for me that he was one of my last ones out. As was discussed on this week’s BSH Radio, people in the know seem to be really high on Cates. I had been waiting to see him really pop, and I guess to an extent he did this year, but the fact that he’s on a UMD roster that’s crowded with talent maybe makes it hard for him to really stand out. But he’s progressed every year since the Flyers drafted him, and with guys like that you kind of have to keep your eye on them until they give you a reason not to. Mea culpa, Noah.
I was also lower on Laczynski than most, which is a cruel twist of fate because I was higher on him than most when we were doing this a couple years ago and he was early in his OSU career. He’s been a bit stagnant since his sophomore season, which is when he really burst on to the scene. There were hopes that he could be a guy contending for the Hobey towards the end of his college career, and that never quite materialized. He’ll be 23 when he rolls into training camp next fall (well, hopefully next fall) — we need to see another gear from him, soon.
Ryan G.: I was lower – much lower – on Mark Friedman than the rest of the panel. He barely made my rankings simply due to his ceiling and he fell into the “bottom-six forward/bottom-four defenseman” category for me, and he’s also already 24. I’d like to see him get a chance with the Flyers, but other players had higher ceilings, which is what it was all about for me.
Kelly: I was pretty high on Bunnaman, my reason being that I thought that he performed pretty darn well as a fourth liner and that having a good fourth line is a really important thing for your team to have if you’re going to be making any kind of playoff run. In hindsight, I think I probably conflated the overall reliability of the Flyers’ fourth line this season with Bunnaman’s individual talent. Charlie in particular made me see that pretty clearly when we talked about it on radio. That’s what makes these things fun though, getting to re-evaluate your own assessments by reading everyone else’s.
We’ve talked about a few different guys — such as Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, and David Kase — who shuffled in and out as fourth-liners on the NHL team this year. In terms of the rankings, how do you look at a group like that, with guys who seem to maybe fit in at the NHL level but in a smaller role, and compare it to some of these other guys who maybe aren’t real high picks, aren’t close to the NHL yet, maybe don’t have a great chance to make it, but seem like they’ve got a better chance to really make an impact if they ever get there?
Drew: I ranked players who have played in the NHL (and who look somewhat like they belong) higher on principal, but did make exceptions here and there. When you draft outside of the first round, getting any contributor is a win, and by that definition, the Flyers have already won big.
Brad: It’s all about ceiling here, and whether or not someone has played in the NHL already doesn’t matter to me for these rankings. I partially take the trade value approach as well, for example: if I would trade player A for player B, player B gets the higher ranking.
Maddie: Yeah, I’m with Brad here. Simply making the NHL doesn’t mean a ton to me because, well, we’ve seen teams call up players before who are clearly not NHLers. So it’s all about upside and ceiling for me. Even if they haven’t hit that ceiling yet, that potential is what gets the bulk of the weight for me.
Craig: I think it matters, but I lean more towards ceiling and potential as well. There are rules to every exception, but more times than not I’m going to rank a player killing it in the NCAA or AHL that is still a year or two away over a player who is near age 25 and is getting limited minutes on the fourth line for the Flyers.
Mike: For me it varies, and I wish it were different but I like to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. For example, a guy like O’Brien has tons of promise while Twarynski is essentially a finished product. Guys like Twarynski are a dime a dozen while O’Brien could end up being a difference-maker. As for other cases, Samuel Morin doesn’t get a sniff here because he just can’t play, while a guy like Mark Friedman doesn’t quite have the same ceiling, but at least offers availability. This is an inexact science, as we’ve seen how many teams be burned by guys named Strome before, right?
Kurt: I’d love to say I have a one-size-fits-all methodology to this by which I can neatly sort my ballot from 1 to 46, but there’s definitely some gut feel to it. Often times I’ve tried to implement the ceiling-over-all-else mindset that some above have said they lean on, but even in a fourth-line role, there’s something to be said about players who show up in the NHL and immediately look like they can handle what’s there. I saw flashes from all of the likes of Twarynski, Bunnaman, and Kase this year during their respective limited NHL time — frankly, more than I would have expected to if you’d told me in September that they were going to make the NHL team. And that does matter! Like, I could absolutely see someone like ... Olle Lycksell being a better, more impressive NHL player than any of those other guys, but what’s more likely: he makes a leap in Sweden next year, shows he can handle the AHL, and then balls out in training camp and jumps into a top-9 spot, or one of the guys we’ve already seen gets just a little bit better than we’ve seen him be so far and carves out a role as a quality bottom-sixer? It’s fair to do some projection with guys who have a “higher ceiling”, but sometimes that projection is so far away that you can’t even see it.
Ryan G.: I’m just going to echo what everyone else said about ceiling and potential. That group of players has shown they can play in the NHL, and probably would be on the NHL roster of a worse team, but ultimately they’re likely destined for a career as a bottom-six forward at best. That’s perfectly fine, but I’d prefer, as Mike said, a guy like O’Brien to Twarynski. I also kind of did my list as “if the Flyers threw this guy into a trade, how mad would you be?” and I’d rather give up someone like Twarynski or Bunnaman than say O’Brien or some NCAA/overseas prospects.
Kelly: My weird, amorphous, sort-of-random, ever-changing metric almost always values ceiling and potential more than mediocre or sub-par NHL performance. But then I also think a lot about how likely it is that a player would reach that potential. Like with Bunnaman up there; he’s definitely not any better than a solid fourth line player. A guy like Jay O’Brien, though, has the potential to be much better than that. But with all of the steps-back and struggles he’s had since we drafted him, do I think he’ll ever get there? I’m not sure. It’s easy for me to heavily doubt he will. Which, for me, makes Bunnaman more valuable to the org at the moment.
Any other thoughts so far?
Drew: Looking at the 2020 draft board, I really want the Flyers to take a chance on somebody like Zion Nybeck. Though he’s not exclusively a sniper, I think there’s a good chance he could end up become a good one, kind of similar to Bobby Brink both in terms of play style and size. Nybeck would be up there for me in the 25 under 25 for sure.
Kurt: He’d definitely be the best sports-playing Zion out there right now.
Brad: My main thought is that I need to start paying closer attention to the college prospects, because I keep having nothing useful to say about them. I’ve been purposely absent from those player’s sections in the write-ups.
Mike: You know the Flyers’ system is in a good place when we are literally picking hairs when in comes to guys in this ranking. The Flyers have a well-stocked system right now with potential impact players at nearly every position, and that’s something we haven’t been able to say about this team maybe ever. Pretty, pretty, pretty good!
Kurt: I wonder if any of these guys are just going to really, really pop. Like Mike said, there’s a lot of (accurate) talk about just how deep this system is. One of the deepest, possibly the deepest in the NHL. And part of the reason that that’s the system’s calling card is that there’s no one in it that really projects as anything close to a franchise savior-type. A lot of guys that look like they’ve got a good chance to be good players, for sure. But the thing that really pushes a team, a franchise, forward is someone taking a big step forward that no one was expecting. Is there someone we’ve talked about that can do this? Be way better than even any of us think? I’d love to find out.
Brad: To me, out of the players that we’ve discussed to this point, Wade Allison and Isaac Ratcliffe have the best chance to “pop” and surprise us. Though even more surprising, based on their rankings, would be Jay O’Brien or Wyatt Wylie becoming a big impact player. It’s possible!
Maddie: That just reminded me, I think it’s interesting that this round, rather than in our summer rankings, was the one where Allison saw his ranking dip, considering that before the season started I think there were a lot of (valid) questions floating around about whether he was going to be able to get back to old form after the knee injury, and I think this season he covered a lot of ground to do just that. So I almost would have expected it to be reversed, with him falling in the rankings over the summer and then bouncing back here. I don’t really have a further breakdown on that, it’s just interesting.
Ryan G.: I admittedly have not kept up with the Flyers prospects over the last year or so due to a multitude of things, which has made me go “yeah, that was a bad ranking by me” a few times. On a positive note, it’s amazing how deep the prospect pool still is. Going from what the Flyers had five or six years ago to now is a world of difference.
Kelly: What’s always wild for me is that the way we rank these kids is so easily swayed or changed. Like I said, that’s the best part about the 25 Under 25. We all have our individual observations and we rank according to them. But then I read what Brad or Maddie says about a current Phantom and I rethink a bit. Or I see what Craig has to say about a particular guy in the NCAA and I rethink a bit. This exercise allows us to keep learning about the players we’ve got coming up and it’s awesome. If we reranked after going through all of this discussion, my rankings would always shift a bit. Because I’ve learned!