It is no secret that it has become a two-team race for Claude Giroux. With a full No-Move Clause in-hand, the Philadelphia Flyers captain has complete control of his destination and the two likely teams have been widely reported as the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers — both teams at the top of their respective divisions and needing a substantial playoff performance to justify some recent trades.
And nothing would really speak more volumes than pushing in some of their prospect chips to acquire Giroux; sacrificing some potential future and recent top picks, to get one of the best players of the last decade on their team for at least the next few months. But who are those young players that could find a new home in Philadelphia as part of the hypothetical return? I’m glad you asked.
It is very, very obvious that if Giroux finds his way down to Florida, that the 23-year-old Tippett will be part of the trade. He has been left out of the lineup for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate for the last couple of games — preventing any trade-breaking injury — and was made available earlier this season. Since being drafted at 10th overall in 2017, has never really found a stable spot on the NHL roster, averaging under 12 minutes a night for the 94 games he has played at the top level. Not the most beneficial spot for a young winger trying to show his offense.
He is clearly too damn good for the AHL though. In 63 career games down in the minors, Tippett has scored 26 goals and 60 points, showing that raw ability to produce when given the opportunity. If you had to pinpoint one thing about his game that separates him from the rest, it would be his knack for the net. While he is certainly known for his mid-range scoring chances, he can also get enough in-tight to convert at times.
Tippett would certainly add to some shot-heavy prospects currently in the Flyers system (Bobby Brink, Tyson Foerster, etc.) so there is at least some strong shots that this front office will reap the rewards from — hopefully.
For my money (this is Maddie speaking, breaking the fourth wall), the most exciting potential get for the Flyers would be Samoskevich. The 2021 first round pick is in his freshman season with the University of Michigan, and while he’s been a bit overlooked there (understandable, given the fact that they have four of that draft’s top five picks on their roster) he’s putting together a very solid season. As we speak and the Wolverines are heading into the Big Ten Championship, Samoskevich has put up a cool 26 points in 36 games, mostly playing down in the lineup because of how loaded this team is. Down the stretch, he’s mostly been playing alongside Dylan Duke and Jonny Beecher, a hardworking line that’s given opponents a lot of trouble with their speed.
Mackie Samoskevich (#TimeToHunt) cuts through the Notre Dame defence, just about scores on the give-and-go, and then Thomas Bordeleau (#SJSharks) shows up for the tap-in goal to double Michigan's lead to 2-0 over Notre Dame. pic.twitter.com/k705scgDc5— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) November 21, 2021
That speed has been a really nice asset to Samoskevich’s game—he’s a plus skater with good speed and ability to create separation in particular, but he also plays with pace. He’s shifty and is able to cut and curl away from defenders well, and pairing that with his strength on the puck, he’s one of Michigan’s better players at playing through layers. His offensive game pops well, he’s got a quick release on his shot and often surprises defenders with how well he’s able to hit seams in traffic. He’s been a good contributor for the Wolverines on the power play, and it was nice to see him elevating his game when given more minutes to work with when all of Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, and Brendan Brisson were away at the Olympics.
But he isn’t just a one note offensive threat, we should note, and he brings a positive impact in transition, and while his defensive game still needs a bit of polishing, he’s a pretty tremendous forechecker, able to force turnovers with pressure, and has held up well in being tasked with playing some tougher matchups.
Now, there isn’t one piece of his game that he brings the is hugely different from what the Flyers already have in their pipeline, but the complete package is such a good one. Samoskevich is a player in the same vein as Joel Farabee in that he does a little bit of everything, and he does that well. And, as Chuck Fletcher has said, the Flyers want to add more top end talent to their ranks, and Samoskevich would certainly address that.
If GM Chuck Fletcher wants to stay true to his notion that he would rather have a quick turnaround and opt into a retool rather than a rebuild, then center Aleksi Heponiemi might be one young prospect he could be targeting from the Panthers. The 23-year-old has produced everywhere he has went. He is a one-man offensive machine that can tear through defenses with his smart play, even if he is a bit undersized.
He was simply one of the best junior players the season after he was drafted 40th overall by Florida, scoring an insane 118 points in 57 games for the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos (who then went on to win the league title). Heponiemi then decided to turn professional in his native Finland, scoring 46 points in 50 games as a rookie over there and winning the World Juniors with his country that same year. And after an initial tough rookie year in the AHL, Heponiemi has turned up the jets this season by scoring 30 points in 42 games. That’s a whole lot of numbers just to throw out there, but it basically says that he can just put up ungodly numbers and has so far through his career.
His age comes with a little bit less of a shine, but if he is handled properly and given enough leash at the NHL level, it’s easy to imagine that he can work his way to being a very solid contributor. Wouldn’t the centerpiece in any hypothetical trade, but could be a real neat asset if Fletcher wants to show Philadelphia the Giroux returns before the season ends. Give a little bit of a showcase and put him up on the top line, I dare you.
The 15th-overall pick in 2018, Denisenko would certainly be an interesting prospect to try and target. Since coming through the forbidden door and turning professional in North America last season, he has been slightly disappointing for Panthers fans. In 45 AHL games, the 21-year-old center has 14 goals and 27 points — just an all right level of production for someone that was drafted in the first half of the first round. But his game going into the draft was clearly an evolved level of playmaking, so either he has changed his skillset to get more of a scoring touch, or there is just not enough talent around him to convert his created chances, considering he has more goals than assists at his current level.
Acquiring Denisenko could potentially solve the problem of not having a high-end center in the prospect pool, but also probably isn’t worth trying to target as a key prospect in the Giroux return.
If the Flyers are hoping to add more to their pipeline on the defensive side in the return here, one of their top options is Barron. There’s some surface level intrigue on Barron, right off the bat, in that he’s got good size (6’2, 194 pounds) and plays on the right side. That’s something in and of itself. But, of course, Barron is good and not just big (somehow we feel like we need to make that clear). He’s a good skater, his stride needs a bit of polishing, but the foundation is just fine. He plays a steady defensive game, his instincts are strong and he’s able to close gaps well to defend on the rush as well as break up plays in the defensive zone. He defends the blue line well. He also has a clean first pass and is able to get play moving smoothly up-ice in transition. In short: there really aren’t any huge holes in his game on the defensive side.
There may not be a ton of offensive upside to his game—he has the instincts to chip in when space opens up and has put up a respectable 20 points in 42 games with Colorado in the AHL, but he doesn’t project to be putting up big numbers in the NHL—that’s just fine, he’s effective elsewhere. The Flyers have a few defensemen in the system already (Travis Sanheim, Cam York, and hopefully Ronnie Attard) who can chip in well offensively, but a player like Barron would be a nice balance to that.
If you want a winger to instill all of your offensive hopes in, it should be Oskar Olausson. The Avalanche’s most recent first-round pick displayed some of the strongest skating ability in the 2021 NHL Draft while playing for the SHL’s HV71 — the same team current Flyers defenseman prospect Emil Andrae plays for.
Olausson transferred over to North America, suiting up for both the OHL’s Barrie Colts and Oshawa Generals this season; and despite going to the junior level, he has been described to have a pro-level poise to his game while producing offensively.
Oskar Olausson scored ten seconds into last night’s game in Barrie. His third goal in as many games. pic.twitter.com/nf2lWzFeeH— Mile High Hockey (@MileHighHockey) October 15, 2021
“It is not just the skating ability — his perfect form — but also how he uses that ability, the habits and patterns,” Elite Prospects lead scout David St-Louis said before he was selected by the Avalanche at 28th overall. “Olausson skates with crossovers most of the time, and he weaves against defenders, changing lanes, weight shifting to fake them out; he can pierce through neutral-zone defenders at this level super easily.”
For the Flyers, this would make their current crop of young wingers increasingly interesting. As noted earlier, they already have a bounty of some shoot-first wingers in Bobby Brink, Tyson Foerster, and Samu Tuomaala; but adding Olausson would be a different playmaking and stoic game that would rather problem-solve than to enter the zone with a set plan. Some improvisation is always needed and Olausson does that in spades. He would be an interesting add if Giroux heads west.
Center Jean-Luc Foudy would be an...interesting prospect to acquire. An extremely talented skater, but really dropped down to the Avalanche in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft. Someone that can weave their way through an opposition and be one of the more elusive forwards on the ice, but the production is initially, a little jarring. One of the rare teenagers that were able to play enough games in the AHL while the junior leagues were on pause last season, Foudy returned to the AHL as a 19-year-old and even if he has only scored six goals and 18 points in 51 games. But again, he is just a teenager playing in a very good league, so there is certainly context needed and a pause before we start worrying that GM Chuck Fletcher hypothetically grabbed a nothing prospect.
His stock isn’t incredibly high, so it’s feasible that Foudy is someone that the Avalanche would be willing to part ways with, especially considering their current NHL forward crop. And similar to nabbing Denisenko from Florida, this would add some skill to the current center prospects that the Flyers do (not) have.
This may be a familiar name for any big Flyers prospect watchers—Behrens is in his first season at Denver with our old pal Bobby Brink. He’s off to a great start too, coasting along not too far under a point per game, with 28 points in 33 games. The Flyers’ pipeline is on the thinner side at defense, and Behrens would be a nice addition to bolster that. He plays quite a exciting game, with an excellent first pass and a smooth stride, he’s a mobile defender who influences the game well in transition. He’s a smaller player (listed at 5’9, 178 pounds) but he plays bigger than his size, to use a bit of a cliche. He’s an aggressive defender who plays with a good gap, and with his lower center of gravity, he’s really hard to push off pucks when he gains possession. And, as the stat line suggests, he’s got a nice bit of offensive upside to work with as well. All in all, he has quite a well rounded game already, and he’s only going to get better as he continues to polish it. He profiles as quite a good modern defenseman, and certainly would be an intriguing add for the Flyers.