15. Nicolas Aube-Kubel
The first forward drafted by the Flyers in the 2014 NHL Draft, Nicolas Aube-Kubel may actually be the team's top forward prospect outside of the NHL or AHL as we approach the 2014-15 season. While that likely says more about the Flyers' prospect ranks than it does him, Aube-Kubel's a prospect who put forth a strong performance in his draft year and will be worth watching this season in what should hopefully be a larger role for the Val-d'Or Foreurs in the QMJHL.
Aube-Kubel's a fairly small player, at 5'11", and his speed/skating seems to range anywhere from "OK" to "great", depending on who you're asking. And opinions on his defensive ability also seemed to vary. So there are reasonable questions about how his game will eventually translate to the professional level. Still, it's hard to deny that he's been getting the job done at the junior level. 53 points in 65 games is pretty good for a 17-year old getting second-line minutes.
The team is surely looking to see those numbers improve even more next season, and with him picking up another year on the competition, it's easy to see that happening for the Alberta native. It will also be interesting to see in what other ways he develops -- will he try to put a few more pounds onto his frame? Will he work to improve his skating? There are a lot of ways in which Aube-Kubel will still be looking to improve, and the ways in which he does will hopefully make him even more of a threat on the wing.
-- Kurt R.
14. Zac Rinaldo
Rinaldo is definitely one of the most polarizing players on the Flyers roster. Whether you love him or hate him, he's convinced coaches and management that he's earned a solid spot on the team and he's sticking there for as long as he can.
Not much has changed for Rinaldo since our midterm review of him: he still relies on his speed and his physical play in order to make a significant impact in games; whether that impact on the team will be positive or negative during the 2014-15 season remains to be seen, because as Charlie eloquently put it back in February, a statistical analysis of Rinaldo leaves you with a view of him as "simply a below-average fourth liner".
And yes, Rinaldo does have positives to his game. He can draw penalties with his agitation, and his speed aids a slow team. Overwhelmingly, though, Rinaldo's penalties overshadow his penalty draws and his poor puck possession overshadows his speed. Rinaldo has benefits, but largely, he shoots himself in the foot with overly aggressive play.
Rinaldo's spot doesn't seem to be in question and he'll likely be one of the only unmoving pieces of the Flyers forward core, as it'd be hard to imagine him anywhere but the fourth line. If Rinaldo could dial back his penalties and still play with an edge, he could be effective. By and large, expect him to do what he does best: wreck shit. We'll leave the interpretation of that up to you.
-- Allison J.
13. Mark Alt
Perhaps overshadowed a bit by the "Big Four" of Flyers defensive prospects (Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg & Travis Sanheim), Mark Alt quietly had a very solid first full professional hockey season in 2013-14. Acquired in an early 2013 trade with Carolina, Alt finished the year with four goals and 22 assists for 26 points in 75 games with the Adirondack Phantoms, tied for second on the team in points among defensemen.
A solid skating d-man with good size (6'4, 201 pounds), the American-born Alt comes with an athlete's pedigree, as his father John was a successful lineman in the 80s and 90s for the Kansas City Chiefs. By all reports, Alt seems to favor a conservative, all-around defensive game, and was described by The Hockey News as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of player at this point in his development. But Alt brings the size that the Flyers tend to covet in their defensemen without the immobility that often comes with it, and he even shoots right-handed, which surely has new team President Paul Holmgren excited.
Considering his production, age (he turns 23 in October) and second round pick pedigree, Alt would seem to be a cut above defensemen such as Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen on the long-term organizational depth chart. And with Erik Gustafsson now out of the picture as well, Alt could position himself as the injury callup of choice if the organization does not feel that Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere are quite ready for the NHL this season. Also, at the end of the 2013-14 season, Alt saw time on the same pairing as Hagg when he joined the Phantoms, so it will be interesting to see if that pairing sticks this season, and if playing with the highly-touted Swede on a regular basis will aid in Alt's overall development.
-- Charlie O'Connor
12. Nick Cousins
The third and least-heralded part of the Jeff Carter trade, Nick Cousins' first year in the AHL was a bit of a disappointment. Much like his frequent linemate, Petr Straka (whom we discussed in this space yesterday), Cousins seemed to have stretches where he was one of the best forwards on the Phantoms, but with a few too many other stretches where he was borderline invisible.
His year-end line (29 points in 74 games) was, no doubt, below where the team wanted it to be, and Phantoms head coach Terry Murray said earlier this year (via the Inquirer) that Cousins was "a ways away, quite candidly" from the NHL.
That said, Cousins is a year removed from a season in which he was the OHL's third-highest scorer. With the Flyers having brought in Brandon Alderson (his linemate at Sault Ste. Marie) likely at least in part to ease his transition to the AHL, it's clear that they see him as a key member of their prospect pool. As such, it'll be interesting to see how they handle him this year.
His struggles in his first year at a professional level (once again, much like Straka) are understandable, but the organization is clearly expecting him to take a big step forward this year. How they get him there remains to be seen.
-- Kurt R.
11. Taylor Leier
Taylor Leier has been a quiet yet important part of a dominating Portland Winter Hawks team the last few seasons, and now with his WHL eligibility up, he'll be a main stay on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roster in 2014-15.
That's a good thing, because Leier has some serious potential. He was one of the best under-20 players in Canada last season, as proven by his placement on their World Junior Championship roster, and he had an amazing WHL season, scoring 79 points in 62 regular season games and 26 points in 21 postseason games with Portland.
It's the right time for a guy like Leier, who turned 20 in February, to make the jump to the AHL. He was a fourth-round pick and he's clearly grown since draft day in 2012, but his NHL potential will become a lot more clear once he starts playing against bigger, faster, tougher players with the Phantoms.
We'll learn a lot about Taylor Leier as a potential NHL weapon in the next 10 months or so.
-- Travis Hughes