TOP FIVE YEEEEEAH. The final day of the summer update to our Flyers Top 25 Under 25 is here. If you've been paying attention so far, you can almost certainly guess who the five players profiled below will be, and you probably can make a good guess as to what order they're in. But we like to think you'll stick around to see our thoughts on them anyways.
5. Samuel Morin
When he was drafted in June of 2013, Samuel Morin seemed to sort of represent the beginning of the Flyers' newest attempt to start developing some homegrown defensive talent. Since that moment, he's been joined by Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim, while Shayne Gostisbehere has also shot up the team's ranks. But even with the company around him, Morin's possibly the most unpredictable of all of the Flyers' current defensive prospects.
What most everyone can agree on is that Morin, at 6'6" and a newly-bulked-up 220 pounds, has quite an enviable combination of size and speed, and as long as that's there, there's some potential. But after that, there are a lot of questions.
Is his "mean streak" a sign of good things to come in the NHL, or the sign of a player who (while admittedly still a young, maturing player) needs to become more disciplined? His offensive game improved this past season, but will it really come around when he reaches the pros, or will he mostly be a player whose contributions come in his own half of the ice? How many years out from the NHL is he? And is his ceiling as an adequate second-pair defenseman, or does he have a good chance to turn into the top defenseman that the Flyers so desperately need?
A while ago on BSH Radio, I so eloquently described Samuel Morin as something along the lines of "a raw slab of meat". A bit crude? Perhaps. But between his impressive physical tools and what he has (and hasn't) shown at the junior level, there are so many ways in which his development can go that it's tough for anyone to say they've got a great read on where his career will go. With what will hopefully be an elevated role for Rimouski this season, Morin will have even more chances to prove he can be the guy the Flyers thought they were getting with their highest-drafted defenseman since Joni Pitkanen.
-- Kurt R.
4. Shayne Gostisbehere
Shayne Gostisbehere was already a popular Flyers prospect prior to the Frozen Four, but his performance at the Wells Fargo Center in April sent the hype into the stratosphere. Not only did his Union College team win their first championship in school history, Gostisbehere was clearly his team's best player. Plus/minus may be a flawed statistic, it's difficult not to be impressed with a plus-7 in the final against Minnesota, and most importantly, it was Gostisbehere himself who was generating the bulk of the offense that eventually would turn into goals for his team. From end-to-end rushes to spin-a-ramas to sliding pokechecks, the Ghost Bear was simply all over the ice (highlights here if you'd like to reminisce on how awesome he looked in that game).
Of course, one game does not make a prospect. But Gostisbehere also is coming off his best offensive season as a collegian, scoring 34 points (9 goals, 25 assists) in 42 games, and his progression has been steady and consistent, from 22 points as a freshman to 26 points and finally to the previously mentioned 34 points in his final college season. Soon after the Frozen Four, Gostisbehere inked an entry level contract with Philadelphia, and even played two games with Adirondack at the end of the year, failing to score a point in either. But Gostisbehere will still be given a chance to make the Flyers in training camp, even though he will most likely start the season in Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms.
It's clear that Gostisbehere already has a number of NHL-caliber skills, particularly his elite skating tool. But his lack of ideal size and perceived weakness in terms of strength remain a concern for many, and a professional weight training program will likely be a big help to the 21-year old defenseman as he attempts to prepare himself for an NHL career. If you're hoping for a best case scenario for Gostisbehere's year that doesn't involve him making the Flyers out of camp, look to Torey Krug's 2012-13 season. A smaller, offense-first college defenseman like Gostisbehere, Krug spent most of that season with Boston's AHL affiliate before earning a call-up at the tail end of the year and proving to be one of the surprise impact players of the NHL postseason. If the Ghost Bear can carry his production over to the AHL, he could look to take a similar path to the big club.
-- Charlie O'Connor
3. Scott Laughton
At this point, Scott Laughton -- a first-team OHL All-Star center last season, and the Flyers' consensus top prospect -- seems like a lock to be at least a full-time NHL player. Despite getting cut from the Flyers at the beginning of the past regular season, the past year has been kind to him: he was one of the OHL's best players, he captained Canada's World Junior Championships team in the winter, and he put up very, very impressive scoring numbers for Oshawa while playing strong defense.
But what is the next step for Laughton? Can he stick at the NHL level this year from the outset? How does he fit in with the Flyers, given their current (and perpetual) logjam at center? And what exactly is his ceiling -- does he end up as a bottom-six guy or can he turn into a no-doubt top-six, all-situations forward?
With 2014-15 being Laughton's first full year at the pro level, we'll get a good chance to see him on a more regular basis, whether that's in Philadelphia or Allentown. If he's in the NHL, it will likely either be in a fourth-line role or as an injury fill-in. If he's with the Phantoms, he'll probably be the team's best player and will get big minutes. It's up to the Flyers to decide which of those is better for him, both for this season and for his long-term development.
In any case, though, Laughton's a guy who the Flyers should feel confident in long-term. He does everything fairly well -- he's a good skater, he's strong and isn't afraid to play a physical style, and he plays in all situations and produces points while being a responsible two-way player. How much of that translates into the NHL is anyone's guess, but there's a lot to be excited about here.
-- Kurt R.
2. Brayden Schenn
Three summers ago, Brayden Schenn was seen as the centerpiece of the Mike Richards trade, and a guy who ultimately could be a player of similar abilities and impact of Richards himself. Three years later, we've probably got even more questions about Schenn than we did when he got here, as the young forward is still a significant subject of debate among fans while he sits without a true role on the Flyers in both the short- and long-term.
The glass-half-empty argument towards Schenn is that he hasn't put up particularly impressive scoring or possession numbers in his career to date, despite offensively-oriented minutes and consistent second-unit power-play time, and hasn't turned into the player we thought he'd become defensively. The glass-half-full side would say that he still put up 20 goals this year (mostly at even strength), and has had nothing resembling stability around him, with the team frequently shifting him between wing and center and putting him next to old, declining, also-out-of-position forwards in Danny Briere and/or Vincent Lecavalier.
Ultimately, there's a lot of truth to both sides of those arguments. Schenn has seen his roles, responsibilities, and teammates change consistently, and it's not easy to produce a ton of points that way. At the same time, with the pedigree he had coming in to Philadelphia and with Flyers' other two centers taking on most of the tough minutes, you'd kinda hope he'd find a way to produce regardless. In stretches, he has looked like one of the best Flyers on the ice; in others, he has looked borderline invisible. Ultimately, he's shown NHL-level adequacy in almost all areas of the game, but -- as Charlie pointed out in his season review for Schenn back in May -- he also hasn't really shown any dominant skills. Which, for now, kind of paints him as just a guy.
Does that mean he can't become more than that? Of course not. He just turned 23 last week and there's still time for him to prove himself as a no-doubt top-6 forward. But that'll require some work on both his end and the Flyers' end. He needs to bring his A-game every night, and make the invisible stretches more of an exception than they currently are. To help him do that, the Flyers need to figure out where they want him (Center? Left wing?) and keep him there.
But the overarching point here is that we can't find ourselves asking these same questions next summer. Brayden Schenn's still got time to show what we all thought he would as an NHLer -- but he's got to start doing it now. We were saying more or less that exact same thing last offseason, but this time we actually mean it.
-- Kurt R.
1. Sean Couturier
Ron Hextall says that he expects more out of Sean Couturier as an offensive player. That'd be wonderful, and we all hope to see more scoring from him. But any offensive juice that Couturier is able to add to the punch is just going provide flavor.
He already is the Flyers best defensive forward, and at age 21, he's already on his way to becoming one of the league's best shut down centers. That's not an easy thing to do, and it's rare that you find such defensive acumen from a player Couturier's age. Unfortunately, it's the kind of thing that also largely goes unappreciated, because it's harder to see and harder to measure than offensive contributions are.
Couturier seemed to be punished for his lack of offensive punch quite often under Peter Laviolette, but Craig Berube's taken a different approach, giving him more minutes in all situations and better line mates at even strength. He's become an elite penalty killer and an elite defensive player, and at just 21 years old, it's safe to say that the scoring will probably come sooner or later as well.
-- Travis Hughes