Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
For close to twenty years now, the Philadelphia Flyers have been seen as a year in and year out contender for the Stanley Cup. With a few exceptions (notably 2006-07), they almost always seem to be up at the top of the NHL standings, and doing damage in the playoffs. And so they entered the 2012-13 NHL season with those same expectations, make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup. Things didn’t quite go to plan for the Flyers, who finished the year on the outside looking in. Never a management group to rest on its laurels, owner Ed Snider opened his wallet and general manager Paul Holmgren began making moves. Amnestied were big money, space cadet goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and centre Daniel Briere. Brought in via trades and signings were defenceman Mark Streit, centre Vincent Lecavalier, and goaltender Ray Emery. The Flyers will look to these moves in order to put themselves back in the playoffs as they move to the new Metropolitan Division, which promises to be extremely competitive.
Top Prospect, Scott Laughton, Centre
Born May 30 1994 — Oakville, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 170 — Shoots Left
Drafted 20th Overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Draft.
A strong start to the season in Oshawa during the NHL lockout, and a great training camp when the season did finally open, led to Scott Laughton making his NHL debut with the Flyers this year. After 5 games though, it was obvious that the 18 year old needed more time in the OHL, and Laughton was sent back to the Generals. This isn’t a bad thing, as most were surprised that the 20th overall pick in the 2012 Draft could make the squad to begin with. Rather it shows the promise Laughton has, and catapults him into the Flyers number 1 prospect spot. While in Oshawa, Laughton improved his offensive numbers and became more of a leader in the OHL, taking on an important role as alternate captain of the Generals.
After being the 3rd overall pick in the 2010 OHL draft, Laughton took some time to find his offence at the major junior level. However when he did, around the middle of the 2011-12 season, it really took off for him as he’s been a better than point-per-game player ever since. It is this evolution that saw Laughton quickly find his way into the Flyers lineup. Laughton has outstanding hockey sense. He sees the ice very well and has an uncanny ability to sneak behind defenders and find a free piece of ice and get himself open. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a good release. As a playmaker, Laughton possesses good vision and passing skills. He uses his grit and desire to win board battles and to control the puck down low on the cycle game. The main area that may hold Laughton back from being a top line player at the next level is that he is not a very good stickhandler. He’s much more of a straight ahead, north/south type player than one who will dangle his way through opposing defences.
Laughton has developped into an excellent checking centre. He is willing to do whatever it takes to excel in the role, whether it be blocking shots, intercepting passes, making hits, or being an irritating pest to the opposition’s best players. He is an extremely hard working player in all three zones, and always willing to battle along the boards or in front of the net. Laughton has developped top notch faceoff skills and this has made him a key member of the Generals penalty kill. Laughton shows a ton of will to win, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to make that happen, including being willing to drop the gloves with a bigger opponent when necessary.
Laughton has improved his skating however, there is still some work to be done. His first step quickness is a lot better than it was last year, but he still needs to improve his stride. This will lead to better acceleration and faster top end speed. In my viewings of him I’ve seen the start of these changes, and as hard a worker as Laughton is, he should be able to correct it with the right skating coach. Laughton does however possess good balance and agility. He’s strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck when he’s working the cycle game.
Leadership, two way play, grit, hard work, if this all sounds familiar to Flyers fans, it should. It is this skill set and the style of play that has led many to make the comparison between Laughton and former Flyers centre Mike Richards. Laughton will give the Flyers another tough decision come training camp. As a 1994 birthdate Laughton is ineligible for the AHL, (at least until his OHL team is eliminated), the Flyers must choose to keep Laughton in the NHL or send him back to Oshawa for one more run at trying to win the Memorial Cup.
#2 Prospect, Shayne Gostisbehere, Defence,
Born Apr 20 1993 — Margate, FL
Height 5.11 — Weight 170 — Shoots L
Selected by Philadelphia Flyers round 3 #78 overall 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Shayne Gostisbehere, is one of many hockey prospects that have started appearing from the non-traditional hockey markets in the Southern US. The Margate, Florida native has been overcoming misconceptions his whole career though. If it wasn’t about where he grew up, it was the fact that he is a little undersized for a defenceman. Then it was the fact he was at Union College, a program that hasn’t been known as a hockey powerhouse over the years, until Gostisbehere got there of course. Over the last two years he’s helped to lead the flying Dutchmen to back to back ECAC Championships (the first two in school history), and their only appearance in the Frozen Four in 2012. He also earned a spot on the team USA blue line, and played a prominent role including power play time, in helping the Americans win the 2013 World Junior Championships Gold Medal.
Gostisbehere’s main value is as an offensive defenceman. He has excellent vision and passing skill which he uses both to make a good first pass to start the rush, and to quarterback the play on the offensive blue line. A hard slap shot and excellent one-timer can not be ignored and draws penalty killing units to extend their coverage and respect his shot opening up plays for his teammates down low. He has good stick handling skills, and combines that with great agility, and the ability to walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes on the powerplay.
Gostisbehere’s defensive game is a work in progress. He is a very good skater and is tough to beat one on one. A quick stick helps him to defend with pokechecks and by cutting down lanes. He also is a hard worker. However, at just 170 lbs, Gostisbehere must get bigger and stronger to win board battles and clear the front of the net. He can get overpowered at the NCAA level right now. He does have a bit of a mean streak though, and has been known to take penalties with his stick, such as the one that earned him a 1 game suspension at the World Juniors. With more muscle on his frame, he’ll be more effective as he isn’t afraid to get dirty out there.
Expect Gostisbehere to be back for at least one more season with Union. While he doesn’t provide immediate help to the Flyers he’s certainly a prospect with talent, and someone for Flyers fans to keep an eye on. He could eventually learn a lot from a defenceman like Mark Streit when he’s ready to move up to the pro game.
Sleeper Pick: Jason Akeson, Right Wing/Centre
Born Jun 3 1990 — Orleans, ONT
Height 5.10 — Weight 190 — Shoots Right
Signed as a Free Agent, March 2011
Akeson went undrafted out of the OHL. In his original draft year, he was under the radar, playing mostly junior A hockey. He would eventually get signed by the Rangers, but recieved little playing time as a 17 year old. However Akeson’s role would grow over the next three years scoring 64 points, 80 points, and followed that up with an impressive 108 points in his overage season, tying Tyler Toffoli for the league lead in points, but losing the scoring crown on the goals scored tiebreaker. This would prompt the Flyers to give him a shot with an Entry Level Contract. Akeson would put up impressive rookie numbers with 55 points in 76 games in Adirondack.
This year Akeson would improve his scoring pace with 53 points in just 62 games for Adirondack. He was one of the key offensive contributors on the team, getting first line minutes and plenty of powerplay time. Akeson didn’t disappoint. No matter what the obstacle he just keeps scoring. He even got in 1 game for the Flyers this year and scored his first NHL goal.
Akeson is a small player but he has tremendous balance and strength on his skates. He is at his best working the puck down low, and playing the cycle game. He has a low centre of gravity and good puck protection skills, which makes him very difficult to knock of the puck. Akeson has good vision, and good hockey sense which helps him to find open teammates. While his shot is decent, and his hands are soft, he’s much more a playmaker than a goal scorer. More of a willingness to shoot the puck was displayed this year though, and it did lead to improved goal totals. Added upper body strength would help him win board battles for loose pucks.
Akeson’s defensive game is a work in progress. While he is very good playing a cycle game in the offensive zone, his limited size hurts him when asked to help defend the cycle in the defensive end. He again needs to add some more upper body strength. His positioning is decent, and he does seem to be conscientious about backchecking, so these do seem like areas that can be improved. Improving the defensive game will make or break Akeson as a prospect. If he can get to a decent level, his offensive skills will take him to the NHL.
Akeson is still a project who will need more time at the AHL level. However if he can continue down the road he has started, he’s a darkhorse pick to make it to the NHL in a 2nd line scoring role.
The Flyers prospect system is considered amongst the weakest in the NHL. While Laughton, Morin, and Hagg are good players, I don’t see a true game changer here, and overall the depth just isn’t there either. Two things have happened to get the Flyers system into the state its in. Firstly the team spent many years trading high draft picks, and prospects for immediate help for the NHL side. Secondly, when the Flyers have made trades to get younger, players like Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier have immediately gone to the NHL. The fact is that the Flyers are well stocked in young forwards with Claude Giroux leading a group that also includes Matt Read, Jakob Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. The defence is a little weaker with Luke Schenn and Erik Gustaffson the only real young players on the squad and Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning in the system. While Anthony Stolarz if the Flyers main goaltending hope. With a young team the depth of the system isn’t as big a concern as it might be if the Flyers were an aging squad. Still it will be important for Holmgren and company to replenish this group in upcoming drafts.
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Main Photo Credit: Oshawagenerals.com,