Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 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) and 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 2014 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 2014-15 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.
After the Flyers missed the playoffs in the lockout shortened season, disaster struck last summer when Claude Giroux hurt his wrist golfing in Ottawa. This lead to a very poor start to the season, and Peter Laviolette was quickly fired and replaced as head coach by Craig Berube. Over time Berube fixed some issues with the team’s systems; Giroux got healthy and became a Hart Trophy Candidate; Steve Mason played great and looks like he may have solved the Flyers longstanding goaltending problem; and the Flyers earned third place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff date with the New York Rangers. Unfortunately the Rangers would take the series in seven games.
The summer has brought more change with Ron Hextall issues for the Flyers, as blood clots have left Kimmo Timmonen’s career in jeopardy and with it a major hole on the team’s blueline. While the Flyers did go out and sign Michael Del Zotto, the very fact he was a UFA over a month after free agency opened tells you all you need to know about his recent performances with New York and Nashville. Changes also occur at forward where Scott Hartnell was moved to Columbus for R.J. Umberger. The Flyers will look to an improving group of prospects to give them even better depth both upfront and on the blueline and help the team take the next step in the next several years.
Top Philadelphia Flyers Prospects
Top Prospect: Scott Laughton, Centre
Born May 30 1994 — Oakville, ONT
Height 6.01 — Weight 190 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the 1st round, 20th Overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Draft.
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. This past season he really took off scoring 40 goals and 87 points in just 54 games and helping the Oshawa Generals to the top of the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Unfortunately the team fell to North Bay in the Conference Final. Along the way Laughton also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors where he was mainly used in a checking line role.
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. That said his puck control improved this past season.
Laughton has developed 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 developed 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 really improved his skating since being drafted. His first step quickness is a lot better than it was last year, and his stride has also improved. This has lead to improved acceleration and faster top end speed. Now its not perfect and he can continue to improve, but its certainly at the point where it is becoming an asset and not going to hold him back any more. The improvements here are testament to Laughton’s work ethic. Laughton also possesses good balance and agility. He’s strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck when he’s working the cycle game.
Laughton made the Flyers opening night roster and played five games for the team after a strong training camp in 2012-13. Last year another strong training camp say him fall just short of getting in more NHL regular season games. This year he will certainly be given every opportunity to make the team once again.
Prospect #2: Samuel Morin, Defence
Born Jul 12 1995 — St.Henri, PQ
Height 6.06 — Weight 203 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1st round, 11th Overall in the 2013 NHL Draft
The Flyers drafted Samuel Morin 11th overall at the 2013 Draft and the young defenceman has impressed with a solid season with the Rimouski Oceanic this year, nearly doubling his production from a year ago. Unfortunately the Oceanic were not quite as strong as many believed they would be, and they fell in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs, despite Morin’s strong play in those playoffs.
Listed at 6’6″, Morin is an imposing physical specimen at the back end. He plays a strong defensive game, using his size and physicality in his own zone. Morin throws big hits and battles hard in front of the net and along the boards. He plays a strong positional game and uses his size and his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Morin has even got a bit of a mean streak, he plays very physical, and is often right on the border (and sometimes even over it) on what is legal. His high penalty minute totals can attest that he does have a tendency to sometimes cross that line. Morin is not afraid to drop the gloves either and with his size, its no surprise that he has been very successful when doing so. Morin’s size literally makes him a man amongst boys in the junior ranks, however he will need to spend the next couple years adding strength and muscle mass to his huge frame before being ready to play this style in the pros. This is not that unusual though as it is often the case for many 18/19 year olds, especially someone blessed with great height like Morin.
Morin skates pretty well for a big man, but he does have some areas he needs to work on. His straight line speed is good for his size, and his acceleration is decent enough. His agility is also at a very good level, and this gives him some decent mobility. However he does need work on his edgework and pivots. Morin has had some trouble dealing with speedy forwards especially when they make quick cuts around him. He will need to work on this aspect of his game, and improve his ability to change directions quickly before he is ready for the speed of the pro game.
Morin really showed his offensive potential this year, something that could be seen with his hard slap shot and crisp passes in his draft year. He became more confident with the puck on his stick and was more willing to wait an extra second or too to make to make a better play in the offensive zone. He has always had a good first pass in his own zone but is now using it in the offensive zone as well. While he did show soe improvement, he could still continue to get even better. One thing that would help is if he keeps his slapshot low to allow his teammates to go for tips and rebounds. He may never be a huge scorer in the NHL, but there is some potential to be a second unit PP guy.
Morin should be back in Rimouski this year and will try to help his club to win the QMJHL Championship and Memorial Cup. The Oceanic should have a very strong club with a number of high picks.
Prospect #3: Shayne Gostisbehere, Defence
Born Apr 20 1993 — Margate, FL
Height 5.11 — Weight 170 – Shoots Left
Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers in the 3rd round 3, 78th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Gostisbehere returned to Union for his junior season, and led his team all the way to a Frozen Four victory and the NCAA National Championship crown, scoring 9 goals and 34 points in 42 games along the way. The 2012 third round pick then turned pro, getting in a couple of AHL games with the Adirondack Phantoms before the end of the season.
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. In his three years with the team the Dutchmen won back to back ECAC Championships in 2012 and 2013 (the first two in school history), and made their first appearance in the Frozen Four in 2012, before their first National championship this year. 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 as he moves to the AHL. While he’s gotten better over the years of NCAA hockey, he can still get overpowered a bit at the NCAA level. 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.
I would expect Gostisbehere to start the 2014-15 season with the Flyers AHL affiliate, now the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Super Sleeper: Taylor Leier, Left Wing
Born Feb 15 1994 — Saskatoon, SASK
Height 5.11 — Weight 177 — Shoots Left
Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers in the 4th round, 117th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
2012 fourth round pick Taylor Leier took over as captain of the Portland Winterhawks, and had a breakout offensive season in the process. Leier put up 37 goals and 79 points in 62 games helping Portland to a number one seed in the WHL playoffs. Despite Leier’s 26 points in 21 games the Winterhawks lost in the WHL final to their nemesis the Edmonton Oil Kings. Leier also made Team Canada’s World Junior Team this year, but played a bottom line role and did not put up a point in the tournament.
Leier is an excellent skater with great top end speed and good acceleration based on a textbook skating stride. He also has top notch edgework and agility, which allow him to make extremely quick and accurate cuts in the offensive zone and avoid defenders. He couples this with an excellent wrist shot and a quick release to be an absolute menace off the rush. While he is more a goal scorer than a play maker, Leier also has some decent vision and underrated passing ability.
Leier also has a good two-way game, and is gritty despite his smaller size (5’11″) digging for pucks at both ends of the ice, and playing a strong defensive game. He could stand to add some more muscle mass though, and this would really help him at the next level.
Leier will likely start next season in the AHL, but he is someone to keep an eye on, as he has the skills necessary to push for an NHL job down the road. Nothing is guaranteed but Leier seems to be the best of the Flyers recent mid round picks.
A few years ago we said that the Flyers had one of the worst prospect systems in the NHL due to having so many young forwards graduate and little in the pipeline to replace them, as well as really lacking defensive prospects. That has all changed recently, Over the last two drafts the Flyers have really worked to improve the future of their blueline taking Morin, Sanheim and Robert Hagg with early picks. Add in Mark Alt, and the emerging Gostisbehere, and there is a nice amount of depth on the way to take some spots on the blue line. The Flyers forward group remains young at the NHL level, and adding Laughton certainly helps. Joining Leier are darkhorse forwards Aube-Kubel, Jason Akeson, Nick Cousins, and Michael Parks. With a goalie like Anthony Stolarz winning the starting job in London and playing well when healthy (he had a serious cut part of the year), the Flyers have some solid prospects at every position now, and the team is improving the prospect pipeline. They have started to put the pieces in place.
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