Welcome to the 2015 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2015 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 2015 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 2015-16 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.
It was not an ideal season for the Philadelphia Flyers who finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division and were once again out of the playoffs. They were a solid team at home, but a 10-20-11 record away from the City of Brotherly Love was simply too much for them to overcome. While the offence was paced by the high scoring duo of Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux, overall scoring depth was an issue for the club. More importantly though, the defence had some big time struggles. This should be set to change in the not too distant future, as the Flyers have become absolutely stacked with top prospects on their blueline, as will be seen in this report. In the meantime, the Flyers seem set in goal with Steve Mason, and his strong play has masked some of the blueline’s issues, and will provide an important backbone for the team will some of those young defenders face inevitable growing pains. A very good two-way centre in Sean Couturier will also help ease the youngsters into the lineup.
TOP PHILADELPHIA FLYERS PROSPECTS
Top Prospect: Travis Sanheim, Defence
Born Mar 29 1996 — Elkhorn, MAN
Height 6.03 — Weight 189 [191 cm/86 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1st round, 17th overall by the Flyers in the 2014 NHL Draft
In 2013-14 Travis Sanheim seemed to get better and better as his draft year went on. He then had a real coming out party at the Under 18 World Championships. He carried that momentum into the 2014-15 season, and had an absolute Monster year, more than tripling his previous year’s totals for goals and doubling it for points, leading the WHL in points by a defenceman. He was even better in the WHL playoffs contributing 5 goals and 18 points in the Hitmen’s 17 games.
Sanheim is an excellent skater. He has very good top end speed in both directions, strong acceleration, and an excellent first step. His pivots and edge work are extremely good for a man his size, and it gives him strong mobility in all directions. His balance is also good and while he isn’t much of a hitter, it gives him the ability to battle in front of the net, contain his man in the cycle, and win battles along the boards.
Offensively, Sanheim became a lot more aggressive this season, taking charge of plays and leading rushes for the Hitmen, as well as joining as a trailer. He has the stick handling and the skating skills to move the puck out of danger in his own zone, and transition to the attack and lead the rush. He also makes a smart first pass and can be key to starting the transition game. Sanheim is also a very good passer from the blue line, showing poise in handling the puck, making smart offensive reads and creating scoring opportunities. He’s developped his upper body strength over the past year, and has a much harder slap shot from the point. It still won’t be characterized as a bomb, but Sanheim has ability to get it through to the net effectively by walking the line and opening up shooting lanes, and also by utilizing a quick wrister at times to keep defences off balance, which really adds to the slap shot effectiveness.
Defensively, Sanheim is very difficult to beat one-on-one. His excellent mobility and strong footwork keeps attacking forwards to the outside and makes him very hard to beat off the rush. Sanheim uses his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes and take away options when opponents are set up in the zone. He isn’t afraid to use his big frame to block shots and does so effectively.
With so many good prospects on the Flyers blueline, there is no need to rush Sanheim, and so we are likely to see him back in junior next year.
Prospect #2 Samuel Morin, Defence
Born Jul 12 1995 — St.Henri, PQ
Height 6.07 — Weight 225 — 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 couple of seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic since that draft. He continued to improve his offence this year, improving his goals and points per game marks. While he was limited to just 38 games due to some injuries and missing games while he helped Team Canada to World Junior gold, he still picked up a career high 32 points, bettering the mark he set in 2013-14 over 57 games. He was a leader for the Oceanic defence in the QMJHL playoffs and helped the team to win the league, and advance to the Memorial Cup.
Listed at 6’7″, 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 and while he’s increased his weight from 207 when drafted to 225 last season, there is still room on his frame to add even more muscle mass which will help him to continue to play this style in the pros.
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’s offense has greatly improved since his draft year. He is more confident with the puck on his stick and is 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 some 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 will come to Flyers camp looking to make the roster. However, it is likely that he will spend some time getting some AHL seasoning, as most young defencemen need that time due to the speed of the pro game.
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
It was a rough season for Gostisbehere, as he was plagued with injuries. Just when it looked like he was going to get a real shot in the NHL, he went down with a torn ACL in November. As a result, Gostisbehere only played seven games last year, five in the AHL and two in the NHL.
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 poke checks and by cutting down lanes. He also is a hard worker. However, Gostisbehere must add muscle and get bigger and stronger to win board battles and clear the front of the net as he moves forward. While he’s gotten better over the years, even in his last season with Union, he could 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 Championships a few years back. With more muscle on his frame, he’ll be more effective as he isn’t afraid to get dirty out there.
Given the caution the Flyers showed with Gostisbehere and his knee injury last year, shutting him down just a few days after their was talk he could be back in the AHL before the end of the year, I would expect a similar cautious approach this year, with the Flyers putting Gostisbehere in the AHL to start the year. As he improves his strength and shows he’s healthy, an NHL call-up could be in order.
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 graduated to the AHL this season, where he put up 13 goals and 31 points in a respectable rookie campaign. He was coming off the 2013-14 season wehere took over as captain of the Portland Winterhawks, and put up 37 goals and 79 points in 62 games.
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 to reach the next level of his game.
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 like a solid mid-round gamble by the Flyers.
The Flyers system was a laughingstock just a short time ago, but now has one of the best defensive cores in the league. Add the newly drafted Ivan Provorov who has the highest ceiling of any Flyers prospect, and Robert Hagg to Sanheim, Morin, and Gostisbehere, and the Flyers have five elite prospects on the blueline. There is even some quality depth with Mark Alt, and Mark Friedman. Up front, I believe that the Flyers got a real steal in Travis Konecny and he teams with Scott Laughton to give the Flyers some good centre prospects. With Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Couturier still young, this is another position of strength going forward. The Flyers could use some depth on the wings, though I really like Nicolas Aube-Kubel; while Anthony Stolarz has disappointed in goal, meaning there are some positions still to address, but overall the Flyers system today shows a night and day difference from where it was just a couple of years ago.
Main Photo: CALGARY, AB – MARCH 15: Travis Sanheim #32 of the Calgary Hitmen skates with the puck past Jaedon Descheneau #14 of the Kootenay Ice during a WHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 15, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)