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[#] Tue Aug 08 2017 12:30:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Alex Lyon facing true make-or-break year

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With the Flyers’ goalie pipeline quickly getting very crowded, 2016-17 is probably Alex Lyon’s only chance to stake his claim as a potential part of the Flyers’ future.

In the spring of 2015, the Flyers’ stock of goalie prospects consisted of Anthony Stolarz and ... not much else. We had seen their efforts in rebuilding their defense corps, but goaltending was an area that the Flyers needed some work in when looking at the long-term picture.

Fast forward three offseasons, and the Flyers’ goalie prospect group has depth that may be able to compete with that of any other team out there. ESPN’s Corey Pronman said last summer that the Flyers’ goalie depth is “ridiculous”, and then ranked three of the team’s netminder prospects — Carter Hart, Felix Sandstrom, and Anthony Stolarz — in the top 10 of his January mid-season goalie prospect rankings (which are here, sadly behind a paywall). They’re so stacked that the loss of Merrick Madsen — who’s posted back-to-back outstanding seasons at Harvard — in a June trade to the Arizona Coyotes was barely more than a blip on the radar.

The point is that the Flyers look like they’ve got a lot of talent in net. And with a lot of talent often comes a lot of competition and tough decisions.

The Flyers, barring something unforeseen, will spend this coming season with Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott manning the net. But serious questions could pop up as soon as next offseason. Hart will be AHL-eligible by that time, and the team is certainly raring to get him some professional ice time. Sandstrom is on a one-year contract with Brynäs in the SHL, and he very well could be looking to come across the pond following next season. And Stolarz, who re-signed on a one-year deal in July, is probably pretty close to NHL-ready, and if this next season goes well for him then the Flyers might just have to find a way to get him to Philadelphia next year. Basically, with only four spots up for grabs between the Flyers and Phantoms, things are going to get very crowded very soon.

Which means that if you’re a 24-year old who’s yet to quite establish himself as a pro, who’s also only under contract for one more season, and isn’t one of the three young goalies that fans are mentally penciling in to the Flyers’ 2019 opening-night roster, you’re going to be under some serious pressure to perform this season. And even if Alex Lyon — the oldest player on our countdown — may only have one professional season to his name, this coming year could well be his last one with the Flyers’ organization if it doesn’t go well enough.

No. 19: Alex Lyon

Position: G
Age: 24 (12/9/1992)
Acquired Via: Signed as an undrafted free agent on April 5, 2016
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 0.912 SV%, 2.74 GAA in 47 GP
Nationality: American
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 17

Lyon was the Flyers’ prize in the 2016 undrafted college free agent sweepstakes, as they won the Yale junior’s services over a dozen or so other teams that were interested in him. The Flyers were even willing to immediately burn the first year of his two-year entry-level contract to get him to sign, a gesture which set him up for free agency this current summer.

Why were they so eager to bring in a then-23-year-old college free agent? Because, simply put, his track record was that of a goalie who’s been successful everywhere he’s been. In both the USHL and at Yale, Lyon consistently posted excellent results and above-average save percentages. He was a Mike Richter Award finalist (given to college hockey’s best goalie) in his sophomore and junior seasons.

Even with the crowded goalie pipeline, the appeal for the Flyers was obvious. Lyon cost them nothing but an entry-level contract, and in picking him up, they were able to get a goalie old enough to handle the AHL and hopefully be a reliable back-up to Stolarz, but still young enough to potentially be a legitimate prospect of his own. There was basically no risk in exchange for a potential reward.

But the flip-side of bringing in a goalie at Lyon’s age, in this system, with this many talented young potential future Flyers breathing down his neck, was that it felt like for Lyon to really prove that he belonged in the Flyers Goalie Of The Future conversation, he needed to be great, and needed to do so relatively soon. A then-almost-24-year-old with an NHL future should be good in the AHL, and with the situation the Flyers were in, an average-or-worse season could have had him losing ground in the team’s pipeline very quickly.

So how did his first year with the Phantoms go? Not bad. Lyon’s .912 save percentage was 18th among the 46 “qualified” AHL goalies last season, and he did that despite unexpectedly being asked to handle the de-facto “starter’s role” for the Phantoms. With Stolarz being called up to the Flyers so frequently last season due to injury problems, Lyon ended up playing in 47 of the Phantoms’ regular-season games, meaning that he ended up handling the ... lion’s share ... of the starts.

(Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m trying to remove it.)

A late-season injury to Stolarz also put Lyon in the starter’s role for Game 1 of the Calder Cup playoffs, but there he too would suffer an injury that took him out for the rest of the Phantoms’ series with the Hershey Bears. Lyon’s chance to really make one last good impression for the Flyers and their fanbase in his rookie year was unfortunately gone then and there (through no fault of his own, of course), as his and the team’s season came to an end in late April.

So all in all, Lyon’s first pro season was fine. It got him a one-year extension from the Flyers back in July, on the same day they re-signed Stolarz. The two will be the Phantoms’ goalies to start this coming season, and how they’ll split time remains to be seen. Ron Hextall said back in early July (after going out of his way to mention Lyon in response to a question about Stolarz) that the two would “battle it out”, and that’s exactly what should happen.

But in a lot of ways, it feels like the pressure may be on Lyon to really have a good year this year if he wants to be wearing orange and black (in some fashion) come 2018. Sure, the same could probably be said of the now-three-year-AHL-veteran Stolarz, but the Flyers have basically already said that they think he’s close to NHL-ready and that he’d maybe already be in Philadelphia if they had a more durable and proven No. 1 goalie at the NHL level.

No one has said or implied the same for Lyon, even though he’s a full year older than Stolarz. While Lyon was serviceable in his first pro season, he’s yet to have his real breakthrough as a pro, the way that Stolarz did in his AHL All-Star 2015-16 season. And that season for Stolarz came when he was 21, on the second year of a three-year entry-level deal, still clearly in control of the Phantoms’ net, and at a time when basically everyone still saw him as the closest thing to a Goalie Of The Future that the Flyers had outside of the NHL. Lyon might not have that kind of time within this organization and he definitely doesn’t have that kind of top billing, which makes this coming season all the more pivotal for him.

The fact that Lyon didn’t immediately come in and dominate the AHL the way he did the NCAA is totally understandable. It’s a meaningful, significant jump in competition, one that basically any goalie would have some degree of trouble with. That’s why writing him off before this season even begins is silly — he’s certainly still a legitimate goalie prospect, and a guy with his track record should get at least some degree of benefit of the doubt.

But after four straight outstanding seasons at the amateur level prior to last year, if you see him as someone with a future in this organization, then the expectation should be that Lyon makes that jump from “solid” to “very good” or even “great” this season for the Phantoms. If he does, then at the very least, he’ll have established himself not just as a solid AHLer but as a goalie who deserves to be in that long-term conversation with the Harts and Stolarzes and Sandstroms of the world. In that case, the Flyers would have one more tough decision to make in net next summer.

If he doesn’t make that leap, however, then the guy who was an elite college goaltender risks being labeled as a guy who excelled against younger players at the amateur level but couldn’t quite carry those skills to the pro level. In that scenario, the Flyers will probably bid him adieu next summer and gladly hand his spot on the Phantoms to Carter Hart. That may be harsh, but given the names in the Flyers’ system, it’s the reality of this situation. Even though he got here not too long ago, the clock is ticking on Lyon, and he’s the one who decides — with his own play — whether it runs out next June or if he gets to hit the reset button before then.

In short, we’re going to find out this season whether there’s a future for Alex Lyon with the Flyers’ organization. But while he’s still below three other guys in the Flyers’ goalie prospect pecking order, you probably don’t want to count out the guy who’s consistently stopped pucks everywhere else he’s been just yet.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Wed Aug 09 2017 07:00:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Wednesday Morning Fly By: Try to remember that your captain is actually good.

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*Drop everything you're doing and listen to this week's episode of BSH Radio, in which there is a very robust discussion about the future of our fearless ginger leader. [BSH]

*Speaking of Claude Giroux, could the answer to his scoring troubles be as easy as just shooting the puck more? [Sports Talk Philly]

*The 25 Under 25 has made it all the way to #19, who is the goalie prospect with quite possibly the most to prove next season. [BSH]

*Travis Konecny relives the excitement of scoring his first NHL goal. [Flyers]

*We talked about this a few weeks back on BSH Radio, but it bears further discussion: the Flyers are going to have to make a big decision on Wayne Simmonds, and sooner than later. [Hockeybuzz]

*It was revealed yesterday that the NHL wouldn't allow players under contract who were still in the minors to participate in the upcoming Olympics, and naturally people were a little annoyed. But should we be annoyed? [Puck Daddy]

*Speaking of the Olympics there was a line brawl at a Team Canada-Team Russia pre-Olympic tournament, that's fun. [The Hockey News]

*The Flyers' division is going to be super tough this season, and if a team like the Capitals were to take a step back, that'd be super helpful. [TSN]

*And finally, in NHL alternate history, what if the Blues has drafted Jonathan Toews? [Puck Daddy]





[#] Wed Aug 09 2017 12:30:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Mike Vecchione will go up against the Flyers

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After seeing NHL action last season, Vecchione must show why he should stay.

Unlike other prospects on our 25 Under 25 list so far, forward Mike Vecchione has seen NHL action with the Flyers. He saw action in two late-season games with the orange and black this past season. Vecchione finished up his fourth and final season with the Union Flying Dutchmen this past March, and on March 31st he signed a one-year entry level contract with the Flyers. Just four days later he made his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils. Breaking out in his final year of college, he scored 63 points in 38 games, doubling his total of 29 points from the previous season.

No. 18: Mike Vecchione

Position: C
Age: 24 (2/25/1993)
Acquired Via: Signed as an undrafted free agent on March 31, 2017
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Union (NCAA) - 29 G, 34 A in 38 GP
Nationality: American
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: N/A (was not in system)

A possible victim of the roster crunch next season, Vecchione could find himself in the AHL come October. The Flyers have too many bottom-six players, and not enough bottom-six spots (hint: there are only six!). Vecchione will likely be competing for a role on the fourth line. Possible other fourth-line centers include Scott Laughton, Jori Lehterä or Valtteri Filppula. For Vecchione, who will turn 25 this season, a year in the AHL is not the preferred outcome, but would not be the end of the world.

Here is a scouting report on Vecchione from Jeff Cox of SB Nation College Hockey:

He competes hard throughout the entire sheet. He backchecks and doesn’t mind battling for pucks along the wall. Listed at just 5-feet-10, he’s rugged and hard to knock off pucks. His compete level is high, a trait that is evident based on how he plays with and without the puck.

He doesn’t have blazing speed, but it’s not an absolute deterrent to his game. He has an explosive stride that allows him to get going quickly and to penetrate into the scoring areas. More than a few of his goals this season have come in transition where he didn’t finesse his way into the zone. He just skated it right into the slot and let go of an absolute cannon of a wrister.

... his NHL upside is limited to most likely being a third line center who can be counted on to win draws. Despite his above average skill set, hard shot and skating ability, his lack of high end speed will likely prevent him from being more than a third line center.

The NHL team that signs him following the conclusion of the season will do so in hopes of landing a reliable two-way center who wins draws, competes hard, brings energy to each shift, and can chip in offensively with a very good shot at the next level.

Vecchione is the type of player who coaches will feel comfortable playing on their bottom lines. He won’t dazzle you with insane hands, but he also won’t allow the other team to skate around him; he is competent at both ends of the ice.

The ceiling for Vecchione will be a third line center, if everything goes as planned. The Flyers have a great amount of center depth, which means it will be difficult for Vecchione to get time at center on higher lines, if any at all. Which brings us back to the idea of him spending a year down in the AHL.

The Flyers clearly want to give Scott Laughton a chance, after sending him down to the Phantoms to refine his game last season and using a protection slot on him in the expansion draft. It is very clear they value him. Other possible players the team has to fill out their bottom six include Lehtera, Filppula, Matt Read, Oskar Lindblom, Michael Raffl and Dale Weise. So as of now, the roster crunch is very real for our friend Mike. After this season Read and Filppula will walk in free agency. Weise or Lehtera could be traded, if any of the other 30 GM’s actually want them.

But after this season there could be more room on the roster for Vecchione to play with the Flyers. Let him spend a year in the AHL adjusting to pro hockey and slot him in on the fourth line next season. At the same time, you don’t want to place a guy like Vecchione in the minors for too long, considering he is already older and won’t be eligible for this list next year! But one year won’t hurt him.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Thu Aug 10 2017 07:00:01 EDT from rss

Subject: Thursday Morning Fly By: Let's all just sleep until October.

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*And now we welcome this elderly gentleman, Mike Vecchione, to the 25 Under 25! [BSH]

*Hmm let's see what the Pens fans think of how the Flyers have done this offseason. [Pensburgh]

*Meltzer on how fickle we Flyers fans can be. [Hockeybuzz]

*If you're around this weekend and need a hockey fix, there's a pretty awesome charity hockey tournament going on in South Jersey. [Courier-Post]

*The league has released to full preseason schedule. Can't get here soon enough!!! [Litter Box Cats]

*So what if the Bruins never lost Marc Savard? What would that universe look like? [Puck Daddy]

*DGB on the five teams that could end up being this year's Colorado Avalanche. My money's on that last one. [Sportsnet]

*And finally, did you catch this week's BSH Radio yet? No? Well here you go, listen now. [BSH]





[#] Thu Aug 10 2017 10:00:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Top 10 hockey faces from the 2016-2017 season

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A special Flyers Frese Frame season recap gallery

All captions were part of a contest we ran on our Instagram page and Kate’s Twitter (@KateFresePhoto). Make sure to follow @BroadStHockey to stay up to date on the visual side of our content and participate in other contests.





[#] Thu Aug 10 2017 12:00:42 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Can Taylor Leier make the Flyers this year?

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The long-time Phantom is waiver-eligible this year. Does he have more than an outside chance at cracking the Flyers’ roster?

At one point, Taylor Leier was one of the higher-regarded prospects in the Flyers’ system. Since Ron Hextall took over as general manager, the prospect pool of forwards has filled up, pushing Leier down the depth chart.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Leier has spent the majority of his time with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, while also seeing action in 16 NHL games with the Flyers. During those 16 games he has tallied one goal and one assist, both of which came this past season.

No. 17: Taylor Leier

Position: LW
Age: 23 (2/15/1994)
Acquired Via: 2012 NHL Draft -- Round 2, Pick 117 (Pick acquired from Columbus along with Pick No. 45 in 2012 and a fourth-round pick in 2013 in exchange for Sergei Bobrovsky on June 22, 2012)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 13 G, 24 A in 48 GP
Nationality: Canadian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 13

Leier had a strong AHL season in 2016-17, totaling 37 points in 48 games played. He also made an appearance in the AHL All-Star game, where he was named the All-Star MVP.

BSH Radio did an interview with former Phantoms head coach Riley Cote last month, and Cote was asked if there “were there any kids that you coached that maybe were a bit more under-the-radar, that you really believe might make an impact at the NHL level in the near future?

Cote’s response was a vote of confidence for Leier:

Well, I would certainly say Taylor Leier. I know he’s had his little stints [in the NHL] and people know who he is, but as far as a quality human being, a quality worker, “gets it,” a pro — he’ll find his way for sure, whether it’s the Flyers or someone else. Surely he will.

Leier is an undersized winger at only 5’10 and 174 pounds. While he is a consistent scorer at the AHL level, he likely won’t be putting up huge numbers in the NHL. A good comparison for him would be Matt Read; responsible at both ends of the ice, a real solid two-way winger.

As is the case with Mike Vecchione (who we wrote about in this series on Wednesday), the Flyers’ roster crunch will be a huge factor in Leier’s fate come this fall. Unfortunately, Leier is buried under many other players and will have to have a huge impression on the coaches this training camp to make the team. He will likely find himself in the AHL this season with the Phantoms, and could be called up to the NHL in case of the injury bug hitting. Odds are, Leier will not get a long NHL look with the Flyers due to their depth.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Thu Aug 10 2017 14:32:12 EDT from rss

Subject: Elite moments for Flyers iconography: a style retrospective

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If the Flyers are known for anything, it’s obviously their impeccable taste and quiet elegance.

No matter what divides us, we know that one thing binds us together above all else: our love of fashion. Who doesn’t love a good boot cut?

I’m just joshing. Anyone who willingly wears a boot cut jean should be in jail.

In all seriousness, our love of the often-imitated, never-duplicated Philadelphia Flyers transcends lots of shit. In a lot of ways, the style of the franchise informs a lot of our own style! Don’t believe me? Take a look at your wardrobe. Go ahead, I’ll wait here in this liminal space I’ve created for myself.

Back already? Boy, you sure are the speedy one! Alright, now estimate what percentage of that wardrobe is orange. At least 30 percent, I’m guessing. And we all know that orange isn’t your color. (It’s not mine either. It's nobody’s, really.)

I’ve decided to take a look back on some of the most iconic moments in the Flyers style history books, both to revel in the beauty and to learn from folly. Take notes, take shots, whatever gets you by.

Cooperalls

You know how hockey pants are called hockey pants? They’re not really pants. They’re hockey shorts. They must be called pants, though, for the equivalent of real hockey pants are Cooperalls, which had to be destroyed in the fires of Mordor.

Inarguably the most infamous of fashion choices stemming from the club, Cooperalls were a big fuckin’ disaster from start to finish. It was groundbreaking, for sure, but as we learned in the early 80s, maybe some ground should stay unbroken.

Cooperalls are extremely goofy looking. In that way, and in only that way, I kind of respect them. There’s something very charming about grown men looking like kids in snow pants. Unfortunately, Cooperalls are incredibly dangerous, causing players to slide far easier and faster when they fall down (which is a frequent occurrence in the very sophisticated sport of ice hockey). For this reason, Cooperalls were banned and the Flyers were forced to retire this gorgeous, beautiful, stupid mistake of a pant.

Playoff Goatee

Eric Lindros could do no wrong in Philadelphia, and that is evidenced most clearly in the most amazing facial hair this city’s ever seen.*

Goatees are questionable on just about anyone. For reference, here’s Jamie Benn with a goatee (and a weakass chin strap). Who let him do that? Who allowed it to happen? We all share the blame for this, I’m afraid. Plekanec is another, but he’s on a totally different level of no fucks given with that turtleneck. I don't even know if dude owns a mirror. Maybe he's never even heard of one. Surely he's seen his reflection at some point?

Eric Lindros made that shit work, though. He was a goddamn hero. I can’t even pretend that I don’t think he was working that shit. He absolutely was. Eric Lindros tried his damnedest to break the goatee stigma, and while it worked for him, please don’t for a second think it will work for you. He is a beautiful phenom, and you are very small comparatively.

(Important side note: in researching for this very crucial piece, I googled “eric lindros goatee” out of necessity. Did you know that there’s a person in the world named Lindros Beard? A real human man is named Lindros Beard. And he plays hockey! Sometimes, the world is beautiful. Sometimes God reaches down and says you know what? They deserve something nice. Lindros Beard is that nice thing. Thank you, Lindros. You may not be the best hockey player, but in my heart, I’m hoping you’re a good guy.)

*Opinion does not represent Broad Street Hockey or SBNation.

The Devil’s Thirds

The Flyers have done one smart thing for the great majority of their history, and to no one’s surprise, it has fuckall to do with hockey: they keep their grubby little hands off the logo. Don’t mess with success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s what they always say, those two things. And for the most part, the Flyers have abided by those rules.

Oh, but when they didn’t ... god bless the glorious aughts. They gave us this nightmare.

oh yikes

It was a different time. People wore Von Dutch hats. Just, like, because they thought they were cool, I guess? It’s mind-boggling that we, the human race, survived. The aforementioned chromed-out, 3D-looking mess of a logo is the hockey version of a Von Dutch hat. It is, was, and forever will remain, a sick blight on our beautiful illustrious record of good logos. At least they had the good sense to retire that before we hit 2010, when everyone collectively came to their senses about low-rise jeans and purposefully displayed whale tail.

Black Beards

There are some things in the world that objectively shouldn’t exist, and you know it. They’re not supposed to exist, and maybe you even mock them. Deep down, though, a secret part of you, some small tucked-away corner of your soul, loves those things. Admires them. Respects them at the very least. That part of you cherishes them for what the are: horrific Eldritch abominations that make you glad not to be of their shadow realm.

When Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek dyed their beards black in 2014, nearly every part of me was shocked. Terrified. Nearly.

I didn’t understand it. I still don’t understand it. I don’t think anyone does. What possessed them to do it? Maybe the horrors of the coming offseason were foretold to them and them alone, and they were signaling the end of times to the rest of us mere mortals. There’s just something so glorious about it, the two-toned ordeal feeling more like a dream than anything. If there wasn’t proof of it, I might think it was a dream. Hell, there are pictures above, and I still think maybe it was a dream.

Fearless, Courageous and Exemplary Use of the Color Orange

Finally, we’ve come to the most important, most influential of all: orange. The Flyers were the first NHL team to adopt orange as one of their colors, and in a sea of blue and red, this team stands out whether you want them to or not.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Orange isn’t an easy color, either. There’s a reason teams stick to a pretty basic few colors. No one wants to be the strange one. No one wants to break with tradition or normalcy. Red, white, blue, and black. These are sports colors. Maybe occasionally you'll see some green, some yellow. Orange is loud and a lot of the time, it's unique. The Flyers are loud and unique in their look, and that's something to be admired.

Oh. And fuck all these other teams trying to come in and adopt orange like it’s theirs. Edmonton can eat my butt. Anaheim can go fall in a hole. This is our shit. Listen, the Oilers were so ashamed of their orange during the ‘90s that they made it bronze. BRONZE. They didn’t go all the way back to orange until this decade. And now they wanna straight up steal orange crush like it’s some kind of brilliant new thing that they thought up off the dome? Bye. Literally bye. Don’t get me started on the Ducks. Little trash monsters with their little stripe of orange. You don’t get to use “paint it orange” until you’ve had the color in your scheme for more than, oh, I don’t know, ten fuckin’ minutes, you Mickey Mouse sons of bitches.

I could yell about this unfair appropriation for six hundred more words, but I think you get the point. The Flyers have bravery pouring out of their asses, and everyone else can get a grip.


And there you have it! These are what I consider the most formative or otherwise most remarkable moments in fashion for the Flyers, but I’m interested to hear what you think.





[#] Fri Aug 11 2017 07:00:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Friday Morning Fly By: Running out of headlines over here...

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*You cannot stop the 25 Under 25 train, which has pulled into the Taylor Leier station. ... ...I'm so sorry. [BSH]

*Are you interested in playing fantasy hockey this season? Well, a fellow BSHer has organized a league for charity that you might be interested in being a part of. [BSH]

*Our own Charlie O'Connor has written a very great piece on the importance of zone entries. It's an excellent Friday afternoon read, if you ask me. [Hockey Graphs]

*Jaromir Jagr still doesn't have a contract. This is madness, no? Would you like to see him here? If so, what price and term? Lots of questions for you today, folks. [Puck Daddy]

*Jagr isn't the only good free agent not signed. Could some end up sitting out? [SB Nation]

*The Flyers have made a lot of bold style choices over the years. Let's look back. [BSH]

*Today in NHL alternate history: what if the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had drafted Sidney Crosby? [Puck Daddy]

*And finally, from the awesome Kate Frese, the best in Hockey Faces for the '16-'17 season. [BSH]





[#] Fri Aug 11 2017 10:00:24 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Is Morgan Frost a high-end forward prospect?

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A surprise pick late in the first round of this year’s draft, Frost looks to take a big step forward this year.

If you’ve been following along in our 25 Under 25 series so far, you might be at the point where you can guess all of the remaining 16 names that will be featured in our countdown. This comes as a contrast to the first two weeks or so of this series, during which time there’s some mystery and intrigue not just in who’s ranked where, but who even makes the countdown at all.

Everyone featured up until now is, you could argue, someone that still has a lot to prove, someone that could be left off of one’s ballot without that much objection, someone that could just totally flame out and not surprise that many people in doing so.

We may, however, be reaching the point where a keen observer of the Flyers’ pipeline knows with certainty what the last however-many names are. We’re nearing the range of the first-round picks, the high-end prospects, and the closest to “sure things” that the Flyers have. These are the guys that fans are already penciling into the Flyers’ 2020 opening-night roster, as opposed to the ones who they’re generally a bit more cautious on.

But there may still be one skater caught in between those two groups, one who has the first-round pedigree and the theoretical upside that comes with that but still remains a bit of an unknown in the eyes of the fanbase and has some things to prove at the amateur levels. Which brings us to the Flyers’ most recent first-round pick, Morgan Frost.

No. 16: Morgan Frost

Position: C
Age: 18 (5/14/1999)
Acquired Via: 2017 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 27 (Pick acquired from St. Louis along with a first-round pick in 2018 and Jori Lehtera in exchange for Brayden Schenn on June 23, 2017)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) - 20 G, 42 A in 67 GP
Nationality: Canadian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: N/A (was not in system)

The story of how Frost became a Philadelphia Flyer is one we all know by now, as a stunning draft-night trade sent Brayden Schenn to St. Louis for a pair of first-round picks and forward Jori Lehtera. And on draft night, the immediate reaction to the selection of Frost often looked like more a reaction to who he wasn’t, rather than who he was. There were some big-name prospects still available at that pick in the draft, including Central Scouting’s top-ranked European skater (Klim Kostin) and a lottery-talent goal-scoring winger (Eeli Tolvanen).

Trading a top-6 winger to get back into the first round and then using that pick on Frost, given the alternatives that were available, shows that the Flyers really liked what the center from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds brings to the table. You could say that they may have done so in the face of the general consensus surrounding the 2017 NHL Draft, based on where Frost was ranked relative to his peers (via):

- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #61 by Hockeyprospect.com
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #72 by ISS Hockey
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #55 by Future Considerations
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #41 by McKeen's Hockey
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #31 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #38 by TSN/McKenzie

Those rankings paint the picture of an early-to-mid-2nd-round prospect, rather than that of a first-rounder. Clearly, the Flyers saw something in Frost that many other teams did not. One could possibly label Frost as a “classic Flyers pick” — a center seen as a smart, responsible two-way player who maybe doesn’t have the high-end offensive production to his name just yet, not unlike recent first-round picks Scott Laughton and German Rubtsov — and they would probably not be very off-base in doing so. Frost fits a kind of mold that we know the Flyers like, one that has had mixed results in recent years, and that could be another reason why the fan reaction to his selection was a bit lukewarm at first.

Still, Frost — who measured at 5’10.75” and 173 pounds at the combine (via) — brings an intriguing skill set to the table. In watching Frost a bit (which you can do in the video at the bottom of this post!), the two things that most immediately stick out are his skating and his passing/playmaking ability. He can get up and down the ice with ease, and has little trouble finding his teammates for open looks while doing so.

This skillset does fit with what the numbers show on Frost. Via prospect-stats.com, Frost was 4th among draft-eligible OHL forwards in assists per game, only finishing behind fellow first-rounders Robert Thomas, Nick Suzuki, and Gabe Vilardi. And there are more encouraging signs: at 5-on-5, Frost led all forwards in that same group in primary assists per game, and only finished 3rd when looking at all assists because of a very low secondary assist rate. While secondary assists aren’t totally meaningless, they are a bit more subject to randomness than primary assists, and the fact that Frost is posting superior primary assist totals to those of his peers is a good sign moving forward.

Canucks Army’s Ryan Biech pulled together a solid pre-draft scouting report on Frost, who was their site’s 45th-ranked prospect heading into the draft. Their models peg Frost’s most likely NHL outcome as that of a bottom-six forward, and describes a player that has had some success in juniors and is an adept playmaker but who at this time still has some work to do and some things to prove if he wants to reach his realistic ceiling and become a top-9 NHLer.

Biech’s report also brings up a challenge (or opportunity?) that Frost will deal with this coming season: some graduations from a talented Greyhounds team. Two of Frost’s most common wingers this past season were Bruins 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn and overager Bobby MacIntyre, both of whom topped a point a game in the regular season and both of whom will be moving on from the OHL this year.

On the one hand, losing talented teammates is always tough, and it remains to be seen how Frost will work with other players at his wings. If you’re a pessimist, maybe you really need to see him keep his production up this coming season without those two talents by his side before you can get excited about him.

But on the other hand, this could open up the opportunity for Frost to take on even more responsibility. Maybe he’ll be forced to shoot the puck a bit more, something that he didn’t do that much this past season. At the very least, he should expect to get more ice time, which is exactly what you want any 18-year old project getting in amateur leagues.

With all of this said, the question remains: exactly how good is Frost? At some points, you see the talent level and statistical profile of a solid B+ or even an A- level forward prospect; from another angle, you could see (to use another word from the scouting report above) an unflashy guy that may never be more than a third-liner. It’s a question that we’re going to be spending the next two years trying to get a good answer to as we watch Frost take on more responsibility with Soo.

Our own Charlie O’Connor touched on this subject a bit in his July development camp recap, saying that the Barrie, Ontario native bounced back from an unimpressive first day with a very strong second and third day there (emphasis mine):

To start, his top-end speed is stellar. But just as important as his skating ability is the fact that he showed no problem executing high-difficulty puck handling moves while at that impressive top gear. The puck was glued to his stick on rush drills, and Frost didn’t have to sacrifice any speed to do it. He also showcased good passing vision in 3v2 drills, finding open men even while under heavy pressure from checkers. Frost simply looked like an obvious first-round talent, which is reassuring considering the fact that many fans viewed him as something of a reach with the No. 27 selection. He came the closest out of the forward prospects to “popping” out at you in the same way that Konecny did during his two camps.

That’s the kind of thing we want to be hearing more of about Frost in the next couple of seasons. At this point, whether Frost is a “classic Flyers pick” or not doesn’t really matter, nor does it matter who he was traded for or who he was drafted over. What matters is whether he can add his name to the long, growing list of high-upside forwards that the Flyers are collecting, both at the NHL level and elsewhere in the farm system.

The hope is that by this time next year, Frost is comfortably in the upper echelon of these rankings — that he’s comfortably on the right side of the gap between the system’s higher-end types and the longer-shots. Can he get there?

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Sat Aug 12 2017 10:59:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Felix Sandstrom looks to battle for bigger role in Sweden

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After two years of splitting time at the SHL level, Sandstrom will look to take on even more responsibility there this season.

A few years ago we might be having a different discussion about Felix Sandstrom and his expectations going forward. When he debuted on this 25 Under 25 series back in 2015, his competition in the Flyers’ system basically came down to Anthony Stolarz and Merrick Madsen. The former was struggling in his first year in the NHL, and the latter was a freshman at Harvard with one game under his belt.

Along with Sandstrom’s goalie draft class mates Matej Tomek and Ivan Fedotov, the Flyers have gone and added Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, and this year’s 3rd round draft pick Kirill Ustimenko. While Sandstrom might have time on his side (and a heck of a lot of talent), his margin for error will begin to get thinner and thinner.

No. 15: Felix Sandstrom

Position: G
Age: 20 (1/12/1997)
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft -- Round 3, Pick 70 (Pick acquired from San Jose in exchange for Tye McGinn on July 2, 2014)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Brynäs (SHL) - 0.908 SV%, 2.25 GAA in 22 GP
Nationality: Swedish
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 18

Felix Sandstrom played half of his 2016-17 regular season with Brynäs IF as a 19-year old, and for the most part held his own against an overwhelmingly older level of competition in the SHL. He wound up splitting his time with veteran goaltender David Rautio for much of the year.

Rautio will still be with Brynäs to begin next season and it hasn’t been explicitly stated what their split of games will be going forward, even after Sandstrom was re-signed to a 1-year deal. There was a faint hope this offseason that Sandstrom would sign an entry-level contract with the Flyers and come stateside in the offseason. However, this decision could have been due to the fact that the Flyers brass weren’t exactly comfortable yet with Anthony Stolarz handling the NHL back-up role given his inexperience and lingering health issues entering the new season.

What really set Sandstrom apart this year, in terms of national attention, was his performance at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships, where he finished with a .914 SV% and 2.17 GAA in 6 games. He was awarded with Top Goaltender honors following the tournament which featured top goalie prospects such as Russia’s Ilya Samsonov (a Capitals prospect) and Canada’s Carter Hart (you might know this guy). Sandstrom even popped up on Corey Pronman’s Top 50 midseason prospect rankings at ESPN, where he was ranked 5th among all goaltending prospects.

Here is just one highlight from World Juniors:

Not much has changed since being drafted for Sandstrom. His technique between the pipes has always been reported as mature for his age. He’s listed at 6’2, 194 pounds right now, but there’s always a chance he can add more to his frame. As our very own Charlie O’Connor noted in development camp, he is already quite athletic.

Saying Felix Sandstrom is still a way’s away from competing for an NHL job might be a bit of an understatement. Not only is he currently in a bit of a goalie-prospect logjam, but he’s going to need to show more consistency in his game and that he can handle a much larger workload in the future. With that, he still has quite the skillset to make an impact as he matures into his body and refines his already polished technique. The best case scenario for Sandstrom in 2017-18 will be to establish himself as the starter at Brynäs early in the season so he can guarantee himself the playing time to take that next step.

BONUS ROUND:

Top 5 Felix Sandstrom Anagrams:

  1. Sandlot Sex Firm
  2. Almonds Sex Rift
  3. Land Sexism Fort
  4. Sadist Flex Norm
  5. Maids Flex Snort

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Mon Aug 14 2017 07:00:01 EDT from rss

Subject: Monday Morning Fly By: Declare your goalie prospect loyalties

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*Shayne Gostisbehere is pretty confident that he's going to have a bounce-back season this year. It was the offseason surgery that slowed him down. You know, the same surgery Claude Giroux also had. Just saying. [NHL.com]

*Let's check in on how things are progressing in our Top 25 Under 25...coming in at number 16 is this year's bonus surprise from the draft, Morgan Frost. [BSH]

*And right ahead of him is #15, goalie Felix Sandstrom. Some experts (me) think he'll end up as the next Lundqvist. [BSH]

*So as we know now, the Flyers will be rolling with the goalie tandem again this year. So, how should they employ that system? [CSN Philly]

*It would appear that Teams USA and Canada are taking different approaches to building their Olympics teams without being able to use NHL talent. [Puck Daddy]

*Speaking of Team USA, a new rule change being implemented by USA Hockey may spell the future end to one of the more common NHL plays. [Boston Globe]

*What if the Vancouver Canucks won the very first NHL draft lottery? [Puck Daddy]

*And what if the Red Wings held on to Marian Hossa? [Puck Daddy]

*Five offseason questions that are still hanging out there with no answers. [Sporting News]

*Our old pal Steve Mason is going to face some serious pressure up there in Winnipeg this season... [ProHockeyTalk]

*...but at least he'll have a super cool new mask! [TSN]





[#] Mon Aug 14 2017 10:59:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Anthony Stolarz remains an unknown as he nears NHL-readiness

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After three years in the AHL, we’re still not quite sure how good Anthony Stolarz is or how much the Flyers like him. Will he get a real shot at the NHL this year?

The world of prospect-related punditry can be a harsh one to those who struggle or fail to stack up to expectations, even if just briefly. And that’s especially true in a setting like the Flyers’ system, which has consistently been adding quality prospects at every position over the past few years. As new names show up and existing names emerge and rise, others must inevitably fall. And even though prospect development is a long game, fans can’t be faulted for looking through the “what have you done for me lately?” lens when trying to decide which prospect they may prefer out of a given group.

Which brings us to Anthony Stolarz, whose drop from No. 7 in our Winter 2017 25 Under 25 series to No. 14 in our current version is the biggest fall down the rankings of any player that remained in the Top 25. The franchise’s near-unquestioned top goalie prospect at this time a year ago, Stolarz had a 2016-17 season that can be described as a missed opportunity at best and a setback at worst.

Now, five years after being introduced to the Flyers’ system, Stolarz is at a bit of a crossroads in his Flyers career. Is he NHL-ready? If not, is he close? And how close do the Flyers actually think he is? Can he kick one of the Flyers’ current goalies off the NHL team before either of their two-year contracts are up? Is he still the Flyers’ goalie of the future? Is he still even the best goalie on the Phantoms? There are a lot of questions surrounding the New Jersey native, and we’re going to get at least some answers this season one way or another.

No. 14: Anthony Stolarz

Position: G
Age: 23 (1/20/1994)
Acquired Via: 2012 NHL Draft -- Round 2, Pick 45 (Pick acquired from Columbus along with Pick No. 117 in 2012 and a fourth-round pick in 2013 in exchange for Sergei Bobrovsky on June 22, 2012)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 0.911 SV%, 2.92 GAA in 29 GP
Nationality: American
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 7

After a few seasons of being the Flyers’ best goaltending prospect more or less by default, Stolarz stepped up in a pretty big way in the 2015-16 season. An outstanding first half of the season for the Phantoms — he posted a .928 save percentage from October through December that season — set him up for an AHL All-Star bid, and while his numbers tailed off a bit in the second half of the season, he also spent some time with the Flyers covering for (in most cases) Michal Neuvirth, who missed time due to injuries.

In the thick of a playoff race, the Flyers didn’t give Stolarz any ice time during those appearances, leaning heavily on their starter at a time where every win was crucial. But the fact that Stolarz was even on the team was seen by many observers as a vote of confidence. With Mason and Neuvirth both set to be free agents the next summer, the prevailing wisdom was that with one more solid AHL season Stolarz would probably find himself in the NHL full-time a year or so later.

A season that didn’t go according to plan

It’s now officially a year later, though, and Stolarz is not going to be starting the 2017-18 season in the NHL. Neuvirth is back, as he and Brian Elliott are both on deals that will take them through the 2018-19 season. And that’s because that last step forward that we wanted to see from Stolarz never quite happened in 2016-17. His overall numbers with the Phantoms regressed year-over-year; in particular, his save percentage dropped from .916 to .911 despite the fact that he was playing behind a much better Phantoms team than the one he starred behind the year prior.

There may, though, be an excuse (a potentially legitimate one!) baked into the tale of Stolarz’s AHL-level setback. On November 12, a night during which Neuvirth suffered a knee sprain that took him off the ice until January, Stolarz’s still-young AHL season had gotten out to an excellent start. He’d posted a .926 save percentage in his first eight games with the Phantoms, and his performance to that point made him the no-brainer call-up option. When you combine his excellent start with the ghastly first month of the year Steve Mason had (he’d posted a .880 save percentage prior to Stolarz’s call-up), it seemed like a great situation for Stolarz to get some real run at the NHL level for the first time, and to perhaps get an extended audition for a full-time role with the team next year.

But that’s not quite how things unfolded. Rather than use that time as a stretch to see what he had in Stolarz, Dave Hakstol elected to use it as a time to try and get his starter back on track. And boy, did he try: of the 23 games Stolarz spent with the NHL team, Mason started 21 of them. But Stolarz did finally see some NHL ice time during that stretch, getting a win in his NHL debut in November and getting a shutout in his next game against Detroit.

Still, over a span of a month and a half, Stolarz only played in four organized hockey games, just two of which were starts. And when he returned back to the Phantoms just after the New Year, his play took a dive: Stolarz’s save percentage with the Phantoms in 2017 was .905, and it wasn’t until the end of the year where he really started to get back on track ... except then he went down on April 12 with a leg injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the Phantoms’ season.

(A caveat here is that Stolarz’s second-half numbers were pulled down by a rough game on February 4, during which he allowed 7 goals on 32 shots in a loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. If that game had never happened, Stolarz’s numbers for the year look much better — in fact, his save percentage would jump up to .916, right where it was last year. Of course, every game matters and throwing out single games to try and create a rosier story is somewhat misleading, so read into that information as much or as little as you want.)

If Stolarz — who looked the part of an NHL goalie in his small sample with the Flyers, posting a .928 save percentage across four starts and three relief appearances — gets a few more appearances with the Flyers during his six weeks with them, does he maybe stay a bit more “in game shape” and come back to the Phantoms a bit stronger? Alternatively, could the Flyers have called up someone else — maybe Reading Royals starter and minor league veteran Mark Dekanich — to ride the pine behind Mason night in and night out, ensuring that Stolarz continued to get regular ice time in Lehigh Valley? Was it that crucial to have the best backup possible behind Mason if the plan was clearly just to play said backup as little as possible?

I’m not sure what the right answer was, and I understand the Flyers going with the safest option, which was to keep the best goalie around that they had available. But it’s very possible that the team’s handing of Stolarz in ‘16-17 hindered his development, and it may have led us to some of the questions surrounding him today.

Is Stolarz ready for that next step?

Stolarz was given a one-year contract in early July, and the Flyers’ goalie setup will probably be similar to what it was last year at the NHL and AHL levels. Neuvirth will split time with Brian Elliott at the NHL, while Stolarz and Alex Lyon will in theory fight for starts in the AHL and Stolarz will likely be the first call-up for whenever Neuvirth inevitably gets hurt. But as we discussed when talking about Lyon last Tuesday, this is an important year for Stolarz to prove his standing in the organization, since the Flyers will be adding one (Carter Hart) or even two (Felix Sandstrom?) goalies to their North American ranks in 2018-19, and there just won’t be room for everyone to stay.

Which is all to say that the Flyers may very well be reaching, if you’ll pardon my French, a shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment with Stolarz pretty soon. He’s spent three seasons with the Phantoms and played 107 games there, and with another full healthy season those numbers would likely rise to around four and 150, respectively. Hextall has said that he doesn’t believe that a prospect can get too much time in the minors, but he’s also said that when a player is ready, the team will find space for him.

And the problem there is that Hextall has basically said that Stolarz might be ready and on the team in a scenario that’s different from the one they’re in now. Hextall said in early July that he thinks Stolarz “has improved every year” with the Phantoms, and that he would maybe have been used in a backup role with the Flyers “if we had Marty Brodeur here”, which means “if we had an established No. 1 goalie here”. Basically, if Hextall is to be believed, the Flyers probably think Stolarz is ready for a 15-to-25-game-a-season role as a backup in the NHL. (And by the way: really, Ron? You couldn’t have picked anyone else for that analogy?)

I reached out to Greg Balloch, contributing editor of goalie-centric publication InGoal Magazine, who on July 1 tweeted out that Stolarz “has nothing left to prove in the AHL” and should be on the Flyers this year, for his thoughts on Stolarz’s progression and NHL-readiness as of now. Here’s what Greg had to say in an email on the matter:

Ideally Stolarz would begin his full-time NHL career with a consistent veteran partner, but the Flyers decided to let Steve Mason walk this offseason. I’ve softened my stance that he needs to be in the NHL immediately due to Brian Elliott being something more of a wildcard, but the fact remains: He does not have a lot left to prove in the AHL.

The Phantoms play high-event hockey. They force a lot of pressure, but they also give up their fair share of chances. In fact, they gave up the most shots on goal in the league last season, 10th-most the year before that, and 2nd-most in Stolarz’s rookie AHL season. He’s appeared in 107 AHL games, and 7 NHL games scattered over the last three years - and he’s seen a lot of rubber.

At 23 years old, I consider this a crucial point in his career. Historically, not a lot of NHL starting goaltenders remained in the AHL through their age 24 season. He needs to be challenged at the next level in order to improve into the elite-calibre goaltender that a lot of goalie coaches think he can be. There will be bumps along the way (See: Hellebuyck, Connor) but he will be better off for it in the end. This is why he would need a strong partner with him in the NHL when he falters. Splitting time with Alex Lyon/dominating the AHL would be redundant, or possibly even counter-productive to his development. He needs to see semi-consistent NHL action in 2017-18, and I would consider anything less than 20 games (barring injury/disaster) a failure by the organization.

I also asked Greg — who said in another tweet that Stolarz’s style “translates to the NHL game very well” — for his thoughts on what Stolarz’s average-ish AHL numbers to date mean, in regards to what we should expect if and when he makes that jump. Here’s what he had to say there:

It’s important to not get too hung up on minor league save percentage. Generally, yes, you want to see success at a lower level before they make the jump to the NHL - but it isn’t everything. Especially when it comes to goaltenders. The difference between an AHL lifer and an NHL goaltender is usually that the NHL goaltender had success right out of the gate when he was given a shot with the big club. Compare and contrast the careers of Mike McKenna vs Al Montoya, for a recent example. Montoya was also an incredibly high draft pick, which also plays a part in which goaltenders even get a shot.

Career AHL numbers shouldn’t be the deal breaker, especially when you can alter your play to skew them. Other than the speed, the biggest difference between the AHL and NHL is the quality of defensive systems. For goaltenders, this is a big deal. A larger goaltender can adjust their style to be more aggressive, and play a more front-door or “all or nothing” type of game. Against lesser-skilled shooters, you will usually see save percentage numbers go up. The problem is when you move up to the next level, that aggressiveness becomes a weakness, and shooters will prey on that. (Side note: This is even more evident for junior-level goaltenders making the jump to the professional game, and the reason why so many struggle initially).

Stolarz is an incredibly efficient goaltender when he plays deep in his crease. His post-integration (using the net to seal the short side and pre-load lateral movements) is advanced for a goaltender his age. Taking more depth, and overlapping on the post on rush plays doesn't play into his strengths. It also takes away from his natural advantage, which is his 6-foot-6 frame. When the defensive structure in front of him improves, we’ve seen the result that it can have. His short NHL stint last season should have given everyone a good idea.

It’s time for the Flyers to get serious about what they have in Stolarz. There is no fourth-line to stick a goaltender on in the NHL. Goaltending development is a tricky business, and you sink or swim with the goalie in net that you think has the highest ceiling. Of the goaltenders in the Flyers system that are NHL-ready (or near it), that goalie is Stolarz.

Greg’s analysis here does bring up an interesting question: how much weight do you put on Stolarz’s success in his very brief NHL window last year? Goalies are crazy and you don’t want to read too much into a small sample, but nothing in his play last year suggested that the NHL game was too big or too fast for him, and that’s certainly a very good sign. And hey, if the “defensive structure” of last year’s Flyers team was enough for him to shine, imagine what he could do when the team has some actual good defensemen on the ice.

Of course, as Greg alludes to and as Hextall has more or less admitted, the situation the Flyers are in isn’t one that is really conducive to Stolarz getting a ton of time at the NHL level, which makes the task of trying to figure out his future here that much harder.

What do the Flyers see Stolarz as?

In opting to re-sign Michal Neuvirth in March, the Flyers essentially slammed the door on Stolarz starting this season with the Flyers, since Neuvirth’s injury history necessitated that they get a more established option for their other goalie spot. Unless the Flyers did a total 180 on their opinion of Stolarz’s NHL-readiness some time after Neuvirth signed his extension, it seems like this whole chain of events ran counter to their belief that they’re not going to let veterans block NHL-ready prospects. The optics of the whole situation suggested that the Flyers chose a short-term future that featured Neuvirth over one that featured Stolarz (and over Mason, but that’s a separate discussion that we won’t get into here).

But then an interesting thing happened in June: Hextall elected to protect Stolarz, and not Neuvirth, in the Vegas expansion draft, ensuring that they would not lose him for nothing. If the Flyers only saw Stolarz as a future backup at the NHL level, they’d probably have just been willing to expose him. They clearly like Neuvirth and don’t want to lose him, they can get a backup anywhere, and they have a goalie logjam staring them in the face. The fact that they protected Stolarz means that they likely see something more than just a backup or an AHL-lifer in him.

So now the question is this: when do they give Stolarz the chance to show that he can be more than that? Do they think there’s something in his game he needs to fine-tune that can be fixed with a little bit more AHL time? Is the plan to just get him some ice time with the Flyers when one of Neuvirth or Elliott inevitably gets hurt? Is this year going to be a fight to the finish for Stolarz and Lyon where the winner stays with the organization next year and the loser gets replaced next year by Carter Hart?

As Greg alluded to above, it’s not common for goalies to emerge as legit NHL starters when they’re in the AHL as long and as late into their careers as Stolarz would be with another year in Lehigh Valley. Hextall, when in doubt, has generally erred towards the side of patience when it comes to young prospects, but it’s debatable whether we’re in doubt on Stolarz any more. While another full year in the AHL would be pretty frustrating for all parties involved, that may be the path we’re headed down.

In sum, Stolarz’s situation is as convoluted and confusing as that of maybe anyone else we’ll feature in this countdown, and there are glass-half-full and glass-half-empty ways to look at it. The fact that the team was basically willing to say in March of last year that it wasn’t prepared to have Stolarz in the NHL this coming season certainly isn’t a great sign for a guy with three full years of AHL experience already under his belt.

But it’s also important to remember that despite the up-and-down year that he just had, the Flyers have given Anthony Stolarz two public votes of confidence this summer, protecting him over a goalie whose NHL presence was/is stalling his development and then outright saying he may be NHL-ready in a different situation. The Flyers see something in Stolarz, and there’s still ample reason to think he could be a successful NHL goalie. He may just need another chance to show it.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Tue Aug 15 2017 07:00:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Tuesday Morning Fly By: *crickets*

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*Good god, there is literally nothing happening in the hockey world right now.Thank your gods for our 25 Under 25, which at least gives you SOMETHING to read and argue about. Next up: Anthony Stolarz! [BSH]

*The NHL Network says Patrick Kane is the best winger in hockey. First, barf. Second, discuss. [Second City Hockey]

*The Puck Daddy Alternate History project continues with a big big question about...your Flyers! This is the greatest sports thinkpiece ever written, FYI. [Puck Daddy]

*And finally, don't you wish there was more good hockey content on days like this? We sure do. If you've ever thought "man, I could do just as well as those BSH dorks" well, here's your chance! We're looking for writers so shoot your shot! [BSH]





[#] Tue Aug 15 2017 11:00:08 EDT from rss

Subject: Prospects and Ghost Bear and Voicemails, oh my!

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The gang is still finding hockey things to argue about deep into August.

With the dog days of summer in full swing, BSH Radio turns the spotlight onto the listeners in order to give them a chance to vent or wax poetic about The Hockey Team, The Flyers. It's The Voicemail show, as the gang takes questions regarding the goaltending, Dave Hakstol, and best/worst case scenarios for the Flyers over the next few years. But before that, the BSH Top 25 Under 25 is discussed, as the crew debates the importance of prospect upside vs. certainty of NHL contribution when it comes to the list. Then, the conversation turns to Shayne Gostisbehere, and whether it's reasonable to expect a major bounceback season from the young defenseman.

You can listen below or just about anywhere thanks to iTunes, Google Play, and Soundcloud.

Follow us on twitter @BSH_Radio and we’ll get through the rest of this long, dark summer together.





[#] Tue Aug 15 2017 11:59:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Robert Hagg finally appears to be ready for the NHL

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After a disastrous 2015-16 season, Robert Hagg bounced back last year and finds himself as one of the favorites in camp to earn a roster spot with the Flyers.

A little over four years ago, then-Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made the command decision to infuse his organization with a jolt of much-needed young defensive talent. The move was understandable: the NHL blueline at the time was somewhere between barely-passable and a total mess, with no obvious high-end prospects forthcoming in the pipeline. Sure, Shayne Gostisbehere was in the organization (drafted in 2012), but he had yet to become Shayne Gostisbehere, and generally came with the reputation of an “intriguing sleeper” rather than that of a true blue-chip prospect.

So at the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey, Holmgren took not just one but two defensemen viewed as first-round talents. Samuel Morin was selected 11th, and at pick 41, Holmgren snapped up Robert Hagg, who had surprisingly fallen to round two. The thirty pick gap between the two defensemen was deceiving; many believed Morin was overdrafted due to his size and nasty on-ice temperament, while Hagg was deemed a steal who slipped further than expected. Combine their similar pre-draft stocks with the fact that the duo immediately jumped to the top of the organizational depth chart when it came to defensive prospects, and it’s unsurprising that Morin and Hagg have remained linked in the minds of fans even as the Flyers have added blueliners with even higher upsides to the pipeline.

In the two seasons following the draft, Hagg essentially kept pace with his higher-selected peer. He spent a full season in the SHL before signing his ELC and joining the Adirondack Phantoms for ten games at the tail end of 2013-14. Then, he put together a solid age 19/20 season as a rookie in the AHL. Morin was progressing as well — he improved his QMJHL point-per-game ratio in both his Draft+1 and Draft+2 seasons — but it wasn’t ridiculous to rank the Swede over the Canadian during the summer of 2015.

It became far more difficult to make that case in the wake of 2015-16. While Morin finally turned pro and put together a perfectly-fine freshman campaign with the Phantoms, Robert Hagg took a big step back. His point totals declined, his on-ice metrics cratered, and he was repeatedly healthy scratched as the coaching staff in Lehigh Valley tried to get Hagg’s game back on track. Suddenly, Hagg was in danger of dropping out of the conversation entirely when it came to impact defensive prospects in the Flyers’ organization, especially with the surprise emergence of Philippe Myers in the QMJHL during that same season. It also turned the 2016-17 season into an especially important one for Hagg, as he needed to prove that his down year was an aberration and not the first sign of stalled development.

Luckily for he and the Flyers, Hagg did just that, bouncing back both statistically and in the eyes of the organization as a whole. As a result, the 22-year old defenseman is now banging on the NHL door.

No. 13: Robert Hagg

Position: D
Age: 22 (2/8/1995)
Acquired Via: 2013 NHL Draft -- Round 2, Pick 41
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 7 G, 8 A in 58 GP
Nationality: Swedish
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: T-15

It’s easy to conclude this in retrospect, but Hagg’s turnaround likely began at the tail end of the 2015-16 season rather than the start of this one. In April of 2016, Hagg posted five points in eight games and appeared to regain both his confidence and the trust of his coaches. But in the moment, it did not erase his poor results during the preceding five months. The hope was that his late-season surge would carry over into the 2016-17 season, but that outcome was no guarantee.

By April of the following year, Hagg was making his NHL debut.

Sure, it may have been a one-game audition in a lost season for the big club, but for Hagg, the debut was a well-earned reward for a season in which he improved upon all of his 5-on-5 numbers, scoring at a more efficient rate than ever before and posting positive on-ice goal-based outcomes. By basically every metric that we have, Hagg’s 2016-17 was the best season of his North American career.

Thanks to the great site Prospect-Stats, we can evaluate Hagg’s estimated point production per 60 minutes of play, and his on-ice Goals For percentage in each of his full seasons with the Phantoms. It’s immediately obvious that last year was the Swedish defenseman’s most complete performance to date.

His rookie year had a few positive markers, namely a +4.63% GF%Rel despite Hagg being just 19 years of age during the bulk of the season. However, it was a strong performance only relative to even-worse teammates (as shown by his GF% of 45.88%), and it came with very few primary points (0.24 eP1/60). In Year 2, Hagg’s point production did not improve (though he did jump a bit in primary points) and his goal-based results fell off a cliff. Looking at these numbers, it’s no surprise that head coach Scott Gordon dramatically cut back on Hagg’s ice time at 5v5 in 2015-16. The results simply weren’t there.

In 2016-17, however, everything improved. His eP1/60 jumped from 0.44 to 0.74, and he dragged his overall estimated Points/60 to over 1.0. His Goals For% Rel also jumped back into the black, and this time he did so while finishing comfortably above 50 percent on the whole.

How did this statistical profile match up to Hagg’s peers? His estimated primary points per 60 rate ranked seventh in the AHL among defensemen under the age of 22 last season, and he was one of only 10 under-22 blueliners to finish with a eP1/60 over 0.60 and a positive GF% Rel at 5v5. He wasn’t at the top of the class — players like Ryan Pulock, Shea Theodore and the Phantoms’ own Travis Sanheim had more impressive profiles — but Hagg was certainly holding his own with the top prospects in the AHL.

In addition, after being temporarily usurped by Morin on the organization depth chart following the 2015-16 season, Hagg was clearly the more effective statistical defenseman last year at even strength.

This isn’t a comprehensive analysis of the two players’ seasons, of course. It fails to account for role, nor does it account for the possible impact of high or low PDOs on the goal-based results of Hagg and Morin. However, it’s fair to note that between the two “NHL-ready” defensive prospects in the system, Hagg was a better scorer at 5v5 than Morin and was witness to more positive on-ice outcomes as well.

It’s especially important because of the positions that Hagg and Morin find themselves in the organization right now. Mirroring their entries into the organization on the same day, their respective NHL debuts came just five days apart at the end of last season. Just as important, Philadelphia has only five returning NHL defensemen under contract for 2017-18, which has functioned as an implicit admission by Ron Hextall that at least two rookie blueliners will be making the club in October. Considering their April auditions with the big club, Hagg and Morin stand as the clubhouse favorites.

But those younger hotshot prospects that pushed the 2013 draft duo down the Flyers’ prospect rankings are gunning for the NHL as well. Travis Sanheim had a more impressive statistical season in the AHL last year than Hagg or Morin, despite being one year younger than both. And Philippe Myers lasted longer in training camp last September than Hagg, despite the fact that the former was only 19 at the time and had only just been cleared to play after offseason surgery when camp began. One of those two open spots may seem earmarked for Hagg considering his age and development path, but Sanheim and Myers aren’t going to just roll over and let Hagg nab a spot by default.

Still, it’s important to remember what made Hagg such a strong prospect way back in 2013. He may not be an especially flashy defenseman, but he’s an above-average skater and was physically strong enough for the NHL two seasons ago. He earned detractors in the past for a playing style that some dubbed as “casual,” but during his NHL debut he looked far more like an economical player who naturally knew where to be at all times rather than one lacking intensity and effort.

His point totals in the AHL do not hint that Hagg will be a major offensive weapon from the back end, but Philadelphia has a number of blueliners who already fit that mold. A defenseman willing to function as the support member of a pairing and give flashier players like Gostisbehere, Provorov and Sanheim more freedom to freelance at 5v5 could be exactly what the Flyers need.

Training camp in September should be very competitive, but Robert Hagg is one of the favorites to earn one of the open spots on the blueline for good reason. After three full AHL seasons and fresh off his best one yet, it feels like the right time for Hagg to get an extended look at the NHL level. Once he gets that chance, the conversation surrounding the 22-year old can move away from whether he will become an NHL regular, and towards the question of his eventual ceiling as a player.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Wed Aug 16 2017 07:00:01 EDT from rss

Subject: Wednesday Morning Fly By: Talkin' 'bout hot dogs.

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*Thank the gods for BSH Radio, trucking on through these empty August days and still finding things to yell about. New episode! [BSH]

*Next up on our 25 Under 25 is a young defenseman at whom we got a little look at the end of last season, and it was pretty good: Robert Hagg. [BSH]

*Pronman's prospect articles are always behind the ESPN paywall, but good news about this one is you get to see the relevant part in the preview. And it is delicious. [ESPN]

*This projected lineup for the 2020 Philadelphia Flyers is practically not safe for work. My goodness we are in for some fun times ahead. [The Hockey News]

*In NHL Alternate Histories, what if the Avalanche never matched the Joe Sakic offer sheet? [Puck Daddy]

*And finally, Phil Kessel - beaut, legend, master troll - continues to mess with the Toronto hockey media in the most entertaining ways. And oh man it makes them so mad. [Puck Daddy]





[#] Wed Aug 16 2017 10:59:01 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Scott Laughton hopes that one step back can lead to two steps forward

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The 2012 first-rounder spent the past year not with the Flyers, but in the AHL developing further as a center. Will it pay off for him and the team?

One thing that generally tends to be true of young players is this: once they’ve spent a lot of time at a higher level of play (i.e. a different league), you probably don’t want them spending much time back at a lower league ever again. There can be exceptions — post-injury rehab stints, unexpected roster changes that push certain guys out of key roles — but for the most part, a step back is a big red flag in a player’s development.

For one still-fairly-prominent name in their prospects corps, the Flyers are hoping that they’ve got an exception to that rule.

When you look at the Flyers’ current prospect corps, you can see that the timeline really began with the 2012 draft. Two players from that draft have already been featured in the top 20 of this countdown (Taylor Leier and Anthony Stolarz), while one other one is yet to be featured (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But that draft began with the selection of center Scott Laughton, who — not unlike fellow 2012 draftee Anthony Stolarz, whom we discussed in this space on Monday — almost immediately became the system’s top prospect at his position by default upon being drafted, and remained in that position for a couple of years until newer names started rolling in. Laughton’s path towards a long-term spot with the Flyers has been bumpy, and this past year looks like a bit of a step back. Can it get back on track?

No. 12: Scott Laughton

Position: C
Age: 23 (5/30/1994)
Acquired Via: 2012 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 21
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 19 G, 20 A in 60 GP
Nationality: Canadian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 11

After two post-draft seasons in (OHL) Oshawa and a fine-if-unspectatular 31-game stint with the Flyers during a 2014-15 season that also involved some time with the Phantoms, 2015-16 was Scott Laughton’s first real chance to stick with the Flyers at the NHL level right out of camp. He did just that, with a training camp performance as impressive as that of nearly any other forward on the team.

To say “Laughton’s first full season with the Flyers was a mixed bag” would be fair, but the surprise was in how exactly he got to that end-grade. As he came up to the NHL, Laughton was frequently seen as a prospect with a ton of potential as a defensive stopper in the NHL, one who could potentially be a shutdown center and top penalty killer for years to come thanks to his speed, checking, and overall tenacity. On the other hand, there were questions about just how good of an offensive player he would be, with many thinking he may never score more than your average third-liner might.

One full year with the Flyers later, that narrative was almost entirely flipped on its head. Laughton, rather than making an impact as a great defensive player, struggled mightily in his own third of the ice, turning the puck over fairly often and losing assignments more than you’d like to see. On the other hand, his offensive play was likely better than many would have expected — a mark of 1.88 5-on-5 points per 60 (via corsica.hockey) was the fourth-best of all Flyers forwards, and was very comfortably in the range of what you’d expect from a top-6 forward in today’s NHL.

Additionally, many of Laughton’s successes came not at center — his natural position through juniors and the minors — but on the wing, where he spent some time as the year went on. For a player who showed offensive potential but was struggling to handle defensive responsibilities, the move made some sense in the short-term.

All in all, while there were some definite questions surrounding Laughton heading into the 2016-17 season, there were genuine causes for optimism, and there was confidence that the Flyers at least had an NHLer on their hands. How good of one was anyone’s guess, and maybe “at least an NHLer” was a disappointing outlook for the former first-round pick at this point in his career in the eyes of some, but the Flyers clearly had something to work with here.

Unfortunately, the 2016-17 season wasn’t the step forward that Laughton was hoping to see in his age-22 season.

Mere days before training camp was set to end, an injury in practice sent Laughton to the shelf for almost a month into the season. The injury came after what was generally seen as an underwhelming camp for the Oshawa native, and at the time it seemed like maybe his injury gave the Flyers a chance to kick the can down the road a bit when it came to any potential difficult decisions regarding his spot on the team. Laughton was sent to the Phantoms on a conditioning stint in early November, then was called back up to the Flyers just before Thanksgiving and played in two games with the NHL club.

That second game — on Black Friday against the Rangers — would end up being Laughton’s final NHL game of the season, likely in large part due to this turnover that set up the first goal of the afternoon for the Blueshirts.

For the most part, Laughton’s two games in the NHL this year — both of which were mainly spent at center, by the way — went fairly well. He didn’t score or set up any goals, but he looked the part of a solid NHLer, and basically any on-ice measure you could find said good things about his play in those two games. But plays like the above turnover to J.T. Miller only reignited concerns about Laughton’s defensive capabilities in the NHL, as this was the kind of mistake the Flyers were surely hoping to see less of in his second full season with the NHL team.

After that Rangers game, Laughton sat in the press box for five games, and was then sent back to Lehigh Valley, where he remained for the entire season while multiple other AHL forwards (such as Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal) got their shots with the Flyers. And with Weal eventually taking full advantage of his NHL opportunity, the door was pretty well slammed shut on Laughton returning to the team at any point this season. He posted solid point totals with the Phantoms in 60 games and was one of their better players in their first-round loss to the Hershey Bears, but at first, it was still hard to shake the feeling that this was a wasted season for the 2012 first-rounder.

At this point, one could have been forgiven for thinking Laughton’s future with the organization may not be long. While he was due a new contract for 2016-17, he was never likely to get a big raise, and he would be waiver-eligible for the first time in 2017-18. Some people (cough) even thought that he was a potential pick in expansion for the Vegas Golden Knights, who figured to be looking for potential high-upside reclamation projects and may have seen someone in Laughton who could benefit from a change of scenery.

But then in mid-June, a wrench was thrown into that last scenario when something very unexpected happened: Ron Hextall elected to protect Laughton in expansion. Over Michael Raffl, over Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, over Jordan Weal, and over a few other forwards that we know the Flyers like. Almost no one saw this particular move coming — none of our staff predicted that Laughton would be protected, nor did over 98 percent of our readers — and it was hard to interpret that move as anything other than a big vote of confidence for Laughton by the front office. Three days later, Bellemare was chosen by Vegas in expansion, and suddenly, the guy who spent two games with the Flyers last year looked like the clubhouse leader in the competition for the Flyers’ fourth-line center spot for 2017-18.

It’s clear that the Flyers felt like the time that Laughton spent with the Phantoms last year ended up working out well for his development. Despite his stints at the wing, the Flyers have generally said throughout his career that they see him as a center in the NHL, and it certainly sounds like when he came back to Lehigh Valley, the goal was to get him to focus on developing the skills he’ll need to be a successful center in the NHL.

Back on BSH Radio in July, former Phantoms assistant Riley Cote spoke about the changes Laughton had to make to his game this past year, and how they should help him going forward (transcribed by our own Charlie O’Connor):

I think he had a hard time adjusting to a lesser role, [lines] three or four, you know what I mean? I think what he’s learned coming back down is that... he didn’t play on the power play, he didn’t play in offensive situations like that, so I think he’s able to absorb more of what he really, truly is.

It’s not a knock on his ability. But once you get to the NHL, there’s so many unbelievable talents, so you have to take a lesser role sometimes. I think for him, he’s a third line center probably max on a good team. But I think he has to buy into that role, because there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that role. I think he needs to be just a little bit more gritty, maybe cut his losses a little bit more. I think he hangs onto the puck too much and gets into trouble, turns pucks over, and so he doesn’t have to carry the puck as much.

I think he works hard enough, gets on the puck hard enough, I think he just... we talked about it all the time: “Simplify his game.” Be a hard worker, be a reliable centerman, win faceoffs, kill penalties. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s some guys — and I think he had an identity crisis — it’s hard to swallow when you’re a 90-point guy, almost 100-point guy in juniors. You think you’re just gonna hop right into the NHL and be an 80-point guy in the NHL, and it’s just not realistic.

Cote isn’t the only member (or former) member of the organization that thinks last year went well for Laughton despite what, from afar, looks like a step back. Ron Hextall said on July 2 (a couple of weeks before signing Laughton to a two-year extension) that Laughton “had a terrific year” and “really grew up a lot” in 2016-17. Either people in the organization clearly like what Laughton did last year, or they’re doing a really good job pretending they did.

Even despite the glowing reviews and inside track on a lineup spot, Laughton’s path to the roster isn’t secure. Mike Vecchione is also a candidate for a bottom-6 forward spot with the Flyers next year, and he very well could get that spot over Laughton if the latter struggles in camp. But given what the Flyers did this summer by showing their hand a bit and protecting Laughton, it does seem like the spot is his to lose.

And while “a solid bottom-6 center” maybe isn’t quite what you hope for from a mid-first rounder like Laughton, if the Flyers can get him to develop the skills of a solid defensive forward and penalty-killer and show those skills at the NHL level, that may be all they need out of him. Some combination of Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick, and Sean Couturier should anchor this team down the middle into the next decade; a bottom-6 guy who can play defense, skate and score a bit, and even move up to the wing (in a pinch) could fill out that lineup just fine.

Maybe this year was a step back for Laughton. No matter what shine you put on it, the optics of a player spending a full year in the AHL after spending a full year in the NHL are never going to be great. But this seems like it could be a case where a step back isn’t a sign of the end, but could instead be a chance for Laughton to take two steps forward to get to where the Flyers want him to be. We’ll find out soon enough.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





[#] Thu Aug 17 2017 07:00:02 EDT from rss

Subject: Thursday Morning Fly By: HURRY UP, HOCKEY SEASON!

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Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...

*Scott Laughton, man. What in the world do we do with Scott Laughton. [BSH]

*Let's take a look at what the Rangers fans think of how the Metropolitan Division will shake out this season. [Blueshirt Banter]

*RETIRE ERIC LINDROS' NUMBER NOW. *ahem* DGB on which NHL players who deserve to have their numbers retired by their respective teams. [The Hockey News]

*Big news yesterday was the Oilers locking up another one of their ridiculously skilled forwards for many, many years. Jerks. [TSN]

*Does the NHL have a problem with how NCAA players are signed by teams? [The Hockey News]

*And finally, this is a fun mid-August exercise: if the NHL hit the reset button today, who'd be drafted first overall? DISCUSS. [TSN]





[#] Thu Aug 17 2017 10:00:01 EDT from rss

Subject: Top 10 photos of Travis Konecny

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A special Flyers Frese Frame season recap gallery





[#] Thu Aug 17 2017 14:29:04 EDT from rss

Subject: Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: German Rubtsov gearing up for first full season in North America

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Rubtsov’s post-draft season didn’t go as many hoped it would, but a strong finish and a new locale bode well for 2017-18.

When the Flyers traded down and selected German Rubtsov in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, it wasn’t a slam-dunk, no-brainer choice. Established scorers like Kieffer Bellows and Julien Gauthier were on the board at the team’s original selection spot, and while scouts were generally impressed with Rubtsov’s skillset, he came with risks.

To start, the Russian forward had been caught up in his country’s melondium doping scandal, which resulted in the country’s entire U18 team being banned from the World Championships. While it’s important to note that Rubtsov merely used a substance that Russian officials had provided all players, the scandal prevented teams from getting that final look at the player prior to the draft, and may have sent up additional (probably unfair) character red flags as well.

But the bigger issue was simply his contractual status as a player. Rubtsov was coming off a full season in the MHL (Russian junior hockey) and found himself locked into the Vityaz Podolsk organization in the KHL. As a result, the Flyers would have little control over his development in the immediate future, and also lacked a guarantee that Rubtsov would come over to the United States at all.

Considering the research that the Flyers did on the prospect prior to draft day, it’s likely that they had some degree of certainty that Rubtsov’s end goal was the NHL, but the risk remains. For example, top Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov recently signed a three-year extension in the KHL, despite clearly being NHL-ready. Assuming he honors the entirety of that deal, Kaprizov will be 23 before he joins the Wild.

This is why Russian prospects often slip in the draft, for reasons unrelated to xenophobia — there’s just an added element of risk. But after watching his development stall during the first half of his draft+1 season, Rubtsov’s camp stepped in and helped the prospect choose a new route to the NHL, this time through the Canadian junior hockey system.

No. 11: German Rubtsov

Position: C
Age: 19 (6/27/1998)
Acquired Via: 2016 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 22 (Pick acquired from Winnipeg along with Pick No. 36 in 2016 in exchange for Picks No. 18 and 79 in 2016 on June 24, 2016)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Chicoutimi (QMJHL) - 9 G, 13 A in 22 GP
Nationality: Russian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 12

From October through the start of January, German Rubtsov’s season could only be described as a mess. He played in 30 hockey games in his home country, but 15 of those were spent in the MHL, a league in which he already had excelled during the 2015-16 season. His performance was fine — 15 points in 15 games — but not otherworldly. And in his 15 games spent with his KHL squad, Rubtsov could not manage even a point in very limited usage. He was quickly falling into the strange middle ground of being too good for Russian juniors, but either not ready (or not high enough in his coach’s estimation) for worthwhile minutes in the KHL, the second-best league in the world.

Everything came to a head in the World Junior Championships in late December/early January. Rubtsov did make the team (which was an impressive accomplishment considering his country’s general preference towards selecting older players), but again was not used as a key contributor. In five games, Rubtsov again did not score a point, and exited the tournament early with a broken nose. For fans getting their first glimpse of the team’s most recent first round selection, Rubtsov didn’t exactly stand out in a positive way.

However, that tournament can be viewed as the pivot point for Rubtsov’s entire 2016-17 season, even though the production wasn’t there. That’s because he never would again return to Russia once the WJC concluded.

Rubtsov had been drafted by the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL during the previous summer, when it still appeared possible that he would jump to North America to start the season. Even though he ended up staying in his home country, the Saguenéens retained his rights indefinitely. And in the wake of the tournament, they apparently made a big push to bring him west.

The teams and agents quickly got involved, and by January 9th, it was reported that his KHL contract had been terminated and Rubtsov was free to play in the QMJHL. His first game would come on January 19th, in which Rubtsov would finish with two assists. In many ways, that day was the true start of his Draft+1 season.

The points just kept coming. After six games, Rubtsov had nine points (three goals, six assists), and added another 11 in eight February games. Primarily playing the wing on Chicoutimi’s top line, Rubtsov looked dangerous every night, finally allowing for North American fans to see the talent that had so enticed the Flyers’ front office.

Rubtsov’s short QMJHL debut ended on April 4th, when he suffered a hand injury that forced him to sit out the postseason. Still, a performance of 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 16 games in a new league, in a new country, while adapting to new teammates midseason is undeniably impressive. Small sample size caveat attached, but his point-per-game rate of 1.375 was higher than that of fellow Canadian junior forwards Michael McLeod (1.28 PPG), Julien Gauthier (1.11 PPG) and Max Jones (1.09 PPG), all of whom were also 2016 first-rounders.

That strong finish has the hype train back rolling when it comes to German Rubtsov. Finally given a major role in an age-appropriate league that can be viewed by Flyers fans, Rubtsov more than held his own. That carried over to development camp in Voorhees, which gave fans their first direct look at the prospect. His skating ability and passing prowess were on display throughout the week, and he apparently stood out in the scrimmages as well.

So what comes next for German Rubtsov? He’s almost certainly not NHL-ready, considering his inability to carve out a role for himself last year in the KHL, a lesser league. But unlike most under-20 prospects in Canadian juniors, Rubtsov actually has multiple non-NHL options. Because he was contracted with a KHL team when drafted, he is not subject to the CHL-NHL agreement that prohibits junior players from jumping to the AHL before age-20. As a result, the Flyers could send him back to Chicoutimi, or they could assign him to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms instead, if they believe he is ready for a stiffer challenge. He’s already signed to a NHL entry-level contract (on March 2nd), so placing him in the AHL would require no additional paperwork.

However, I personally believe he would be better served spending a full season in the QMJHL. After bouncing between three leagues last season, a complete year in a major role against age-appropriate competition would be a good way to inject some normality into what has been a very unconventional development process. It would take an absolutely stellar performance in Flyers training camp to convince me that Rubtsov would be best suited for the Phantoms on what projects to be a roster stacked full of useful forwards. Unless he’ll be sliding right into a guaranteed top-six role in the AHL, I believe heavy usage in all situations in the QMJHL is the best move for the 19-year old.

At development camp, Hextall was noncommittal on the “QMJHL or AHL?” question, but he did confirm that the NHL was a serious longshot for Rubtsov in 2017-18. The 2016 first-rounder is almost certainly at least one year away from the big club, but considering his promising play in juniors last year, his stock is certainly trending upwards. It will be up to Rubtsov to continue that trajectory this year, whether it occurs in Canada or Lehigh Valley.

***

Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25:





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