Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. The cut-off for prospects is typically 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Philadelphia Flyers Prospects
In mid-December the Philadelphia Flyers were flying high. They had a 10-game winning streak, and seemed to be well on their way to a second straight playoff berth. However, the hot start would not last, and a miserable second half would take the Flyers right out of playoff contention. The ended the year with 88 points, seven points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs who took the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Things weren’t all bad though. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov made the team out of camp and had strong rookie seasons. Several other Flyers prospects made an impact throughout the year in their various leagues. To top it all off the Flyers got extremely lucky in the NHL Draft Lottery, landing the second overall pick. It was the silver lining in the cloud of a season gone wrong.
Draft Picks: Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, Kirill Ustimenko, Matthew Strome, Maksim Sushko, Noah Cates, Olle Lycksell, Wyatt Kalynuk
Graduates: Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Roman Lyubimov
Top Prospect: Nolan Patrick
The Flyers drafted Patrick with the 2nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Patrick. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Travis Sanheim
Defense — shoots Left
Born March 29th 1996 — Elkhorn, Manitoba
Height 6’4″ — Weight 199 lbs [193 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, 17th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Sanheim had his first pro season in 2016-17, putting up 10 goals and 37 points in 76 games with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The AHL rookie took on a big role with the team and performed well for a 20-year-old. Unfortunately there was not room to get Sanheim a call-up with the big club, at least not yet.
Sanheim is an excellent skater. He has very good top end speed in both directions, strong acceleration, and an excellent first step. His pivots and edge work are extremely good for a man his size. It gives him strong mobility in all directions. His balance is also good and while he isn’t much of a hitter, it gives him the ability to battle in front of the net, contain his man in the cycle, and win battles along the boards.
Sanheim takes charge of the play and leads the rush from the back end, as well as joining as a trailer. He has the stick handling and the skating skills to move the puck out of danger in his own zone, and transition to the attack and lead the rush. He also makes a smart first pass and can be key to starting the transition game. Sanheim is also a very good passer from the blue line, showing poise in handling the puck, making smart offensive reads and creating scoring opportunities.
He’s developed his upper body strength since being drafted, and has a much harder slap shot from the point. It still won’t be characterized as a bomb, but Sanheim has ability to get it through to the net effectively. By walking the line and opening up shooting lanes he makes his shot more dangerous. He utilizes a quick wrister at times to keep defences off balance, which really adds to the slap shot effectiveness.
Defensively, Sanheim is very difficult to beat one-on-one. His excellent mobility and strong footwork keeps attacking forwards to the outside and makes him very hard to beat off the rush. Sanheim uses his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes and take away options when opponents are set up in the zone. He isn’t afraid to use his big frame to block shots and does so effectively.
Young defencemen take time. Travis Sanheim is incredibly talented, and there is opportunity on the Flyers blue line with Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto now longer sporting the Orange and Black. He will go into camp looking to win a job, and make it the third straight year the Flyers have a strong rookie blue liner on the roster.
#3 Prospect Philippe Myers
Defense — shoots Right
Born January 25th 1997 — Moncton, New Brunswick
Height 6’5″ — Weight 205 lbs [193 cm / 93 kg]
Signed as a free agent in September 2015
Undrafted in the 2015 draft, Myers has silenced all the doubters. He earned a contract in Flyers training camp in 2015, and went back to junior, where he has dominated the last two years. His offense continues to increase and Myers became a point per game player with 10 goals and 35 points in 34 games for Rouyn-Noranda last season. He added three goals and nine points in 13 playoff games. He was also on the top pair for Team Canada at the World Juniors, picking up three points in four games before injury would take him out of the tournament. If there is one disappointment, its been injuries. A concussion took him out of the World Juniors; he had hip surgery in the summer of 2016; he’s also had a sprained knee and torn labrum in juniors.
Myers skating is very good for his size. He moves quickly in both directions and has very good acceleration. If pressured, he can skate the puck out of danger, and away from fore checkers. He also has very good agility and foot work, making him extremely tough to beat on the rush. Myers is strong on his skates and has very good balance.
Myers offense has really improved over the last two years. While he always had a hard slap shot, but had real trouble getting it on net in the past. Myers corrected that issue and has seen his goal totals go through the roof. His cannon is now a feared weapon on the powerplay. He also became more poised with the puck, waiting for the play to develop before getting rid of it. He makes smart passes and shows the vision needed to anticipate plays. Myers uses that passing ability both to start the rush, as well as to play the point on the powerplay.
Myers uses his size to win board battles and to gain leverage in front of the net, but he really isn’t a big hitter. If he can develop this aspect of his game, he could become a really intimidating force of the back line. Myers does read the play well with good positioning. He anticipates where the play is going, creating turnovers. Once those turnovers are created he can transition to offence quickly. He uses his long stick to cut down the passing and shooting lanes.
Myers is looking like an absolute steal for the Flyers. He will head to Flyers camp looking to win a job on the blue line, and that is not totally out of the question. However, it is more likely that he will head to the AHL, where he will get plenty of playing time with Lehigh Valley. With his size and skill set, if he can continue to refine his game, he could be an excellent NHL defenceman.
#4 Prospect Carter Hart
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born August 13th 1998 — Sherwood Park, Alberta
Height 6’2” — Weight 180 lbs [188 cm / 82 kg]
Hart had another strong season with the Everett Silvertips, establishing himself as one of the top goalies in all of junior hockey. His 1.99 goals against average and .927 save percentage are continued improvements on his draft year. His GAA and SV% also led the league, and he was named WHL goaltender of the year for the second straight season. Hart also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors, acquitting himself well against top level competition and winning a silver medal.
Technique and Ability
At 6’2″ Carter Hart comes in at slightly below average when we look at other highly tougted goalie prospects. There has been a move towards drafting and developing bigger goaltenders throughout the league. Hart makes up for his lack of size with his exceptionally fast reflexes. He gets in and out of the butterfly very quickly, and takes away the bottom of the net with exceptionally fast legs. He also is an aggressive goalie who makes himself seem bigger by taking full advantage of his ability to come out of the net and cut down angles. Strong skating, being able to move out and back quickly, as well as a good push and the ability to go side-to-side with ease allow Hart to fully take advantage of a style that sees him really challenge shooters and aggressively play the angles. He also has a quick glove hand.
Carter Hart is extremely athletic in the crease. While his technique is solid, and he is almost always square to the shooter, whether it be on a first shot or rebound, when he does get beaten he can make some incredible recoveries and reflex based stops. While most young goalies struggle with rebound control this is a strength of Hart’s game, as he often swallows up pucks or directs them into the corners, minimizing the number of second chance opportunities that he will face. Hart keeps a cool and calm demeanor in the net. If he does give up a soft goal, which is rare, he does not get rattled and comes back ready to make the next stop.
One area that Hart can improve upon is his stickhandling. When he travels outside of his crease, he does not play the puck very well. This is something that he will need to continue to improve upon as its become such an important part of modern game.
As with most young goalies, Hart will be a project, but if developed correctly, he has the potential to become a starting goalie in the NHL. A 1998 birthdate, he should find himself back in junior next season. Expect to see him playing at the World Juniors once again, as well as challenging for both WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year.
#5 Prospect Oskar Lindblom
Left Wing/Right Wing — shoots Left
Born August 15th 1996 — Gavle, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 192 lbs [185 cm/87 kg]
Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round, #138 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Lindblom had an excellent season for Brynas, leading the team to the SHL Championship Series, where they unfortunately came up just a little short. With 22 goals and 47 points in 52 games, he was named the top forward in the league. He also added four goals and 14 points in the playoffs.
The main reason that Lindblom fell to the fifth round in the 2014 NHL Draft was concern about his skating. However, he has worked hard over the last three years to really improve on that aspect of his game. His first step quickness is much better. He has also worked to get a longer stride and more speed and acceleration. Lighter on his feet, Lindblom has also improved his agility and edge work. Where this was once a liability of his game, he has improved to the point where he is at an average, or even slightly above average level skater.
Lindblom has always had good balance and been strong on his skates. This helps him to play a power game. He establishes position in front of the net, and works well along the boards.
Lindblom is a big and strong winger who is at his best working the cycle game, battling in corners and getting to the front of the net. He has soft hands and knows how to finish in close to the goal when he gets there. Lindblom has good hand-eye coordination and can pounce quickly on rebounds, bury one-timers, and tip in point shots. As mentioned, he is strong on the puck. Lindblom uses his body positioning and strong puck handling skills to protect it on the cycle. Most of his assists come from digging the puck out of the corners and getting it to a teammate to make a play in the offensive zone.
Lindblom also works well in the defensive zone. He is more than willing to block shots and get his stick into passing lanes. He is smart positionally, covering the point, and knowing when to support the defence down low. Lindblom keeps his feet moving and is a hard worker in all three zones.
Lindblom signed his entry-level-contract with the Flyers this spring. He will be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp. With his well developed two-way game, and his success at the SHL level, and AHL level (in 2016), he will be given every opportunity to make the club. The ability to play in the bottom six will be a major asset as he can start lower in the lineup and work his way up.
Sleeper Prospect Tanner Laczynski
Center — shoots Right
Born June 1st, 1997 — Shorewood, Illinois
Height 6’1″ — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round, #169 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
After being a late round pick of the Flyers in 2016, Laczynski had a solid freshman season with Ohio State. He put up 10 goals and 32 points in 34 games. He also represented Team USA at the World Juniors, where he had a lower line role. He scored just two points in seven games, but did come home from the tournament with a gold medal.
Laczynski has a long, smooth stride that leads to good speed and quick acceleration. However, he continues to need work on his first few steps, which can be a bit of an issue, and can prevent him from getting to loose pucks. He also could be a little better in terms of his edge work and agility. These are things that can be drilled in with a good skating coach.
Laczynski is a strong playmaker, with very good vision and passing skills. Laczynski can fit the puck through tight spaces, or make saucer passes to teammates. He creates space with strong puck handling skills. He can control the play in the offensive zone, protecting the puck and slowing things down for his teammates to get open. Once they do get open he has the vision to see the opportunity and the skille to take advantage of it. Laczynski also has a good release on his shot. He could stand to add a bit more power though, as well as shooting a bit more often though.
Laczynski plays a responsible defensive game, however he must add some strength. While he is a willing backchecker, and supports the defence down low, he can sometimes get overpowered by stronger opposition. He also could stand to work on his face-off skills going forward. The effort level and the positioning are good though, so again these are areas of his game that should improve in time.
Laczynski remains a project. To be clear he is our sleeper prospect, and not the sixth best prospect in the Flyers system. He will likely return to Ohio State for a sophomore season, and continue to improve his game. At this point Laczynski is a long-term project for Philadelphia.
The Flyers have built a system that is deep at nearly every position. In addition to those already mentioned, the Flyers also have German Rutsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Pascal Laberge, and Morgan Frost at centre. On the wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Wade Allison, Cole Bardreau, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Matthew Strome all have a chance to develop into NHL players. The Flyers blue line has been a particular source of strength in recent years with Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere already making NHL impacts. Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Mark Freidman could become depth defenders.
In goal, Anthony Stolarz, was good in a small sample at the NHL level last year. He should be NHL ready soon. Alex Lyon, Matej Tomek, Kirill Ustimenko, and Felix Sandstrom, provide plenty of depth. The Flyers have one of the best prospect groups in the league. They also own the St. Louis Blues 2018 first round pick (lottery protected), so things could get even better going forward.
Main Photo via Getty Images Sport.