Flyers Prospects Showing Promise Outside of the NHL
Scott Laughton is proving why the Flyers took him so early in the 2012 NHL Draft. Photo courtesy of OHL Images
By Pat White (@patwhite9126)
The Flyers are heading into the final stretch of games before the upcoming Olympic break next week. For many of the Flyers prospects, there is still work to be done to ensure postseason play for their respective teams. Let’s take a look at what Flyers fans have to look forward to in the coming years.
Scott Laughton- C Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Philadelphia’s 2011 first round pick is lighting it up while captaining the Generals to first place in the Eastern Conference of the OHL. Laughton is second on the team with 29 goals and 64 points in just 39 games. In his last 10 games, Laughton has five goals and nine assists. He has been among the top-20 scorers in the OHL all season, and currently sits 15th in the league.
Laughton has a plethora of talent around him that has boosted his numbers. He plays alongside the OHL’s fourth leading scorer and 2014 draft eligible Michael Dal Colle, who has 73 points. Cole Cassells (VAN 3rd, 2013) has stepped into an offensive role and Josh Sterk has already set a career-high with 47 points in his fourth season. The scoring depth has taken a lot of the offensive pressure off Laughton to play his aggressive style.
The most encouraging sign of Laughton’s progression is that he served as Team Canada’s captain at the World Junior Championships in Malmo this winter. Yes, Canada disappointed by not bringing home any hardware, but serving as captain shows the maturity and leadership Laughton possesses. It’s something the Flyers need moving forward.
Laughton is the classic case of a player that is too good to play in juniors, but not polished enough to play in the NHL. Ultimately, the Flyers made the right choice sending him down to play top-six minutes and to round out his game. The Flyers may not make the playoffs, but at least Laughton will get some experience in the postseason with Oshawa.
Taylor Leier- F Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Last season, Leier was overshadowed by all the stars that littered the Portland lineup. Seth Jones grabbed the attention of NHL scouts, Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan set the league on fire with 120-point campaigns, and Ty Rattie represented Team Canada at the U20 World Junior Championships.
But among all that was the 19-year-old Leier, who quietly posted 27 goals and 62 points in 64 games. Leier signed an entry level contract with the Flyers in September and then was named captain of the Winterhawks. Known as a gritty, two-way player, Leier sits fifth on the team with 24 goals and 52 points in 43 games. He is on pace for a career season, and will be a key contributor if Portland is going to compete for a fourth straight WHL finals appearance.
Leier possesses that all-around game that the Flyers covet in their forwards. He is still a few years from being an NHL player and he needs to develop his offensive game. Portland made the Memorial Cup final last season and the team sits in second in the Western Conference in the WHL. The Winterhawks will be in the hunt again this season and that experience is invaluable for Leier.
Shayne Gostisbehere-D Union College (ECACH)
Gostisbehere has had quite a run at Union College so far in his career. As a freshman, he posted five goals and 22 points and earned a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie Team as Union made a run to the 2012 Frozen Four. His sophomore season, he scored seven goals and 26 points as Union made the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. In his spare time, Gostisbehere was part of the United States World Juniors team that won gold in Ufa, Russia. He chipped in a game-goal and an assist.
The 20-year-old puckmoving defenceman is continuing his collegiate success at Union this season. The junior from Margate, Fla. has seven goals and 13 assists in 26 contests and also quaterbacks the power play. Gostisbehere is one of the major reasons for Union’s surge up the rankings to No. 4 in the USCHO.com polls
Gostisbehere is one of the few potential impact defenseman the Flyers have in their system. While the Flyers trend of coveting big, physical defensemen has frustrated the fanbase, Gostisbehere is the bright spot. At 5’11 170 lbs., he still needs to put on some weight before being considered NHL-ready. But his skating and offensive prowess is something for Flyer fans to be excited about. I see a lot of Torey Krug in his game.
Samuel Morin-D Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
No Flyers prospect is under the microscope quite like Morin.
The 11th pick in last summer’s draft was considered a reach and a “typical Flyers pick” by many pundits. The Flyers brass have a lot of faith that the defensive-minded Morin can develop an offensive game at the NHL level. He has set career highs in goals (6), assists (17), shots (82) and points (23) for a Rimouski team that is contention for a playoff spot in the QMJHL.
With the current state of the Flyers defense, there is a chance he could be rushed into the Flyers lineup next season, although that might not be the right decision. Morin impressed in the preseason with his decision making and ability to get the puck out of the zone with a good first pass. Despite his 6-foot-7, 210 lbs. frame, Morin actually skates pretty well, but he is still an overall raw talent. He continues to play a shutdown role for Rimouski, but has shown some offensive upside.
There may be some questions about Morin’s maturity at this point. He was suspended for two games for throwing his stick at the boards against Blainville-Boisbriand last week.
Robert Hagg – D MODO SHL (SWEDEN)
Hagg was regarded as a possible first round pick in last summer’s draft, but slipped to the second round to the Flyers. In my opinion, he might be the most intriguing player the Flyers have drafted in a few years.
The soon-to-be 19 year old is still a very raw talent, but is playing with the big boys in the Swedish Hockey League. He is playing for a fifth-place MODO team that features former NHLers Kyle Cumisky, Jeff Tamballini and Sammy Pahlsson. He’s also playing with former Flyers draft pick Joonas Lehtivuori and Kirril Kabonov, an Islanders prospect who is on loan. But back to Hagg.
Hagg has a goal and five assists for MODO this season. He was also a member of Team Sweden at the WJC in Malmo where he registered a goal en route to a silver medal.
Hagg admitted at the draft that he is still a few years away from being ready for the NHL. He is a good, but not great, skater on the big ice. He retrieves the puck well in the zone and doesn’t often make mistakes. Hagg needs to improve on his first pass out of the zone if he wants to make the jump to the smaller NHL ice surface. He isn’t a physical or imposing defender, but he good at sealing off opposing forwards with good positioning.
Nick Cousins- C Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)
Philadelphia Flyers prospect Nick Cousins (OHL Images)
Cousins came to Philadelphia with a lot of baggage, both on and off the ice, but there is no doubt the kid has some talent. He finished third in the OHL last season with 103 points, including 76 assists. With Adirondack this season, Cousins has four goals and 13 points. His numbers aren’t that impressive, but the Phantoms don’t have many goal scorers for Cousins to set up.
The strongest parts of Cousins’ game are his competitiveness and playmaking skills. He is small in stature, but plays with a lot of heart. Cousins plays a similar style to the Bruins Brad Marchand: small, skilled and gritty. He is a versatile player who can play up and down the lineup as a scoring forward or a checking forward.
Anthony Stolarz- G London Knights (OHL)
Stolarz is having another stellar season with the Knights. In his two seasons in London, Stolarz is 34-7-2 with a 2.46 GAA, a .923 save percentage and four shutouts. He is once again one of the top statistical goaltenders in the OHL this season (21-4-1-1, 2.58 GAA, .925 save percentage and three shutouts).
Stolarz is on the shelf right now after a scary injury on Jan. 17 against Saginaw. He was cut on the leg by Spitits’ forward Eric Locke and was carted off the ice. Stolarz should be back to action this season, which is good news for Knights fans.
The 6-foot-6 net-minder has put up gaudy numbers with London since he left the University of Nebraska-Omaha last season. It’s hard to project the career arc of goaltenders, but the Flyers are hoping he can take the pipes in the not-so-distant future. With Steve Mason locked up for the next four seasons and a lack of goaltending depth with the Phantoms, there is no urgency to rush him to the NHL.
Jason Akeson- RW Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)
Akeson has led the Phantoms in scoring the past two seasons and is back on top again. The undrafted free-agent is 10th in the AHL in points and leads the Phantoms in goals (16), assists (25) and points (41). Akeson has proven he can score at any level. He led the Kitchener Rangers, and the OHL with 108 points as an overage skater in 2010-11. He’s even a point per game player at the NHL level (Alright, it’s one goal in his only game with the Flyers).
Akeson is an interesting prospect who is in the final year of his contract. Maybe the Flyers give him a shot at the end of the season or in a bottom-six spot next season.