The Flyers have, for years, pursued a “win now at all costs” organizational philosophy. In the quest for that elusive third Cup, the front office has frequently mortgaged the future for more immediate results. Former GM Bob Clarke, especially, was guilty of chasing over-the-hill vets at the cost of youth, and it certainly didn’t endear him to those loyal to the orange and black. Current GM Paul Holmgren has, to a lesser extent, followed in his predecessor’s footsteps. And unfortunately, it hasn’t brought an end to the Flyers 38-year Cup-less drought.
But things are finally starting to change. In recent years, Holmgren has all but refused to ship out potential franchise building blocks, Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. Even for the likes of Shea Weber and Keith Yandle. He’s instead opted to keep his young core of forwards intact through their respective prime years. The General Manager has also managed to hold on to a majority of the clubs first and second round picks lately. The “win now” mentality appears to be shifting towards: “win now but not at the cost of future success”. And, as a result, the organization has slowly rebuilt a once barren prospect base.
These Flyers are no longer completely devoid of organizational depth. Ranked dead last by the Hockey Prospectus a season ago, this years prospect pool has moved to 29th overall. (organizational rankings) Not a marked improvement, but improvement none the less. And part of the reason the Flyers are ranked so low is that their young difference-makers are already on the NHL roster. But Holmgren and his staff have done a commendable job of signing, drafting, and trading for, potential quality NHLers. Let’s take a look at some of the organizations key prospects:
Scott Laughton– Laughton, drafted 19th overall a season ago, is the Flyers crown jewel. A solid, two-way presence, Laughton has the best chance of the teams prospects to make the big club this season. A tireless worker and fearsome forechecker, he’s been a stalwart on the OHL’s Oshawa Generals for 3 years. The kid looks to atleast have the upside of a third-line center. And may even work his way into the top-6 if his offensive game translates to the NHL.
Nick Cousins– A former 3rd round pick in 2011, Cousins boasts both scoring ability and the traits of an agitating pest. Despite being undersized at 5’11”, Cousins still managed to put 103 points in just 64 games in the CHL this year. If he can add weight and improve his skating there will definitely be a place for Cousins at the NHL-level in the next 2-3 seasons.
Petr Straka– A former 2nd round pick of Columbus in 2010, Straka was a highly sought after free agent this summer. With an exciting combination of soft hands and quick feet, this talented Czech projects as a sniper at the next level. His only issue is defense. If he can round out his game while playing for the Phantoms this season, it’s very likely Straka can challenge for a roster spot in 2014-15.
Michael Raffl– At 24 years of age, Raffl isn’t the stereotypical “prospect”. But the Austrian winger (via Sweden) impressed the Flyers brass enough to receive a one-year, two-way contract. Raffl is often likened to a poor man’s Matt Read. He could very well take over Simon Gagne’s 3rd line wing spot or spend a year getting seasoned in the AHL.
Samuel Morin– Morin, the 11th pick in this past draft, is a hulking presence on the blueline. Standing almost 6’7″ and having just turned 18 (July 12th), Morin’s ceiling appears to be very high. In fact, he was the fastest riser in his draft class. A smart player and solid skater, Morin often played against opposing teams top-offensive lines in juniors. He may not suit up for the Flyers for 2-3 years but it appears as if (size-wise anyway) they’ve finally found their replacement for Chris Pronger.
Robert Hagg– Projected as a top-30 selection in this years draft, Hagg landed in the Flyers lap at pick #42. Hagg doesn’t have elite skills in any area, however, he is a well-rounded puck-mover with an effortless stride. Think Kimmo Timonen, before he lost a step. Hagg will certainly be a welcome addition to the Flyers blueline in a few years. And he could pair nicely with a brute like Morin.
Mark Alt– The 53rd selection in the 2010 draft (two picks before Straka), it’s difficult to understand why Carolina gave up on Alt so quickly. The son of former KC Chiefs O-Lineman Jon Alt, the kid has a lot of physical ability. At 6’3″, Alt is a big defender who can skate and hit. He will get every opportunity to prove his worth as a two-way defenseman this season with the Phantoms.
Shayne Gostisbehere– Nicknamed “Ghost” by teammates, this silky-smooth blueliner was selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Gostisbehere managed to earn ECAC All-Rookie honors during his freshman season at Union College and projects nicely as a highly-skilled offensive defenseman. He’s pledged to play all four years of college so it will be three years before he’s competing for an NHL job. But that will allow him to put some weight on his painfully thin, 5’11” frame.
Anthony Stolarz– It’s hard imagine the kind of pressure that goes along with being traded for a future Vezina Trophy winner, but that’s the situation Stolarz finds himself in. Before the 2012 draft, Holmgren traded Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus in exchange for a 2nd round pick that soon became Stolarz. Flyers fans know all too well the type of success “Bob” had with the Blue Jackets this season, however, that doesn’t mean the Flyers were necessarily swindled. Stolarz, a little known USHL goalie coming into the draft, dazzled this season with the London Knights of the OHL. The 6’6″ netminder ended up posting a 13-3-2 record with a 2.29GAA and .920sv%. Some scouts have compared him to Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, although young goalies are historically difficult to project. As of now, however, there’s no doubt Stolarz is on track as the Flyers goalie of the future.
In the end, it’s likely that some, or most, of these prospects will not reach their full potential in the NHL. In fact, a few of these young players will never even become regular’s at the game’s highest level. However, that doesn’t mean that the Flyers haven’t begun to set themselves up in a solid position for the future. Within the past three seasons the front office has added important pieces to a once lacking prospect pool; a necessity in the salary cap era. If a few of these kids can atleast supplement the young core already in place, this team could become a legitimate contender for a long time. One thing’s for sure, after a down season, the Philadelphia Flyers are back on track and heading in the right direction.