There are seven players who have played for the Philadelphia Flyers this season who were drafted by the organization after the first round. Six of those seven guys are now on the active roster. That’s a pretty good percentage.
It’s especially impressive considering the odds of hitting on a draft pick in the NHL diminish greatly after the first round. So, to have 30 percent of your roster comprised by guys that were drafted between rounds two and seven is excellent.
Especially when they steal you games, like they did on Tuesday night in New York.
It was fifth round pick Oskar Lindblom scoring the only goal and second rounder Anthony Stolarz making 38 saves for just the 24th 1-0 regulation victory in Flyers history, and the fifth consecutive win for a team that for a brief spell earlier this month had the worst record in the NHL.
On Monday, general manager Chuck Fletcher implored that although the Flyers’ record is their record, that he believed the team overall is better than its record would indicate.
You hear bad teams say that a lot. They talk about how they’re good on paper, or how they’ve just been unlucky, and you take it with a grain of salt because your eyes don’t deceive you – you know when you are watching a sub-standard team or are getting several sub-par performances.
But to Fletcher’s credit, he isn’t wrong. Mostly because although there are good pieces on the NHL roster, there are many more on the way.
The Flyers have a deeply stacked prospect pool. It’s been rated among the best, if not the best, by many hockey experts and publications.
The Flyers may never have had a prospect list as long as the one they have now. They are deep everywhere and there are a lot of players other organizations wish they had – not just for the sake of development or potential to make it to the NHL, but to also act as assets if needed to make a trade with another team for an established player.
Fletcher finds himself in a very enviable position – he runs a team that is looking to sell off some NHL players for future assets while also having the luxury of being able to move future assets for players who can help the Flyers get better in a hurry.
That’s why he said he’s going into the Feb. 25 trade deadline as both a buyer and a seller.
We’ve all seen what he has at the NHL level to play with, but not many of us have had the opportunity to see what’s further down the organizational depth chart. We don’t get to see the development of some prospects who are close to becoming part of the regular hockey conversation surrounding the Flyers.
But Fletcher is on top of it. He said he had productive meetings recently with his scouting department. He knows both what is out there and, more importantly, what he has in-house.
That’s the hardest part of coming into a new organization as a GM from the outside. You might know a little about the players from when you scouted them initially, but you don’t have internal intel about the players as far as work ethic and how they carry themselves off the ice.
That takes time, and Fletcher has used his first two months in Philadelphia wisely in that vein.
But he couldn’t do it alone, so he brought with him his former assistant general manager with the Minnesota Wild, Brent Flahr.
Flahr, now the assistant GM with the Flyers, has really taken a deep dive into the organization and its prospects. He has an intimate first-hand knowledge of what the Flyers now have in their arsenal, where their greatest strengths are, as well as their areas of need.
I caught up with Flahr recently to have an in-depth conversation with him about the Flyers’ prospects.
Our Q and A is available after the jump:
CB: We’ll get to the players in a minute, but I wanted to start this off a little differently. You guys have just come into the organization and these players are not your guys in the sense that you didn’t draft them or acquire them. How difficult is it to have a transition like that where you have to dive in and learn about an entire organization on the fly?
BF: It’s certainly different. I’ve been out in the scouting circuit for some time, so I’m familiar with the players, but you obviously don’t have the internal knowledge about the players, what they like off the ice obviously, and you don’t know them as intimately as the staff that’s been here. It’s interesting to learn those things. But, like I told someone else recently, a lot of times you come to a new organization and the cupboards are bare and you’ve got tons of work ahead of you. These guys have done a really good job though. We have a lot of prospects coming and now it’s our job to make sure they develop properly.
CB: I’m not sure you’ll answer this directly, but are there prospects here that when you were in Minnesota you were hoping to get but the Flyers were able to snag him just before you guys picked or something along those lines?
BF: They drafted a number of quality players that we certainly liked. In the last few years in Minnesota we didn’t have picks in certain areas, so it’s hard to identify a situation where that happened, but the Flyers were able to acquire good players with their early picks and it seems they hit on some of their later picks as well. They also had success in free agent signings – when you look at a guy like (Philippe) Myers which is great.
CB: How does a guy like Myers slip through the cracks and go undrafted and then in such a short period of time put himself on the brink of being an NHL player?
BF: His draft year, the first time I saw him was at the Hockey Canada camp in Calgary in the summer and he was very raw. He was tall, skinny and a little awkward. He did look like he had some upside though. He just didn’t have a great year where he played, and he also didn’t get the most viewing because of where they are located, and he didn’t play much down the stretch. But the Flyers saw enough in his game to invite him to camp and he’s worked hard on his game since and he’s really taken off. It was good timing.
Note: Myers played junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Rouyn-Noranda is in a relatively remote area of Quebec about seven hours northwest of Montreal. As such, it’s not an easy place for scouts to get to regularly to see players. In the 22 years that the team has played in Rouyn-Noranda, only 29 players have been drafted by NHL clubs. Of those 29, only one was a first rounder (Ivan Vishnevskiy, whom Dallas drafted 27th overall in 2006. He played five games in the NHL).Twelve of those 29 players reached the NHL, but only four of them lasted at least 100 games, most notably Mike Ribiero, who played 1,074 games in the league. Of those 12, only three have played games in the NHL this season – Sven Andrighetto in Colorado, Nicolas Deslauriers in Montreal and Jeremy Lauzon in Boston. Lauzon has since been sent back to the AHL. The Flyers have drafted two players all-time from Rouyn-Noranda. Both made the NHL, but didn’t last long – Marc-Andre Bourdon (3rd round in 2008) and Guillaume Lefebvre (7th round in 2000). As such, this team really doesn’t bear much NHL fruit, which is what makes Myers rise to being the next defenseman to likely debut for the Flyers so intriguing.
CB: I can’t call Myers a success story yet, but this is definitely one of those cases that you don’t see very often work out in the NHL, right?
BF: No. Not at all. Especially not a guy that size. Certain players develop at different rates though. Figuring that out is the name of the game when drafting in the NHL. Certain kids stumble around a little bit when they are 17 or 18 and don’t find their stride until they are 19 or 20. If it was a perfect system, it would be easy.
CB: Morgan Frost had his breakout year in the OHL last season, but this season he is averaging almost two points a game which is fabulous. Can you talk about what you’re seeing from him?
BF: Where he was picked wasn’t a big surprise around the league, but obviously he wasn’t the biggest body and he needed to get stronger and he was playing on a really good team. But he’s the type of kid who has great hands, skill and vision to make plays. He’s been really working on his shot. Early on he was more of a puck distributor. Now he’s worked on having more of a shooting mentality and I think you are seeing that in his production this year. He does a lot of things that can’t be taught and now he’s growing into his body and becoming stronger and quicker and he’s having all kinds of success. It’s great.
Note: Frost, who was drafted with a first round pick from St. Louis acquired in the Brayden Schenn trade, had 112 points (42 goals, 70 assists) in 67 games in 2017-18 for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He added 29 points in 24 playoff games. so far this season Frost has 78 points in 40 games (31 goals, 47 assists) and played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
CB: What about the first round guys from last year? I’m sure you got to see them play a little bit at World Juniors. Can you talk a bit about Joel Farabee and Jay O’Brien?
BF: Farabee is a smart offensive player. He’s one of those guys who can play with the skill players, make plays and play on your power play. A lot of the things he needs to work on are strength-related. He’s a young guy in a good place at Boston University where he has every facility available to him to get stronger and get better. Like any young kid he probably didn’t have the offensive success he wanted right away, but that’s hard on any Freshman. He’s found his groove over the last 10 games and is averaging more than a point a game and is really starting to go. It’s just a matter of confidence and having the hockey sense and the skill to play at the next level, it’s just putting in the work to get stronger and learning what to do on the ice away from the puck.
BF: O’Brien you need to be a little more patient with. It’s a huge jump to go from playing in high school to the college ranks. He’s learning the hard way. He has a great engine. Unfortunately, he got sick at World Juniors, but early on he was playing well and had lots of energy. Still, you have to be patient with him until he adjusts to the college ranks and gets going. It won’t be for lack of effort though. He works too hard sometimes. He needs to fit into his body and find his game.
Note: Prior to the season, the Flyers were slightly more excited about O’Brien than Farabee. However, it’s interesting to note that since the regime change, that has shifted back the other way. It’s curious how different personnel men view the same players through different lenses.
CB: One thing the Flyers were behind other teams on for a long time until recent years was really mining the college ranks. Can you talk a little bit about how the college game has developed into a place to find players more than it used to be and so that it’s not just junior hockey and Europe any more?
BF: The top players have really shifted and started going to college more. If you’re a smaller body you have a chance to develop over four years at a quality level. Before, when you look back the top players were going right to the junior level. Now you see more of these guys having goals to play in college and there are more American kids that want to play college hockey. It’s a great development ground for them. You have younger guys playing against older guys and that’s not easy. A lot of programs like Penn State and Boston University have great resources and the facilities needed for these guys. The coaching is good and they’re playing with other good players. It’s a very good ground to improve their game. The (United States Hockey League) USHL has improved dramatically over the years and because of that, more kids are staying at the Tier II level and going to college. We have used our resources more covering these leagues. That’s why every team now has if not one, multiple guys covering the USHL, the NCAA and the Tier II leagues in Canada. It’s exciting. It’s good for U.S. Hockey and now you’re seeing an influx of Europeans coming over to play college hockey and USHL as well. It just makes hockey better.
Note: The Flyers own the rights to 10 different players currently playing in the NCAA. Aside from Farabee and O’Brien, none were drafted in the first round.
CB: Another guy that’s had a real nice season so far is Isaac Ratcliffe playing in Guelph. Where do you see his development this season from last season?
BF: He’s a kid who has always been able to shoot the puck and score. He’s just growing into his body. He’s a huge-frame kid. It’s just going to take time to grow into it and to gain coordination. But he’s coming. He has the offensive success but needs to learn some other facets of the game. It’ll be an adjustment for him at the pro level (AHL) but to have the success he’s having is excellent and you can’t teach some of those abilities he has on the offensive side of the puck. Hopefully he finishes this season strong and is able to come in here next season and is ready to go.
Note: Flahr likely meant playing at the AHL level next season, not the NHL level, although anything is possible over the summer and in training camp. Ratcliffe, who was a second round pick for the Flyers, has 34 goals and 19 assists for 53 points in 44 games thus far for Guelph in the OHL.
CB: How about over in Europe? The big area you guys have in depth over there is in goal with two kids in Russia and two in Sweden, but you have a couple other kids playing in Sweden as well. What are you seeing or hearing from the scouts over there?
BF: All the goalies are playing well. (Kirill) Ustimenko had a really good stretch here. (Samuel) Ersson had a strong World Juniors. He was great. I don’t think he had expectations to be the starter if you asked him in the summer time, but he earned it and played really well there. I was really impressed with his demeanor, his competitiveness and his battle-level in games. It was really good. I think you’re going to see two of them – Ersson will probably stay over there – but hopefully we can get two of them over here next year and get them in the system and get them working with our guys. You can’t have too much goalie depth as you can imagine with this organization. (Adam) Ginning is kind of an old school defensive-defenseman who has a mean streak. He’s in a good spot. He’s played pro last year and is playing pro again this year and getting more and more minutes, so he’s in a good spot for development. We have (German) Rubtsov over here, but unfortunately he’s out for the year with an injury. He had a real good start and looked like he was progressing well, but unfortunately injuries disrupted it. Hopefully he used his time wisely here and gets stronger and has a big offseason and is ready to go next season.
Note: Flahr was referring to Ustimenko and Felix Sandstrom as the two goalies who will come over to the Flyers next year. That’s an interesting expectation as well. Carter Hart is obviously going to be the guy for the big club. Who his backup will be remains to be seen. Stolarz could earn that gig with a strong finish to this season, or the Flyers could add a veteran guy in free agency. Still, with Ustimenko (3rd round pick) and Sandstrom (3rd round pick) likely coming over, suddenly, the crease will be crowded again. It likely spells the end of Alex Lyon in the organization unless the Flyers keep him as an AHL veteran and have one of either Ustimenko or Sandstrom start with Reading in the East Cost Hockey League (ECHL). It should be an interesting development. Oh, by the way, Ersson, who won the starting goaltending job for Sweden at the World Juniors, was a 5th round pick).
CB: The last thing I wanted to look at with you is the Phantoms. They’re having a nice season and a couple of guys have already been called on for an opportunity at the NHL level this season, but who else down on the farm – aside form Myers who we already taked about – is on the doorstep for the NHL?
BF: They’ve had their own battle with injuries recently, but they’ve done a good job of battling through it and some young kids are getting better. If you look at (Connor) Bunnaman. He’s a kid I don’t think they had high expectations for right away because of where he was at in his development, but he’s coming and just keeps getting better every game. He plays a two-way game and he’s starting to score. He’s good on faceoffs, he kills penalties and the coaches seem to trust him in all situations. There’s a kid who they expected would take a little time to adjust and he’s adjusted quickly and is getting better and that’s exciting. We like (David) Kase but he’s obviously been injured and (Mikhail) Vorobyev went down and made the most of it and earned a recall. He’s working on his complete game. Down there he’s doing everything. He’s killing penalties, playing on the power play – he’s getting big minutes – the pace of his game is what has to improve, but he’s working at it and hopefully it will get there moving forward. There are defensemen who are works in progress, but they all seem to be coming.
Note: The Bunnaman news is definitely new. There hasn’t been much talk about him as a potential guy who is close to the NHL, so that’s a bit of a nugget. (Bunnaman was a 4th rounder) Kase (5th round pick) was a guy who was intriguing last summer, so it’s likely that once he’s healthy again he’ll get a real hard look. Vorobyev (4th round pick) is a guy with the talent to play at the NHL level, but the question is his desire. “Pace” is a word that is used in place of desire because it’s safer, but Vorobyev needs to take the step to the next level if he wants to stick. I was curious that there was no love for Mark Friedman, who was getting some people excited about a month ago. “Work-in-progress” doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement. I would bet that the the Flyers will look to add to the defensive depth at the deadline or in the summer (draft/trades/free agency). Expectations for Fletcher/Flahr are high for Rubtsov, even though some in the previous regime were souring on him after last season. He’s obviously done for this season, but I think he’ll be under the microscope significantly at next season’s training camp.