What Treasures Lie North of the Border and Across the Atlantic for the Flyers?

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You’ll remember yesterday I decided to change gears and focus on the future of the Flyers rather than focus on their depressing present. We walked through names like Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, Taylor Leier, and others. So let’s continue that journey shall we? Let’s take a deeper look into the future today and focus on the talent the Flyers are cultivating at the junior level and overseas.

Travis Konecny (OHL Ottawa) – The Ottawa 67’s captain may go down as one of the steals of the 2015 NHL Draft. The undersized but immensely talented Konecny has been likened to Ron Francis. Comfortable playing as both a winger and a center, his versatility was certainly a motivating factor for the Flyers to trade up to get him. Described as a dynamic skater, his speed as well as his lightning quick hands inject some long overdue raw talent into the Flyers system. Konecny is not just a threat in the offensive zone however, he has a well-developed 200 foot game with his tenacity and work rate around the puck making him a very disruptive presence for the opposition. Konecny also plays with the physicality and the snarl someone of his stature needs to be successful in the NHL. We saw in the preseason just what a difference maker this kid can be. His speed and creativity make it possible for him to manufacture opportunities out of nothing for his team. Konecny finished with 68 points in 60 games last season and is already off to a flying start with 23 points in his first 14 games. It is hard to imagine Travis not making the Flyers team next year, and a strong showing in a leading role for Canada at this year’s World Juniors should only help reinforce that idea.

Ivan Provorov (WHL Brandon) – Selected 7th overall in this year’s draft, the smooth skating Russian defenseman could arguably be the best defenseman to come out of this draft (Although Noah Hanifin may have something to say about that). One thing is certain though, the Flyers landed themselves a franchise player in Provorov. Ivan is the type of player who can dictate the pace of the game when he has the puck. He is instantly recognizable as the best player on the ice. In much the same way as the game seems to slow down whenever Pavel Datsyuk or Duncan Keith has the puck, Provorov commands the game with a similar presence of superiority. He knows he’s going to beat you, it’s just a matter of how. Provorov is just as liable to wire the puck bar down from the point as he is to thread a stretch pass through 4 players to spring a breakaway. An incredibly talented skater and puckhandler as well, Provorov is also every bit as capable of dispensing with bothersome shots or selfless passes in favor of doing the job himself and skating through everybody on the ice and beating the goalie 1-on-1. The Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman is the complete package in every sense. He may make his highlights in the offensive aspects of the game, but is just as adept in his own zone. Physical when he needs to be, Provorov uses his high hockey IQ to out think his opponents. They’re playing checkers while he plays chess. His positioning is impeccable and his transition game is almost unparalleled in the entire CHL. He can go from defending to springing a breakout in a matter of seconds.  Last season Provorov dropped 61 points in 60 games and is on a similar pace thus far this year with 16 points in 18 games. He figures to be Russia’s #1 at the World Juniors this year, and like Konecny, it would be a shock if he wasn’t wearing orange on opening night next season.

Travis Sanheim (WHL Calgary) – A surprise pick in 1st round of the 2014 Draft, Travis Sanheim has done nothing but justify Ron Hextall’s faith in him. He has done nothing but rise since 2013. Sanheim is a swift skater with an excellent hockey sense. He understands the game and is able to read and react to the game as well as anyone. at 6’3″ and roughly 190lbs, the 19-year-old still has some filling out to do. It would not be a stretch though, once he hits that 200-210 lb range, to imagine him becoming a player in the mold of a Ryan McDonagh type player. Sanheim is often described as a jack of all trades type player, a prototypical 2-way defenseman. While he may never put up the Oliver Ekman-Larsson type offensive numbers, and he may not be the punishing stay at home player like Shea Weber or Alex Pietrangelo, he will certainly make his team better every time he touches the ice. The idea of a top pairing consisting of Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim makes my mouth water. It’ll be like having Brian Rafalski and Ryan McDonagh on the same pairing. Follow that pairing with Morin and Gostisbehere and the Flyers may have the makings of the best D corps the league will have seen in quite some time. In his first 2 seasons with the Calgary Hitmen, Sanheim posted 29 points followed by 65 points in 67 games each year. That meteoric rise is showing no signs of slowing down as he has registered 22 points in his first 18 games this season. Sanheim, as a 19-year-old, will be looked upon to lead his Canadian team from the back at this year’s World Juniors. He should have no trouble finding his way onto the Flyers next year at some point, though it would not be surprising to see him at least start in Allentown to get his feet wet.

Radel Fazleev (WHL Calgary) – A teammate of Travis Sanheim, Hitmen winger Radel Fazleev is enjoying a solid season thus far. The 19-year-old Russian is a very balanced player who works hard on both ends of the ice. He is not an elite talent but at the NHL level, with some seasoning, could find himself on the 2nd or 3rd line of the Flyers in a few short years. Fazleev is enjoying a solid 2015-16 campaign so far. He has followed up his 51 points in 71 games last year with 23 points through his first 20 contests this year. Fazleev is an above average skater with a fairly average skillset. He doesn’t do anything particularly poorly. His value comes from his work ethic. The Russian is not afraid to win puck battles and go to the dirty areas. He’s a hard-nosed player with enough offensive gifts to be dangerous. We will be able to get a closer look at him in this year’s upcoming World Juniors where he is expected to hold a spot in Russia’s top 6.  It is likely that alongside Provorov and Fazleev, fellow Flyers prospects Ivan Fedotov (G) and Mikhail Vorobyov (C) will suit up for Russia as well at the WJCs this year. There is a lot to keep an eye on at this year’s World Juniors for Flyer fans.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel (QMJHL Val-d’Or) – The unsung 2nd round pick from 2014, the Sorel, QC native has been quietly excellent for Val-d’Or. In his first 2 seasons in the Q, Aube-Kubel put up 53 points in 65 games followed by 80 points in 61 contests last season. He has followed those impressive numbers up with 18 points in his first 17 games this year. Aube-Kubel is a player with impressive wheels and a work ethic that never ceases. He plays with a lot of energy on every shift and has shown that he is very coach-able as well. He is extremely versatile, able to adapt to play almost any role he is asked. Still developing, he is a player not unlike Taylor Leier, although he seems to be more offensively gifted than Leier. Aube-Kubel will likely find his way to Allentown next year, but it would not be a stretch to say he has a real shot at making the Flyers’ bottom 6 in two years. After that who knows what could happen. He will almost certainly have a spot on Canada’s WJC team this year, giving Flyer fans yet another reason to tune in.

Oskar Lindblom (SEL Brynas) – Lindblom is the Flyers’ diamond in the rough. A player who, going into his draft year, was pegged as a late first round pick, slipped way down the draft boards on draft day and fell into Ron Hextall’s lap in the 5th round back in 2014. One of the biggest reasons he fell so dramatically was due to questions about his skating ability. Lindblom responded. He has shown his work ethic and determination where once skating was his Achilles heel,  it has become one of his strongest assets. Lindblom is a tenacious player on both ends of the ice. A fierce competitor, Oskar is one of the most responsible players in the Flyers’ system. He’s not just a grinder though, as he showed during last year’s WJCs,  playing on Sweden’s first line. Lindblom is a creative and skilled player with well developed offensive instincts. He’s not a flashy player like Daniel Sedin, but is very much a prototypical Swede. He does everything well and can be inserted anywhere in the lineup. During last year’s World Juniors, Lindblom had 9 points in 7 games and was the team’s 2nd leading scorer behind William Nylander, as well as being tied for the team lead in goals during the tournament with 4. Lindblom has an advantage over his fellow prospects in that he has been playing against men for the last 2 seasons in what is arguably the world’s 3rd best professional league. At just 19, Lindblom still has some developing to do but one would imagine the Flyers would like to bring him to Allentown next season to acclimate him to the North American pro game before bringing him to the Flyers. As with the others, Lindblom will be expected to take on an increased role for Sweden at this year’s World Juniors.

The Flyers’ system is healthy. Patience is all we need to get through this  rough period. There is a lot to look forward to regarding the Flyers. We’ll get there I promise. Also it’s probably worth mentioning that the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships begin December 26th (Boxing day for you Canadians and UK folks) and will run until the gold medal game on January 5th. If they are anything like previous years, NBCSN and NHL Network should have the coverage for you. Mark your calendars guys.

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