Four Hidden Gems to watch at Flyers Development Camp

Flyers warmup at Wells Fargo Center

Four days from now, a five-day Philadelphia Flyers development camp will begin at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.

The point of the development camp is to instill habits in the young prospects ahead of the 2021-2022 season. Last year, six players made their debut with Philadelphia. Among the names listed on the development camp roster, I expect a baker’s dozen to generate some buzz:

Six of those players experienced ice time in 2020-2021. One left off this list is Zayde Wisdom, who is out indefinitely following successful shoulder surgery.

Aside from those thirteen names, there are a few hidden gems that could surprise the coaching staff. Some of the above players are on the brink of making the Flyers roster (or will be in the lineup on opening night.) Depth isn’t an issue when considering those thirteen names in the system. Understanding how to utilize them on the ice is the name of the game, however.

First-year head coach of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Ian Laperriere, will have the best seat in the house of his potential team in development. With him, Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault will review which players are making the drastic improvements required for a recall to an NHL roster. Breaking away from the obvious, here are four relative oddities that capture interest before August 28th, 2021:

Owen McLaughlin 

Usually, the last pick in a draft is known as the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the class. Of course, that moniker is a rib on the player selected. Owen McLaughlin is the Philadelphia Flyers version of “Mr. Irrelevant” from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft class. Chuck Fletcher selected him as the franchise’s last pick. What a story it would be for McLaughlin to become anything but irrelevant.

Having a successful development camp would do wonders for his confidence. McLaughlin is committed to Penn State but will play with the USHL next season, according to Brent Flahr. 

The Spring City, Pennsylvania native was quiet through seven games with the U18 US National Team but identified as a playmaker with Mount St. Charles in U18 AAA.

At his peak, McLaughlin projected to be a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. In the seventh round, Fletcher made a value pick. McLaughlin is a low-risk selection who has tons of time to grow within the Flyers system.

Nolan Ritchie

Allow me to take you back to four months ago. In April, Nolan Ritchie was considered a top prospect in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. With the Brandon Wheat Kings, he was off to a hot start. Fortunately for Chuck Fletcher, he went undrafted.

One former Nolan (coincidentally from the Wheat Kings) is no longer with the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Now, Ritchie could be the one to mend the sour notes left on the tongues of many within the fanbase.

Through the first ten games last season with Brandon, Ritchie notched fourteen points. Many scouts point to his intelligence on the ice, making the correct play instead of over-exerting himself into a less than favorable scenario. He’s a quick skater that plays with a sense of urgency, providing support along the boards and in the dirty areas. Ritchie could become a true “all-around” center. We all know just how much Alain Vigneault values the two-hundred-foot game at that position.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with Ian Laperriere, either.

Jackson van de Leest

Standing at 6’7″ and weighing 238lbs, Jackson van de Leest is another undrafted hidden gem making his rounds at the Philadelphia Flyers development camp. It’s a smart gamble by all involved with the Flyers organization. At his size, van de Leest could potentially become the anchor of the defense. Alain Vigneault wants to bring an intense physicality to Philadelphia. Ideally, van de Leest could help that rebrand.

He had sixth-round value in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He was going to be a project from day one within the Flyers system. Fortunately, again, another player goes undrafted, and Chuck Fletcher decides to send a camp invitation.

Throughout the development camp, van de Leest must improve his lateral skating. Teams should take risks with bigger defensemen, especially Philadelphia. He’ll make his living as a stay-at-home defenseman. Simply put, the Flyers don’t have enough of those.

Brian Zanetti

Back to the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers selected Brian Zanetti in the fourth round. Not only did he produce 29pts in the Swiss U20 league, but Zanetti was also the captain of Switzerland’s U18 team in 2021. 

Zanetti is a smooth skater with excellent passing vision in transition. He fits the prototype of what Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault want. Similar to Cameron York, he’s a defenseman who can move the puck.

Next season, Zanetti announced he’ll play in the OHL on the Peterborough Petes. Hopefully, the OHL will carry out the 2021-2022 season. Many players committed to the OHL during the pandemic thus far transitioned into the AHL (or other leagues) to keep playing. First, the development camp will serve as a warm-up to fine-tune puck handling for the NHL level.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre