At the beginning of 2023, would you’ve guessed the Lehigh Valley Phantoms would be competing in the Calder Cup Playoffs?
During a frustrating era of Philadelphia Flyers hockey, everyone might’ve underestimated the prospect pool. We knew there were quality prospects, but there wasn’t stable faith in development. Then, we saw more young skaters find stability in the NHL while some made their debut or resurfaced in multiple recalls. The silver lining in a season where a team isn’t competing for a playoff berth is finding skaters that trend toward a positive breakthrough.
The Phantoms hold a 1-0 lead in their play-in round versus the Charlotte Checkers. Taking their place against the Providence Bruins etches their ranking in the top half of AHL teams. Combine the wealth of prospects in Lehigh Valley with the ones still yet to be signed, and there’s a case for this pool ranking in the top fifteen of the NHL.
What areas are flourishing in the prospect pool, and what areas need attention in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft? Let’s discuss each scope of the Flyers’ prospect pool and give a final ranking.
Tyson Foerster and Olle Lycksell contributed more than once to the score sheet when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms outlasted the Charlotte Checkers, 4-3. Foerster had two goals, including the game-winner. Lycksell had two assists; his best began with a takeaway in the offensive zone and finished with a rebound goal by Cooper Marody.
Of the forward prospects appearing in a Philadelphia Flyers lineup this season, Foerster made the best transition to the NHL, totaling seven points (3G, 4A) in eight games.
“Foerster is going to help it; a bright spot for me, again. He’s got really good puck poise, hits the post coming downhill on a rebound. We’re going to keep working at it.”John Tortorella; 3/14/2023
Other prospects signed to an entry-level contract who were waivers exempt include Tanner Laczynski, Elliot Desnoyers, and Bobby Brink. Laczynski has another year left with the Flyers but faces stiff competition for a roster spot that is wide open after finding himself in the doghouse, fighting to prove he belongs in Philadelphia:
“I think if I come out and have a good camp, and they’re evaluating the camp; obviously they’re going to evaluate some of last year, that’s even more of why I got to come out next year and prove to them and the organization I’m worth keeping.”Tanner Laczynski; 4/14/2023
John Tortorella praised Desnoyers after his debut in a shutout loss to the New Jersey Devils, 7-0:
“I thought he was terrific. He was involved; he banged. He wasn’t intimidated by anything.”John Tortorella; 2/25/2023
Brink recovered from hip surgery and returned to the Phantoms in January. His return was encouraging, and we’ll see if he can contribute to the stat sheet tonight to help sweep the Checkers on the road. A healthy playoff run helps gain confidence in clutch games while ensuring Brink is back to form before the offseason and next training camp.
Then, there are the unsigned prospects. Cutter Gauthier averaged 1.16 points per game and will return to Boston College for his sophomore season. Devin Kaplan, Alex Bump, and Alexis Gendron are all other unsigned prospects who could still present value. Kaplan and Gauthier have some synergy from the USNTDP. Gendron ranked second in total goals this season in the QMJHL and first in powerplay goals, while Bump was USA Today’s HS Hockey Player of the Year entering the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Citing the seventh-best odds at the first overall pick as a hypothetical draft position, an RW doesn’t make sense. Briere would be best to select a C or LW to replenish depth in the prospect pool, where Zach Benson and Oliver Moore make sense, pending who is available on the board.
Cam York and Yegor Zamula worked well in the NHL. York continues to get comfortable on the right side of the ice, earning notable minutes on the top pair next to Ivan Provorov. Zamula improved from his 2021-2022 run, showing a more physical, aggressive version of his game, rewarded with four assists.
“The younger guys are being put in many more positions to see what they can do. Z, I’m not sure how his assists come about, but just watching his game, he had some really good puck poise.”John Tortorella; 3/21/2023
On the defensive unit, “there’s no locks,” Tortorella said in his exit interview.
Keep an eye on Adam Ginning and Ronnie Attard during the Lehigh Valley Phantoms postseason push. Both have a +2 rating after one game, supporting whoever may occupy the crease behind them. These two had a smaller sample size in the NHL but held their ground in limited minutes. Attard made his initial jump in 2021-2022 to the NHL, while Ginning debuted in 2022-2023:
“It was a lot of fun, a dream come true.”Adam Ginning; 4/11/2023
Attard was also a 2023 AHL All-Star, replacing York when he stayed with the Flyers. He shared that honor with Foerster.
Emil Andrae is a promising defensive prospect. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he got his chance with the Flyers in 2023-2024 after signing an entry-level contract on March 27th. He and Foerster were standouts at the 2022 World Junior Championship tournament.
Defensive prospects in Philadelphia favor the left side. The Flyers could use a defenseman, or two, on the right side, and maybe it makes sense to go back-to-back in the third round. Dylan MacKinnon is the first selection in the sequence because he’s highly skilled, explosive, and a defense-first defenseman. Then, if available, Axel Landen.
Strangely, the Philadelphia Flyers found stability in the goaltending position. Carter Hart can give to the rebuild and should remain the starting goaltender in Philadelphia, no matter the return he might draw.
Sam Ersson is the person who will shake up the goaltending picture for the better! He outperformed Felix Sandstrom for the role. Immediately, the goaltending tandem is set, with Hart starting and Ersson serving as the backup.
“He’s just not afraid. He just plays. This was probably the calmest he’s looked in net in his starts.”John Tortorella; 1/2/2023
Of course, there is the elephant in the room about Ivan Fedotov. He did not play hockey in 2022-2023. The Flyers retain his signing rights. A report stated Fedotov signed an extension to remain in the KHL, but CSKA Moscow denied it.
Aleksei Kolosov is another young prospect from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He’s also in the KHL but with Dinamo Minsk but performed well enough to offer an entry-level contract if there’s no real update about Fedotov. Taking another goaltender doesn’t hurt, especially when the Flyers have two picks in the fourth round. Trey Augustine makes sense, and will play at Michigan State University.
Prospect Pool Rank
Overall, there are more questions surrounding the defense, fewer questions surrounding goaltending, and not many concerns about the forwards.
Foerster, Brink, Desnoyers, and Lycksell represent a balanced foursome of forwards in the AHL before Gauthier, Bump, Kaplan, and Gendron sign.
York is in the NHL lineup, though Zamula beat him for the opening night spot. Ginning and Attard are finding their beat in the AHL postseason. Andrae could be a star and has room to grow before breaking through to the NHL. Suddenly, the defensive prospects are shining bright and should be a priority to restock in the third round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Ersson and Kolosov don’t make for a bad grade for the goaltenders, but because of the uncertainty with Fedotov, it’s hard to label high marks for the overall position.
Overall, the Flyers’ prospect pool is a touch better than half of the NHL for a final rank of thirteen (13) in 2023.
(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)