Philadelphia Flyers: Could North Dakota Become a Prospect Pipeline?

With North Dakota’s season coming to a close after this weekend, can the Philadelphia Flyers land some of their best players now and in the future?

The Frozen Four is here, and the departure of current Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol hasn’t slowed down the University of North Dakota one bit.

The newly renamed Fighting Hawks are in Tampa Bay for their eighth trip to college hockey’s last weekend in 12 years as they take on the Denver University Pioneers at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Under the helm of new head coach Brad Berry, the team hopes to capture their first NCAA national championship since 2000.

An intriguing connection now exists between the program and the Orange-and-Black. With some of his old players still in the green and white and his old assistant as the bench boss, could Hakstol’s presence mean the Flyers see an influx of prospects making the trip from Grand Forks to Philadelphia?

That connection won’t happen with the current UND roster. The Fighting Hawks are pretty much spoken for, as 12 players already belong to 11 NHL teams. This includes Flyers goaltending prospect Majek Tomek, who hasn’t played this season.

So that eats away at a lot of the current UND crop. However, that may not mean Hakstol’s presence is bereft of immediate dividends. Consider this, there are two unsigned prospects that Philadelphia could land after this weekend: junior defenseman Troy Stecher and senior forward Drake Caggiula. According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Flyers are hoping to talk Stecher into foregoing his senior season.

Both are undersized but highly sought after prospects. The 5’11 Stecher scored eight goals and 28 points in 41 games, while the 5’10 Caggiula scored 21 goals and 46 points in 37 games. With those stats, both Caggiula and Stecher will have plenty of suitors around the league attempting to lure them to their respective clubs, especially the Canadian franchises.

Those are the immediate possibilities, but what about beyond this season? Can the link between UND and Hakstol bring some of the school’s high-end prospects to Philly? That’s not quite a negative, but it is a bit of a wild card situation.

Dave Tippett, the current Arizona Coyotes coach, is a North Dakota alumnus and his door hasn’t been beaten down by players from the school. In fact, in his two head coaching stints in the NHL, Tippett has had only two North Dakota players suit up for him. Landon Wilson played 28 games for Tippett in the coach’s last year in Dallas and Matt Watkins played in only 1 game for him in Arizona.

However, there’s a difference between the mark Tippett left on the school as a player and the one Hakstol made as a coach.

Hakstol was a career UND man. He put his blood, sweat and tears into that program. As a result, he is the second winnest coach in the school’s history. He left the university in a state comparable to Alabama in football and Duke in basketball, sans the championships.

Furthermore, he’s still friends with Berry and assistant Dane Jackson. Those connections (by professional means, of course) could open the door to the potential of players considering Philadelphia as a destination. Not only the personal connections link the Flyers and UND, but also each clubs’ brand of hockey.

Apr 10, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; North Dakota Sioux forward Connor Gaarder (13) celebrates his goal with against the Minnesota Gophers during the third period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four college ice hockey tournament at Wells Fargo Center. Minnesota defeated North Dakota, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Think of it this way: if a North Dakota player really enjoys playing the Hawks’ style and he flourishes in their system, going to Philadelphia would make a lot of sense. Isn’t Hakstol’s system the most natural fit for that UND prospect to continue his success? That should be, at least, a heavy consideration for any unsigned Fighting Hawk after his college career is over. It should also be something for the Flyers upper brass to mull come draft day as well.

Yet, that’s only one side of the coin. A potentially smoother transition to the professional game might convince some players, but for others playing for their favorite or hometown teams may outweigh the system aspect. Other players may just want to find the organization they have the best shot to make.

The clout that Hakstol has on the most prominent college hockey program in the country could benefit the Flyers in some cases. But it’s important that the could be emphasized. It’s a factor, but it’s only one factor.

So in the case of Caggiula and Stecher and beyond, the Philadelphia Flyers definitely have a better shot than most NHL clubs. Yet, maybe not as much as Canadian hometowns like Vancouver and Toronto, or teams with prominent holes in their rosters like Edmonton and Ottawa.