The NHL Draft and Free agency are complete and the Flyers are now in the midst of their development camp. Now is as good a time as any to take a look at what Philadelphia Flyers prospects have the best chance to make the opening night roster.
Right from the day he took over as GM of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ron Hextall has preached patience in regard to the Flyers prospects. To quote Flyers president and former GM Paul Holgrem, “Ron would rather overcook than have a guy be raw.” NHL prospects are drafted at the age of 18 and therefore usually take two or three years before they are both physically and mentally mature enough to play in the NHL.
Holmgren had a win now mentality when he was in charge. He had no problem trading high draft picks for players that would help the Flyers in the here and now. The result was that the Flyers minor league system didn’t have a lot of top prospects in it.
So with the combination of Paul Holmgren leaving the cupboard bare and Ron Hextall preaching patience when it comes to bringing prospects up to the NHL, it wasn’t hard to see that it would be a few years before we could even think about possibly seeing some of the talent Ron Hextall infused back in to the Flyers system playing in the NHL. Even with all the excitement that was generated with the big seasons that prospects like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, and Nicholas Aube-Kubel had in the Canadian Hockey League, most people didn’t expect to see these players in the NHL any time soon because of Ron Hextall’s mantra of practicing patience.
There were other factors involved as well. Even if Hextall wanted to bring some of these players right up to the NHL, there wasn’t any room on the roster for them because the Flyers were always right up against the salary cap and didn’t have any expiring contracts that would give the Flyers room on the roster for some of these young kids.
All of this is starting to change now though. Ron Hextall just completed his third NHL draft. As a result, the players that he drafted in his first couple of drafts have now had a few years to develop in junior hockey and the AHL. Also, the Flyers salary cap situation has become a lot better as a result of trading away veteran players such as Vinny Lecavalier, Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn, and Kimmo Timonen who had fairly hefty salaries. The Flyers salary cap situation was helped even further this year with the expiring contracts of Sam Gagner and Evgeni Medvedev and with the buyout of RJ Umberger.
So with all of this being said, we can now look at the Flyers and see a real possibility that some of these prospects that we have all read and heard so much about possibly being on the Philadelphia Flyers roster at the start of the 2016/17 regular season. So without further adieu, here is my list of Philadelphia Flyers prospects I feel have a chance to be on the Flyers roster to start the upcoming season. I have listed them in order of who I think has the best chance to make the team to the least.
It’s hard not to salivate when the name Ivan Provorov is mentioned. After accruing 61 points in 60 games in the 2014/15 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, Provorov followed that up with 21 goals, 52 assists and 73 points in only 62 games. He was also named the CHL defenseman of the year.
It’s not just Provorov’s pure numbers that gets you excited–it is his all around game. I have seen Provorov play several times and every time I have watched him play the recurring thought I always have is, “he is ready for the NHL right now.” His poise with the puck, his passing, and his ability to quarterback the power play are off the charts. And when you watch him play in his own zone, he looks like someone who has played in the NHL for fifteen years. Most scouts said he was the best all around defenseman in the 2015 NHL draft and you can see why.
Not only is Provorov physically mature enough to play in the NHL at 6’1 212 pounds but he is mentally mature enough as well. I wish I had a dollar for every time I read, “Provorov is mature beyond his years”. The fact that he could barely speak English when he first arrived in North America but now speaks it almost flawlessly is just one example of that. When asked about Provorov, all of his junior teammates have said they don’t expect to see him back next year because he is too good not to be playing in the NHL.
I am totally on board when it comes to Ron Hextall’s mantra of practicing patience with young players. But, in the case of Provorov, it sounds as though another year of junior isn’t going to further his development because he won’t be challenged enough. Provorov can’t play with the Phantoms because he is too young to play in the AHL. So the Flyers only have two choices. Provorov either goes back to his junior team or he sticks with the Flyers. Since playing another year of junior probably won’t help his development, I predict that we will see Ivan Provorov in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform next year.
I am sure a lot of people expected to see Travis Konecny in this spot but, there are several reasons why I think Aube-Kubel has a better shot to stick with the Flyers this year. Aube-Kubel is a year older than Konecny. He played a few games with the Phantoms in the AHL last year where as Konecy has no AHL experience. Aube-Kubel is also a more well rounded player than Konecny is right now. He is lauded by scouts for playing a 200 foot game where as Konecny still needs to work on his play in his own end.
Aube-Kubel is also more physically mature than Konecny and therefore his body is better suited to withstand the rigors of a full 82 game NHL season. All reports state that Konecny has added some muscle coming in to this development camp. Even with that being said, he was last listed as 5’10 176 pounds. Aube-Kubel stands at 5’11 205.
Also when you look at what Ron Hextall had to say about each player, it’s another reason why I think Aube-Kubel has a better shot to make the Flyers this year than Konecny does. When asked about Aube-Kubel Hextall said, “I think he has a shot to make the team right out of training camp.” When asked about Konecy, “[a]ny player can be the best player in junior hockey if they go back. We want all our players to be better than they were last year.
Look at Travis Konecny. He is a better player last year than he was the year before which is exactly what we wanted to see. If we had kept Travis last year. He had a pretty good camp and stuff. Would he have been as good a player right now? No way in hell he would be as good a player as he is right now” Based on all of that, I think Aube-Kubel has a better shot of making the Flyers this year. Konecny will most likely wind up being the better NHL player but, Aube Kubel looks like he has a better shot of making this year’s team.
Another name that people wouldn’t expect to see ahead of Travis Konecny. Again though, this is a list of prospects who i think are closest to playing in the NHL right now. Not a list of who I think the Flyers best prospects are. As is the case with Aube-Kubel, Fazleev is older, more physically mature and has more minor league experience than Konecny. Fazleev, like Aube-Kubel, also has spent time in the AHL where as Konecny has not.
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Fazleev can also fill a need for the Flyers. The Flyers desperately need to improve their bottom six forwards. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde are gritty players who can kill penalties and won’t necessarily hurt you when they are on the ice but, they lack in size, skill and physicality. The New York Islanders had the best fourth line in hockey last year because it was a line that wreaked havoc every time they stepped on the ice. They hit everything that moved, were ferocious on the forecheck and they had enough skill where they could chip in offensively. The Flyers fourth line doesn’t posses any of those traits.
They upgraded in that area by adding Dale Weise to replace Ryan White, but if the Flyers want to have a fourth line that rivals that of the Islanders or the Tampa Bay Lightning, more of an upgrade is needed. Fazleev had 19 goals and 52 assists for the Calgary Hitmen last year. He is described as two way versatile forward and a talented and gifted playmaker. Fazleev can play both center and left wing. He would be an upgrade offensively over either Bellemare or VandeVelde. The question of course is whether or not he is good enough right now to beat out either one of those two player in training camp.
So these are the three Philadelphia Flyers prospects who I think have the best shot at making this year’s roster. I think Travis Sanheim will play one full year with the Phantoms and then will be up with the Flyers to start the 2017/18 season. I also think that Samuel Morin will play one more year with the Phantoms before he is up with the big club. There is a good chance that all three players I mentioned won’t be up with the Flyers next year but, if any of the Flyers young prospects are going to crack their line up, I think these three players have the best chance to do it.