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NHL Teams should look to add depth by signing any of these NCAA Undrafted Free Agents
(Rob Rasmussen/Quinnipiac Athletics)
As the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) season begins to draw to a close, NHL teams should look to add depth to their organization by signing some of these promising scholars. How can they do that? Well, the NCAA is a place where undrafted free agents tend to go sometimes as nothing more than Walk On’s to prove themselves after not being drafted. Once on campus, these late bloomers are given an opportunity to attend classes and gain an education by day; by night, they are given the shot to show the NHL clubs that passed them by that they made a mistake. They do so by going head-to-head against some of the top prospects in the game today. Some of those players this season included Arizona’s 2022 3rd overall pick Logan Cooley who plays for Minnesota; the Devils’ 2021 4th overall pick Luke Hughes of Michigan; and the Flyers’ 2022 5th overall selection Cutter Gauthier who plays for Boston College. By being afforded this chance to prove themselves on sometimes a nationally televised stage, these prospects that have been once overlooked get a second attempt at making their dream of becoming a professional athlete come true.
That said, here is a list of players I think have proven themselves deserving of such a chance this season.
Jason Polin- Western Michigan
To start this list, I could think of no one better than the NCAA’s leading goal scorer, 23-year-old Jason Polin of Western Michigan University. Standing at 6’0 and 198 pounds, this senior was named captain of the Broncos this year, to which he has worn that C with pride. As all true leaders do, Jason took his game to the next level; this season by just about matching his combined goal and point totals from his previous three seasons. In 38 games played this year, Polin has scored a league-leading 29 goals and 17 assists for 46 points (1.21 points per game) while maintaining a +27 average. Now, why should prospecting NHL teams sign this 23-year-old who is still playing in the collegiate ranks you may be asking? With his strong play and incredibly hard shot, Polin has shown that he can be entrusted to be a finisher of sorts. And what team doesn’t need a player who can put the puck in the back of the net?
Hunter McKown- Colorado College
Next up on our list is a true late bloomer named Hunter McKown, who currently plays for Colorado College. McKown is a 20-year-old forward who left the United States National Development team a few years back with much left to be desired. Once in Colorado Springs, though, that all seemed to change. No longer buried by the sure talent that suited up for the Red, White, and Blue on any given night, McKown was finally able to grow his game as a Tiger—scoring 21 goals and seven assists for 28 points this season. Thank goodness Hunter did, as he has managed to be not only Colorado’s leading goal and point-getter this year (by a long shot) but has played well enough to be tied for 7th in goals in the entire NCAA. So, what’s so special about McKown that teams should be willing to sign him to a contract at the end of the season? Besides Hunter’s NHL size at 6’1, 205 pounds, he has exhibited that he is a true power play specialist scoring 12 of his 19 goals this season on the PP. While most of the others came by way of the shoot-out, another formidable tool that struggling NHL clubs should be looking to add to win a couple of extra games next season.
Collin Graf- Quinnipiac
Continuing with our current streak of impressive forwards, we add to it the 6’0 181 pound versatile playmaker Collin Graf of Quinnipiac University. After a sub-par season playing for Union College last year, Graf thought it was time for a change of scenery. So off to Connecticut, he went. But I bet he did not know just how good of a decision that would prove to be, as he is now playing in just his sophomore season for the Bobcats; Graf has been heating up as of late. Scoring six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in just his last ten games. With that latest stretch of games, Collin finds his point totals only trailing that of this summer’s potential top-three pick Adam Fantilli of Michigan. Graf’s deceptive ability to get in behind his opposition defense and impressive shot have been the critical factors to him averaging near a point and a half a game this year! Putting it all together 20 goals, an NCAA-leading 35 assists, a sum of 55 points on the season, and him being able to do all that while maintaining a +28 average you can start to see why NHL clubs would be wise to sign this young responsible player sooner rather than later.
Ryan McAllister- Western Michigan
While this next player may be a newcomer to the NCAA, this freshman forward has been on this writer’s radar for years. Ryan McAllister, the former Brooks Bandit alum who torched the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) for 57 goals and 82 assists for 139 points last season; came to Western Michigan already with a championship mentality, seeing that he had just finished a year in which he won the AJHL’s Inter Pipeline Cup and won the Ernie Love Trophy (for leading the league in points). He was named both the league’s regular season MVP and the playoff MVP, then went on to win Canada’s National Junior Championship, the Centennial Cup, along with being named that tournament’s MVP. So, it came as no surprise to this writer when McAllister was able to get off to a blazing hot start this year by leading all of college hockey in points for most of the season; before teams began to see him as a genuine threat and keep multiple men in his vicinity at all times. Now, I was lucky enough to have Ryan join me on my podcast “Prospect Watch” earlier in the year (which you can view below), and I have to tell you somebody better sign this 21-year-old before he spends the next 10-15 years playing in their division in the NHL and making them regret it. Because even if he commits to playing for WMU again next year, best believe his totals of 13 goals and 35 assists for 48 points will only multiply.
Jake Livingstone- Minnesota State
Moving to defense, we focus on Jake Livingstone of Minnesota State University. Jake is a 6’3 205, pound defender who has had NHL clubs drooling for years now, and for good reason. Through a combined 110 career games played for the Mankato, Livingstone has shown that he can both bring the offense by scoring a total of 80 points as well as proving he is, in fact, defensible responsible by maintaining a career +54 average. So as these videos will further prove my point Livingstone, I believe will be able to offer any professional team that signs him the best of both worlds.
Yaniv Perets- Quinnipiac
Regarding goaltending, other writers and scouts maybe head over heels for a guy like Maine’s 6’4, 205-pound goalie Victor Ostman. But this guardian of the blue paint turned writer is here to tell you there’s more to goaltending than size alone. Ostman is in his third season playing in the NCAA, and his combined goals-against-average during that time is a very uninspiring 3.03, and still worse is the fact that he has only managed to win 33% of the games he’s played in. Yaniv Perets of Quinnipiac, on the other hand, has led all starting goaltenders the past two seasons in goals against with a 1.17 G.A.A. average last year and a 1.52 G.A.A. this year. On top of that, over the last two seasons, while playing for the Bobcats, Perets has won an astonishing 76% of the games he’s played in! Still not impressed? Well, maybe you will be after I tell you 20 of his 52 NCAA victories have come by way of a shutout! After attending the Philadelphia Flyers Development Camp earlier in the year, I was able to catch up with Yaniv, and he did not disappoint. If signed, this 23-year-old goaltender could immediately step into the NHL this season and not only win games but take over a team’s net for the next 10-15 seasons, making them a true contender.
While some NHL organizations may be too distracted with them being in the midst of their latest perennial playoff runs, struggling teams who just sold off all of their assets at the trade deadline to try to start a rebuild would be wise to get a kick start their overhaul by signing one of these ready to go undrafted free agents who could potentially step into their NHL lineup the day after their collegiate season is over. Thus, negating the need to wait two or three years before someone’s game, they are drafting this summer matures.
Prospect Watch: Top Five Defensemen available in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Welcome back to our continuation of the top five players available at every position in the upcoming draft. Previously we have covered centers, wings, and goaltenders.
So, the only position left to talk about is the blueliners, better known as defensemen. Now, what attributes teams consider in determining whether one defenseman is better than another has all become relative to the type of defender they are looking for. Some NHL executives may be looking for more of an old school defensively responsible defenseman like the great Larry Robinson, whose career +722 average helped him hoist the Stanley Cup on six separate occasions. Others may prefer one more offensive-minded, like the legendary Ray Bourque, who netted 410 goals in his career. Not saying that one type is better than the other it just depends on what type a general manager may need or want to add to his club at the present time. I’m an old goaltender, so I like my defensemen to take care of things in their own end before they go jumping up into the play in the offensive zone. Remember, a player can score 50 goals a year, but if he’s on the ice when his opponent scores 60, is he really being that effective?
Keeping that philosophy in mind, I constructed this list of the following players.
5. Luca Cagnoni
The first player on my list comes from the Western Hockey League’s (WHL’s) Portland Winterhawks, and his name is Luca Cagnoni. Luca is an 18-year-old left-hand shot defender who stands at just 5’10 and weighs 172 pounds. With this season being Cagnoni’s third in the WHL, he has more than proven that he can excel at both ends of the ice. For example, offensively, Luca is scoring at a rate of 1.00 points per game (P.P.G.), totaling 15 goals and 45 assists for 60 points in 60 games played. What may be more impressive, though, is what he has been able to do defensively, considering the talent he faces on a nightly basis in the WHL. Through 133 total regular season games played with the Winterhawks, Cagnoni has averaged a career +45. Because of these traits mentioned, Luca is projected by many to hear his name called in the second round. So, if this two-way defender can hit the gym and get a little stronger in the future, he has the chance to be a top-four defender in the NHL.
4. Lukas Dragicevic
Is a 17-year-old right-hand-shot defenseman who currently is playing in the WHL for the Tri-City Americans. He is 6’2 and 181 pounds and is on this list purely because of his offensive abilities. Throughout 61 games played this season, Lukas has scored 15 goals and an incredible 53 assists to achieve 68 points. Folks, that’s a defenseman who is scoring at a rate of 1.11 points per game right now! From his long outlet passes, he puts right on the tape of a teammate in full stride. To his ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone, I guarantee you Dragicevic’s skill set has more than one NHL executive dreaming of what he could do on his franchise’s power play unit right now. The only problem is Lukas has to learn when to go and when to stay at home, seeing that he, unlike others on this list, is a minus player. And once again, I reiterate it doesn’t matter how many points you score if you’re out on the ice when the other team scores more.
3. Etienne Morin
In the third slot, I have possibly my favorite defender in this draft, 18-year-old Etienne Morin. Morin, who is also expected to go in the second round this summer, plays for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He is another responsible left-hand shot two-way defender who excels at both ends of the ice, but where his game differs from Cagnoni’s is that Etienne can bring the physical aspect. You wouldn’t know that from looking at him, seeing that he’s only 6’0 and 183 pounds, but I bet if you asked the opposition’s winger who is having trouble skating back to the bench after colliding with him at the blue line, they would swear to you it felt as though they were just hit by their team bus. But, as impressive as Etienne’s open-ice hip checks in the defensive zone are, he has shown that he can also get it done in the offensive zone by filling up the stat sheet. Morin has recorded 17 goals, and 40 assists for 57 points in 60 games played this season. All while averaging a +21. With all these intangibles at his disposal, it’s no surprise that Morin’s name has been shooting up teams’ draft boards this season.
2. David Reinbacher
Next up on my list is the 18-year-old Austrian-born David Reinbacher. Standing at 6’2 and 187 pounds, this coveted right-hand-shot defender has been impressive this year playing for the EHC Kloton in Switzerland’s National League (top pro league). A kid who is holding his own playing against men, Reinbacher has demonstrated that he is not afraid to use his size to his advantage. Whether it be to knock his opponents off the puck, matching his forward’s stride for stride as he joins them on the rush, or unloading an accurate shot on net that the goaltender will still feel after the game, David has proven he belongs at the pro level, and thus will likely get selected somewhere in the later part of the first round of the NHL Draft this summer.
1. Axel Sandin Pellikka
Finally, we’ve arrived at who I think is the top consensus defenseman available in the draft, Axel Sandin Pellikka. Pellikka is an 18-year-old right-hand-shot blueliner in Sweden’s top professional league, the SHL. He is 5’11 and 181 pounds and is signed to play for the Skelleftea AIK until the end of the 24/25 season. Now, while Axel’s SHL’s stats of two goals and three assists for five points in 22 games played may not look that impressive compared to others on this list. His point totals from him playing in the J20 (the top junior league in Sweden) do. Before moving up to play in the SHL, this season, Pellikka was dominating the J20 by scoring 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points in just 28 games. Paired with that 1.17 points per game pace in juniors, he maintained a +16 average. You may be asking what traits Axel has over the other talented young players on this list. He has the hands and accuracy that very few skilled forwards in the NHL have right now. So much so that if he was implemented into an NHL team’s roster today, I assure you he would be taking a veteran’s place in the shootout if the game went to overtime.
Again, this list was constructed based on my own preferences and biases. Each one of these players has distinct characteristics that certain clubs are looking for. Feel free to let me know which player from this list is your favorite. I’m sure, despite the order I choose to rank them in, it will not matter soon enough, as I can almost guarantee they all will make excellent pros in the years to come.
The Flyers need to get rid of the Old Guard
With management serving up yet another trade deadline folly, the fans of the Philadelphia Flyers have had enough! With teams around the league making significant moves for the better part of two weeks before the deadline Chuck Fletcher (the Flyers’ General Manager) set idle. He did so while playoff contenders acquired player after player they felt would improve their team’s chances at hoisting the Stanley Cup this season. For example, the New York Rangers went for broke, giving up all kinds of assets to add aging superstars like Patrick Kane from the Blackhawks and Vladimir Tarasenko from the Blues.
But the buyers weren’t the only ones improving their team’s outlook. Many sellers (teams considered out of the running for the postseason) were able to unload their impending free agents or unwanted contracts to gain draft capital and/or other teams up and coming prospects to get a head start on their potential rebuilds. One of the teams that were able to plunder away the best treasures at the deadline was the Chicago Blackhawks. Who over the subsequent three drafts has the possibility (with all the conditional picks they acquired) to select seven first-round talents. Make eight second-round selections, and have a total of five third-rounders. Folks, I don’t know about you, but with all those draft picks at their disposal, they are bound to build back another dynasty team sooner rather than later.
When you compare that to what the Flyers were able to do by trading Patrick Brown to Ottawa for a 6th-round pick. Giving away fan favorite Zac MacEwen to the Kings for Brendan Lemieux and a ’24 5th-round pick and sending Isaac Ratcliffe to the Predators for future considerations, you can begin to see why Philadelphia has been stuck in mediocrity for so long now.
But their troubles go well beyond Chuck’s inability to unload an impending free agent like James van Riemsdyk, who has scored 20+ goals seven times in his career (with one of those times being last year when he finished the season with a team-high 24 lamp lighters). Their problems are so deeply rooted that they date back to the beginning of their existence. Since their induction into the league, the Flyers have been known as a team that takes care of their players. This includes even after they hang up the skates for the last time, which on its face sounds amazing right? Not necessarily. Like no other team in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers have shown no shame in their corrupt practices of nepotism. Time and time again, the powers at be for the Flyers have seen to it that their friends and former teammates are gifted a job opportunity over a more qualified candidate from outside the organization. Now, I know what you’re thinking both head coach John Tortorella and GM Chuck Fletcher are from outside the organization, right? Sure, they are, but just like in politics, sometimes the people who appear to be in some of the most powerful positions, are but figureheads or puppets. In the Flyers case, the puppeteers or real shot callers are none other than former Flyers greats Bob Clarke (who is currently an executive and/or senior advisor to the Flyers), Paul Holmgren (who is a senior advisor to Dave Scott), and Bill Barber (who is a senior advisor and scouting consultant for the Flyers). These three men (all of which) who haven’t even played professional hockey in close to 40 years are the real powers that be. The ones who have been around the organization SO LONG that they have become consiglieres of sorts. But my question is, why do they still hold this mafia-type control over the team when the league as a whole has changed so much from when the Bullies ruled the ice?
In their day, teams filled their rosters with knuckle draggers who would beat their opponents into submission. Now, teams are built on the premise of skill using new in-depth hockey analytics that helps competent executives find affordable role players to fill their salary cap-restricted rosters. Something that the Flyers’ old guard knows nothing about. Hence the reason why Philadelphia has been so unsuccessful since the league’s implementation of said salary cap back in the 2005-2006 season.
This fear of the unknown has resulted in the team’s blind hiring of people in key positions for their franchise. People like 64-year-old Kjell Samuelsson, a former Flyers player who, since the moment he retired some 24 years ago, has been gifted jobs within the organization anywhere from an assistant coach with the Phantoms to his current role of being the Director of Player Development.
Or how about Dave Brown, a former Flyers tough guy who, over parts of 22 seasons, has held at one time or another the position of Assistant Coach, Director of Player Personnel, and or Director of Professional Scouting. As Coaches and GM’s came and went for the team, who could fathom that these two men would be allowed to hold onto these titles for that long despite Philadelphia being viewed among the league’s worst in scouting and player development? The old guard, that’s who. A bunch of old men who would rather see the team they claim to love so much falter year after year so that their old linemates are not without a job.
Now, as much as I would like to say that is where the systemic nepotism ends within the Flyers organization, I would be lying. It is SO deep-rooted that Danny Briere had his current job of Special Assistant to the GM made up for him. Both former Flyers Ian Laperriere and Jason Smith find themselves coaching the Phantoms. And there’s a laundry list of nostalgic players of old now inked to be player development coaches: Sami Kapanen, Sam Morin, Nick Schultz, and Chris Stewart, to name a few. Something has to change! While it is a nice gesture, it has not been conducive to the team winning championships. Operating with the same stagnant thought processes that they had since the late 60’s, and early 70’s is precisely why the Flyers haven’t been able to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in the last 48 years. So, until ownership realizes they need to drain the swamp by cutting ties with their good old boys. Get used to the mediocrity, as the Flyers will continue to leave you wanting something more when they make future “massive moves” like trading for Brendan Lemieux at the deadline.
Contenders continue to add pieces for their Playoff Push as the Flyers sit Idle.
The NHL Trade Deadline is Friday, March 3rd, 2023, at 3:00 pm. And yet again, it would appear as though the Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher seems content waiting around for the action to come to him rather than doing his due diligence by picking up the phone and trying to SELL his less-than-desirable impending unrestricted free agents to a contending team.
While Chuck has been sitting on his hands pondering if his team should be buyers or sellers these past few days. Multiple playoff hopefuls have been paying other seller dwellers a premium to make deal after deal to acquire players that they feel will help them make a run at the Stanley Cup. Leaving the Flyers with fewer and fewer teams that will be willing to still make a deal with them come Friday.
Other floundering teams haven’t seemed to have a problem with this kind of indecisiveness because they understand that the early bird gets the worm. The Chicago Blackhawks realized their dynasty, in which Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were a big part of bringing the franchise three Stanley Cups together, is ending. Thus, they have been busy making deals to get an early start on a full rebuild. The Blackhawks already have garnered themselves a 2nd rd. pick this year, a conditional 1st in 2025, and a 2nd & 4th round pick in 2026. This is coming even before Patrick Kane’s imminent move to the New York Rangers.
How about Nashville? After announcing that he would be retiring at the season’s end, Predators GM David Poile was able to restock the cupboards after receiving quite the haul from the Lightning in exchange for their gritty forward Tanner Jeannot. Poile talked Tampa Bay into giving up defensive prospect Cal Foote, a top ten protected 1st in 2025, 2024 2nd, and their 2023 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks for Tanner. As well, as a 2nd in ’24 from Winnipeg for Nino Niederreiter
The Blues, who seemed to fall from grace after last season’s success, obtained two first-round picks in 2023, a 2nd in 2024, a 3rd in ’23, and a 4th in 2024 for Vladimir Tarasenko (NYR) and Ryan O’Reilly (Tor.)
All these teams mentioned above will be better for years to come for what they have already been able to accomplish. Meanwhile, the Flyers only move thus far has been to ship out a failed prospect in Isaac Ratcliffe to the Nashville Predators for future considerations. Hardly compares, right?
As for the dwindling number of teams willing to make a trade when the Flyers finally see fit to do so, all I can say is that list has only diminished that much more over the course of my writing this article. The Carolina Hurricanes, who sit atop the Metro Division, just acquired Jesse Puljujarvi from the Edmonton Oilers. Toronto added defenseman Jake McCabe from Chicago and paid dearly for center Ryan O’Reilly from the Blues. As previously mentioned, the Lightning got their guy in Tanner Jeannot from the Predators. The Devils pulled off a heck of a trade for Timo Meier, previously of the Sharks. Colorado added defensive depth from Chicago in the form of Jack Johnson. The Golden Knights picked up Ivan Barbashev from the Blues. The Stars got Evgenii Dadonov from the Canadiens. The Jets picked up Nino Niederreiter from the Preds. Boston pulled off a couple of deals that saw them add Shane Bowers from the Avalanche and Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway from the Caps. The Rangers have already seen Vladimir Tarasenko play for them, who they got in a deal with St. Louis, and the Islanders picked up captain Bo Horvat from the Canucks.
Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, while all these trades were taking place, Uncle Chuck debated whether he should get rid of a guy like Nick Seeler, a 29-year-old third-pairing defenseman. To which I would want to ask him why this was even a question. Although, Nick has proven to be rather serviceable with his physical play and ability to lineup on both the right and the left side. If a team was interested in him, then by all means, move him for a future asset. The Flyers have defensemen who can easily take his spot in Ronnie Attard who made the AHL All-Star Team, and Egor Zamula, who has been chomping at the bit to receive an extended look at the NHL level. The Flyers have Ethan Sampson and Emil Andrae ready to take their place on the Phantoms’ blue line next year.
All I have to say is that this organization had better acquire some future assets by ridding themselves of expiring and/or bad contracts in the next few days. If they don’t, the Flyers fanbase will be ready to give up on the team for the year and tune into something more exciting, like Phillies Spring Training Games or the Sixers fighting to make the Playoffs.
Prospect Watch: Top Five Goalies in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft
As the NHL Entry Draft looms ever closer, I thought it would be wise to list my top five players from each position who will be available to be selected this June. In this particular article, I will name my top five guardians of the blue paint. Now, we all know goalies are a special breed and thus take a little longer to develop than most other positions. I mean, even the great Marc-Andre Fleury, who was taken #1 overall in 2003, was sent down to Jr’s his first year and played parts of three seasons in the AHL before becoming one of the most dominant goaltenders of all time. Because of this, you’ll find that over the years, most teams find their future franchise goaltender late in the draft. For instance, Hall of famer Dominik Hasek wasn’t selected until the 10th round back in 1983. Or how about Henrik Lundqvist, who the Rangers took in the 7th round in 2000.
So, I guess what I’m saying is after playing this position for over thirty years and spending a good deal of time giving back to the game by coaching the youth who are brave enough to strap on the pads. I would suggest teams forget about the current position trend or who “experts” say is the most NHL-ready and look at their overall game. Does this player excel at just a few things and still have glaring holes in other areas? How they prepare for a start. Do they arrive late and rush to get dressed to get out on the ice, or are they there hours before a game stretching or running through the opposition’s tendencies as they envision themselves making those stops? Or even something as easy as scouting how they can rebound after a bad outing. Will their confidence be shot, so they carry it over to the next game? Or can they shake it off and come out and be that solid backstop you need them to be?
That’s why, considering all these factors, I must warn you my list WILL defer from others out there. For instance, you will not see Michael Hrabal on this list seeing that I believe the league as a whole has developed an unhealthy fascination with goalies who have more size than skill. Hrabal, who currently plays for the United States Hockey League’s (USHL’s) Omaha Lancers, is predicted by most so-called experts to be the first goalie to be taken off the board in the upcoming draft, primarily because he stands 6’6 and weighs in at 209 pounds. These attributes may have some teams drooling, but not this writer. Hrabel is averaging well over three goals a game and maintaining a sub .900 save percentage (SV%), leading him to a record of just six wins, ten losses, and four overtime losses in the USHL. So, with that being said, let’s base this list on pure skill alone, shall we?
5th Jacob Fowler
In my option, the fifth-best goalie in this upcoming NHL draft is Jacob Fowler, a Florida native who is currently 18 years of age and stands at 6’2 and 201 pounds. If you haven’t heard of him before, you can find Jacob suiting up on a nightly basis for the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, where he has repeatedly proven that he is both positionally sound and has one of the best glove hands in this draft. This season Fowler has played in 30 games where he has averaged a respectable 2.36 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%). This has earned him a record of 18-8-3 so far, with 5 of those wins coming by way of a shutout. For his efforts, Jacob will be attending Boston College next season to play for the Eagles. I believe Fowler will get drafted in the later rounds this summer but will develop relatively quickly in the fast-paced NCAA next season.
4th Adam Gajan
At number four, I have the 18-year-old Slovakian goaltender Adam Gajan. Measuring between 6’3- 6’4 and 176 pounds, Gajan is getting accustomed to the North American style game while playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Where in 6 games played, he holds a record of 5-1-0. Through those six games, Adam has managed to maintain a 2.48 GAA and a .906 SV%. Something that the University of Minnesota-Duluth will be happy to hear, seeing that he is committed to playing for them next season. Now, most people have Gajan ranked much higher on their list because of his recent success playing for his native country at this past World Juniors. I am more worried about his struggles back home when asked to move up to the Slovakia 2 league, his country’s third-tier pro league. The sign of most elite prospects coming from European nations is that they have been able to dominate the junior ranks to the point that their club has called them up to the pro level as early as, say, 16 or 17 years old. When Gajan was asked to do so on occasion throughout two different seasons, his goals-against-average sky rocketed into the double digits each time. Now, Adam is on this list for a reason why he may not yet be ready to play professionally; he has shown he can outshine players his own age like he did when playing in that game against Team Canada at the WJC. Adam’s willingness to never give up on a play and ability to react only after the shooter has decided to send the puck his way will easily move him into being named a team’s top goaltending prospect in just a few years.
3rd Calvin Vachon
This next goalie is possibly my favorite on this list. A hidden gem in my mind who is currently tucked away up in Faribault, Minnesota, playing for a little Preparatory High School named Shattuck St. Mary’s. A team who brought you such players as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, and defenseman Jack Johnson. His name is Calvin Vachon, a classically trained goaltender with a fantastic pedigree of his own. Calvin is the grandson of Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon, who you may remember being a dominant force for the Los Angeles Kings back in the 70s. In fact, Calvin has been so good for such a long time that you might be able to get away with calling him a bit of a phenom seeing that he has been putting up jaw-dropping numbers since he was 13 years old. For example, back in 2018-2019, while playing for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 13U AAA Team, Calvin posted an unfathomable goals-against-average of just 0.59, which he paired with a .902 save percentage through an incredible 57 games played. Now, some time has passed, and Calvin has to play much more challenging opponents, but still, he sees success. Calvin has six shutouts through 23 GP this year and is a perfect 18-0-0. While at the same time averaging 2.04 G.A.A. and a .927 SV%. Because of where he plays, a team that either reads this article or does their own due diligence, I believe, will be able to grab Vachon late in the draft and thus get a goalie who could develop over a couple of seasons into one of the next great American goaltenders.
2nd. Kenneth Trey Augustine
At number two, I have another American-born goaltender, Kenneth Trey Augustine. This Michigan native, who stands at 6’1 and 180 pounds, backstops the United States National Development Program (USNPDT), and man, what a job he has done for them with a combined record of 23-0-2 this year. What’s great for scouts and teams alike when they look at a player from this team is that you get to see what they look like against both NCAA and USHL teams seeing that their schedule has them playing a mixture of teams from both leagues. When you combine Trey’s stats from this season when playing in those different leagues, you’ll see that he has allowed just 2.12 goals a game and has been able to average a .936 SV%. To add to that remarkable season, Augustine was naturally selected to play for Team USA in the World Junior Championships a few months ago, where over six games, he averaged a 2.85 GAA and a .891 SV%, receiving a bronze medal for his efforts. If it wasn’t for Team Canada and that darn Connor Bedard, he may have been able to remain undefeated on the season, but instead, he had to settle for going 4-1-0 in the tournament. After being drafted this summer, Trey is already committed to playing for Michigan State University next season, where he will be able to continue to hone his game before getting his chance to one day play in the NHL.
1st. Scott Ratzlaff
I have Scott Ratzlaff of the Western Hockey Leagues Seattle Thunderbirds at number one. Scott, who is 17 years old, stands at 6’1, and weighs in at 172 pounds, has had to play probably one of the most demanding schedules of any goaltender on this list. Night in and night out over the last three seasons, he has had to face multiple players who will be drafted within the top fifteen players this summer. Guys like the consensus number one pick Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats, Zach Benson of the Winnipeg Ice, Andrew Cristall of the Kelowna Rockets, Riley Heidt of the Prince George Cougars, and Brayden Yager of the Moose Jaw Warriors, to name a few. In doing so, he not only won most contests against those great talents but has managed to maintain a league-leading 2.03 goals-against-average and accrued a league-leading five shutouts. Such play has seen him be rewarded the honor of playing for his country this season in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he was able to go undefeated, finishing the tournament a perfect 4-0-0, with two of those wins coming by way of a shutout. His play allowed him to finish with a tournament-best 0.50 GAA and a .976 SV%. Scott has accomplished all these feats by being one of the quickest reaction goalies out of this draft.
On top of that, after he has made a save, it’s obvious his goalie coach has been able to drill into his head not to stay on the ice and flop around. But instead, he effortlessly returns to his feet without ever taking his eyes off the play. All of which should make a scout’s mouth water.
So, why this draft has been said to be chalked full of offensive talent I’m here to tell you that there is depth in the crease as well. There are netminders that teams will be able to select at the beginning, middle, and end of the draft who will all have the chance to develop into everyday NHL players.
One Impending UFA the Flyers should try and sign this summer.
With the Philadelphia Flyers in the middle of yet another disappointing season, I thought it would be wise to get an early start and suggest an obtainable Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) that the team’s General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, should look to sign this offseason. Now, for those who don’t know me, I’m not like most writers who would have you spend the next five minutes reading about how the Flyers should go out this offseason and sign a player like Boston’s UFA David Pastrnak or Detroit’s 26-year-old UFA Captain Dylan Larkin, who have reportedly been looking to sign deals that will pay them north of $9 million a season.
I live in reality. Even with players like James van Riemsdyk and his $ 7 million cap hit coming off the books this year, the Flyers will be cap-strapped next season. We can thank Uncle Chuck for this, with him handing out extravagant contracts to forwards like the often injured Sean Couturier, who carries a $7.75 million average annual value (A.A.V.) for the next seven years. Kevin Hayes, whose due to make another $7.1 million for the next three years. How about Fletcher’s folly of agreeing to pay a then-21-year-old Joel Farabee a sum of $5 million for the next six years instead of offering him a more reasonable bridge deal until he could prove his true worth? Let’s not forget about the defense, with Provorov due to make $6.75 million for the next three seasons. Chuck recently resigned Travis Sanheim to an eight-year $50 million deal that starts next season, making the team responsible for paying Travis $6.25 million for the majority of the next decade. Remember when Fletcher traded away our first-round pick to acquire a defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen? A player who to date holds a career -170 average, and to top that, him thinking it was an excellent idea to re-sign him to a five-year deal that pays him over $ 5 million a season for the duration. Or better yet, when Fletcher acquired an injury-prone Ryan Ellis who only played in four games for Philadelphia before sustaining a career-ending injury. A player now considered to be nothing more than a $6.25 million dead cap hit for the next four seasons.
So, with all that money already tied up in questionable deals, it is imperative that IF the Flyers wish to go out this off-season and obtain a free agent that they feel will help them moving forward, they have no other choice but to get it right. One player I think could provide the offense they currently lack and should still be able to fit within their cap restraints is winger Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Who? You may be asking. Michael is a former 4th-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes who now stands at 6’0 tall and 192 pounds. As with most late-round selections, he took a little longer to develop. But after showing some potential in the 2020-2021 season while playing for the Coyotes, he was quickly snatched up in free agency by Toronto, where Michael has continued to develop his game. This previously unknown 27-year-old talent has been playing on their top line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander for some time now. Last season while still being considered a rookie, Bunting led all first-year players in points with 63! To the sum of 23 goals and 40 assists while maintaining a +27 average. Beyond his own stats, Bunting was able to aid Auston Matthews in netting 60 goals which allowed him to be awarded the Maurice Richard Trophy (an award given to the player who amasses the most goals in the NHL that season).
To prove his success last season wasn’t a fluke, Bunting has come out this year and continued to produce, playing the only way he knows how. Hard. While he may not be as talented as his current linemates, he does outwork them. During his time in Toronto, Michael has been known to play with an edge, whether it be winning board battles, crashing the net for a rebound, or standing in front of it for a deflection. Bunting has shown he has no problem doing whatever is needed of him to help his team win the game. Michael does this despite knowing his efforts will be downplayed by his teammate’s league-wide popularity. That doesn’t faze him, though; actually, I think he prefers it because while other teams are setting up game plans to stop some of his more notable teammates, Michael has managed to score 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points this season. What’s possibly more impressive, though, is that he has been able to do all that while averaging a team-best +23 right now!
After reading all this, you may be saying that there’s no way Toronto would ever let a guy like that leave in free agency, but I don’t think they will have a choice. Bunting will be due a substantial raise from his current salary of just $950,000, and the Leafs are loaded with top-end talent, which, fortunately, the Flyers the Leafs have had to pay a substantial amount of money to retain. Toronto already has 49%, or $40.5 million, of their cap wrapped up into four forwards next season: Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Then when you add to that the fact that the Leafs will need to re-sign their recently acquired St. Louis Blues center and captain Ryan O’Reilly next season (who they gave up multiple prospects and a slew of top draft selections for) along with their already 11 other roster players with expiring contracts this summer. It becomes evident that the Maple Leafs better hope their attempt at winning it all this season pays off.
With this newly acquired knowledge, Philadelphia should go into negotiations with Bunting’s agent this summer using Colorado’s 27-year-old winger Artturi Lehkonen’s contract as a reference, seeing that they both share the same goal and point totals right now. Lehkonen, who is the same age as Bunting, is signed to a five-year deal worth $22,500,000, so that would work out to Bunting making in the ballpark of $4.5 million a season. Securing Bunting into a similar arrangement would ensure that both Michael gets a much-needed raise and the Flyers don’t overpay for yet another player. Doing so would give Philadelphia a player whose hustle and work ethic make him a perfect fit for whatever line Tortorella puts him on. Then when the team’s top prospects like Cutter Gauthier and this year’s potential top ten pick join the big club in the coming years, Bunting will be there to ensure them a smooth and successful transition.
In my mind, this signing would be ideal. Sure, the team has other needs, some of which may even be more pressing than this one, but their current budget will not allow them to ink a top tier center or top pairing right-hand-shot defender in free agency this summer. Those needs are going to have to be fulfilled by either obtaining a proven prospect in a trade for their own impending free agents or through the draft itself.
Prospect Watch: Aiden Fink
Back again with another exciting prospect you should be keeping an eye on. His name is Aiden Fink, a 5’9 winger out of the Alberta Junior Hockey Leagues (AJHL’s) Brooks Bandits program who has been shooting up Mock Drafts as of late. I don’t know how he does it, but year after year, their General Manager/ Head Coach, Ryan Papaioannou, continues to find these diamond-in-the-rough type players that the more prominent Canadian Junior Leagues tend to overlook. But I assure you thanks to the success of former Bandits alums like Stanley Cup Champion Cale Makar, the NCAA’s Ryan McAllister, TJ Hughes, and Zach Bookman. Fink’s success this season should not go unnoticed by prospecting NHL clubs.
Especially since Fink currently leads the AJHL in goals, assists, total points, and points per game. Yes, you read that right. To put it mildly, Aiden has had quite the season thus far. In just 47 games played, he has tallied 33 goals and 52 assists for 85 points, which, if you do the math, equates to him scoring at a rate of 1.80 points per game right now (PPG)! With this kind of production and Fink still projecting to finish the season with 100 points, he should no doubt be drafted by an NHL club this summer before heading up to Madison to play for the University of Wisconsin next season (where he is already committed).
Now, there are many things to like about Aiden’s game: his skating, his above-average passing ability, and his high hockey IQ, but if I had to pick just one thing that has scouts drooling more than anything right now, it would be his ability to find twine from anywhere on the ice. A sniper who is always locked and loaded, Aiden tends to maneuver around with covert stealth-like precision eluding the opposition until he can unload a merciless shot past their unsuspecting netminder.
While Aiden’s diminutive size may inhibit him from being a 1st round selection this summer, that doesn’t mean his stock isn’t still steadily rising. With each passing game, more and more teams’ scouts are beginning to become captivated by what he can do out on the ice. This leads me to believe that if Fink continues to work hard and develop his game over the next few seasons under the tutelage of the Badgers’ Head Coach, Tony Granto, we will be sure to see him in an NHL jersey sooner rather than later.
Flyers, Enough is Enough, Chalk the Season up as a loss, and bring up the Kids Already!
After tonight’s loss to the New York Islanders (who were playing their backup goaltender Semyon Varlamov mind you), the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves ranked seventh in the Metropolitan Division. Winning just 21 games out of 52 played thus far. But sadly, the worst may still be to come. Unlike the last 10-15 games of their schedule, the team is no longer slated to play a bunch of fellow non-playoff-bound teams. Quite the opposite, actually. In the coming weeks, the Flyers will be forced to play the Edmonton Oilers, the red-hot Seattle Kraken, the New Jersey Devils, the New York Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Carolina Hurricanes. These teams are all loaded with the kind of superstar talent that the Flyers roster currently lacks.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if this team is destined to replicate the kind of season they gave us last year, then why not just bring up the kids from Lehigh now and get them some more NHL experience?
Think about it. Do you really want to tune in as the Flyers continue to dress players like their 35-year-old defenseman Justin Braun, who has gone scoreless in the 34 games he’s played in so far this season? Or would you rather see a 23-year-old defenseman in Ronnie Attard who just came back from representing the Phantoms this year at the AHL All-Star Game? I rather see the teams future get the chance to gain more experience at the highest level. I mean at least Attard, who was Philadelphia’s 2019 3rd-round pick plays aggressively and chooses to stand people up at the blue line instead of just letting them skate past him.
Or how about replacing the failed waiver wire acquisition of Kieffer Bellows in the lineup who has only managed to score one goal in the 15 games played so far with the Flyers? I know I would much rather see the team’s 2020 1st round pick Tyson Foerster. Besides, the move would make sense because Bellows is a left wing who is currently being forced to play his offside, and Foerster is a natural right winger. Tyson also recently returned from representing the Phantoms at the AHL All-Star game. After accruing a team-leading 17 goals and 13 assists for 30 points in 44 games played before the break. If called up, the 21-year-old would bring more size and skill, seeing that he stands at 6’2 and 194 pounds and has possessed an NHL caliber shot since he was 16 years old.
While we’re at it, teams have already begun to trade players before the March 3rd trade deadline, so why not follow suit and get rid of pending unrestricted free agent winger James van Riemsdyk and the overpaid defenseman Ivan Provorov sooner rather than later? Both moves would free up cap space and provide prospects like Elliot Desnoyers and the 2022 NCAA leading scorer/National Champion Bobby Brink a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level. Both have been equally impressive playing in Lehigh Valley this season and could provide the pop that this team needs offensively.
Regarding replacing Provorov, Cam York would be up to the task on the first line, and Egor Zamula could be called up from the Phantoms to fill the vacant roster spot, giving him a chance to develop into a more permanent fixture.
Then finally, to complete the roster moves, they should recall the undefeated goaltender Samuel Ersson and get Felix Sandstrom an Uber back to Allentown. Sam, who went 5-0-0 with a team-best 2.37 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage when called up to play for the Flyers in Carter Harts absence this season, left most fans stunned when they heard the news that management decided to send him back to the minors recently.
While these moves will by no way fix all the teams’ problems, they might be able to re-spark some deflated fans’ attention and allow these talented young prospects to develop their skills further at the highest level. This would enable the prospects mentioned above to gain valuable experience while simultaneously permitting the team to lose graciously in the pursuit of another game-changing prospect to pair with their top-five selection from last year’s draft Cutter Gauthier. Only then would Philadelphia be able to take a step forward in their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Flyers Should trade their Impending UFA James van Riemsdyk to this Metropolitan Team
Let’s face it with the All-Star Break now upon us; the Flyers once again find themselves nothing more than a five-hundred team. They are winning just enough games to be out of the running for the chance to draft a game-changer like Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli and not enough to make the playoffs.
So, what should they do? Well, the first of many things should be to trade away assets like winger James van Riemsdyk (JVR), an impending unrestricted free agent at the season’s end. Philadelphia would be wise to try and get something for him before he walks for nothing after just 31 more games. Now, while JVR may have never turned out to be the player the Flyers thought he would be when they selected him second overall back in 2007, he has proven to be productive over the years. For instance, he has scored 20 or more goals seven times in his career. He scored twenty-five or more goals four times in his career. Thirty or more twice and 35 or more once. On top of that, van Riemsdyk is a 33-year-old veteran with great size (6’3) and strength (208 pounds) that can offer great depth and experience to any playoff-contending team in need of his services.
In previous years, the Flyers have been rumored to have tried to move on from James, but his albatross of a contract hindered that. That’s why, now more than ever, it is imperative that they find a way to facilitate a deal because with van Riemsdyk in the last year of his five-year $35 million contract. His $7,000,000 cap hit should not be that hard of a sell to contending teams considering the Flyers can afford to retain 50% of his salary.
But it doesn’t make a trade imminent the Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher will still have to channel his best-used car salesman and peddle James to the right contending team. For JVR’s stats, this season (8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points) are a far cry from even his totals from last year when he led the Flyers in goals with 24.
The question then becomes, what playoff contender needs James the most? Now there are teams like Calgary, Dallas, and Washington who could use him, but the best fit in my mind would be the Carolina Hurricanes, and here’s why.
Despite losing players to free agency and normal roster turnover, over the years, the Hurricanes have found a way to remain a perennial playoff team, with this year being no different. Once again, Carolina currently finds themselves atop the Metropolitan Division, but lucky for the Flyers the Canes just found out some bad news. Fellow veteran left winger Max Pacioretty who was traded to Carolina by the Las Vegas Golden Knights, has just sustained the second tear of his right Achilles tendon. An injury that will likely put an end to his season, if not his career. Pacioretty, like van Riemsdyk, carries an expiring contract with a $7 million cap hit and was brought to Raleigh to try and add some much-needed veteran experience and guidance to a very youthful Hurricanes roster.
This gives the Flyers the perfect opportunity to unload the burden of JVR and his contract onto a very vulnerable Don Waddell, the Carolina Hurricanes General Manager. Who is probably still swallowing down a fist full of Tums or other antacids right now while contemplating what he will do after hearing the news of Pacioretty’s latest injury.
What’s that now? You don’t trust Fletcher to be able to get this type of deal done? Neither do I, so let’s break down what he should be asking for in return, shall we? The Hurricanes have been known to overpay for a rental at the deadline if they think that player can legitimately help their organization raise a Stanley Cup banner. Now, of course, the Flyers will be looking to acquire future assets, but in my mind, why ask for all draft picks? Even if you hit on one of them, that player could take up to three to five years to develop.
So, here are three enticing but obtainable assets that the Flyers might be able to pry away from the Hurricanes in a trade for van Riemsdyk.
The first is a 22-year-old German sharp shooting forward named Dominik Bokk. Bokk is a 6’2 181 pounder that was originally taken in the first round by the St. Louis Blues back in 2018. After being drafted, Bokk struggled to adjust to the North American-style game. Since then, Dominik has shown a resurgence in his development since taking his talents back to Germany to play in the DEL (Germany’s top professional league). This season Bokk is averaging over a point per game, with him already scoring 24 goals and 25 assists for 49 points in just 42 games played, which, if he can keep it up, projects him to reach totals of 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. Scoring isn’t the only part of his game that should be appealing to the Flyers, though. Bokk can get back and play defense as well, this being made evident by him being projected to finish this season with a +30 average.
If I were Fletcher, a second prospect I would be eager to ask about would be a Finnish forward named Ville Koivunen, a player whose mindset is always set to attack. Ville was drafted by the Hurricanes back in 2021 with their second-round pick. Since then, Koivunen has returned to his native country to play in the Liiga (Finland’s top professional league) and has managed to put up ten goals and eight assists for 18 points this season.
Last but most certainly not least, I would try an obtain 21-year-old Swedish forward Noel Gunler. He is a 6’2 176, pound forward who possesses the kind of lightning-quick release you can only see and appreciate while watching it in super slow motion on the arena’s big screen after he’s already done celebrating the goal. Gunler was selected by the Canes back in the second round of the 2020 draft and can be found currently playing for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. Where this season, he has been able to score eight goals and ten assists for 18 points. Where at the same time, he is projected to finish the season with 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points. The only thing is Noel still has yet to be taught the art of defense. There’s no question he can score on demand, but his -12 average this season shows that he allows his opponents to do so as well.
So, at the end of the day, the Flyers must regain future assets for JVR before his contract expires. Philadelphia does not wish to resign him, and letting him walk for nothing at the end of the season would be foolish. Therefore, with the Flyers looking as though they will not be making the playoffs again this year, they should take the opportunity to cash in on the Hurricanes’ misfortunes by gaining proven prospects that are projecting to be only a year or two away. Trading van Riemsdyk for one or more of these prospects listed above would also allow for some of the Flyers’ more NHL-ready prospects like Tyson Foerster, Elliot Desnoyers, and Bobby Brink to gain some much-needed experience playing at the highest level, which is a win-win any way you look at it.
Prospect Watch: Kai Uchacz
A player eligible for the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft that most scouts and fans alike have been sleeping on this season is 19-year-old center Kai Uchacz of the Western Hockey Leagues (WHL’s) Red Deer Rebels.
Now, listen, I get it. The WHL this season is chalked so full of talent you may have been too preoccupied with watching amazing players like Connor Bedard breaking records for the Regina Pats. Zach Benson, who has been freezing defenseman in place, up in Winnipeg while playing for the Ice. Andrew Cristall who has been busy making highlight reel plays every night for the Kelowna Rockets. Riley Heidt, who leaves Prince George Cougars fans roaring most nights after a big win. Or perhaps you’ve been tuning into Moosejaw Warrior games to catch a glimpse of the very enticing Brayden Yager. Nevertheless, whichever team or player you’ve seemed to have grown a devotion to this season, I assure you by the time you’re done reading this article about Uchacz, there’s a chance that you might have gained an admiration for him as well.
For example, you may be surprised to know that up to very recently, Kai led the entire league in goals this season. That is until Bedard returned from playing in the World Juniors to regain the lead. But even with Connor coming back, Uchacz has been able to keep pace with him trailing Bedard currently by just one goal (Bedard 39, Uchacz 38)! This feat is something that no other player in the league has even come close to achieving, and yes, that includes the other players listed above who will most likely all go in the first round of the draft this summer.
So, by now, hopefully, I have caught your attention enough so that you’re contemplating to yourself, who is this Kai Uchacz, and how is it that I haven’t heard of him if he can keep up with a generational talent such as Connor Bedard? As I stated earlier, he is 19 years old, which means he is a bit of a late bloomer. Last season for the Rebels, Kai put up just 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in his first year of draft eligibility. A decent season, but by no means one that should have gotten him drafted. So, what’s changed this year? If I had to take a guess, it would be that Kai has figured out how to utilize his size better. Uchacz now stands at 6’1 and 192 pounds giving him not only the size and physicality it takes to get into the dirty areas to win puck battles or jockey for position in front of the net, but his attributes make it easier for him to guard the puck when he skates through the oppositions’ defense on his way to the net as well. However, while his newfound size and strength have proved beneficial, it’s not all Uchacz has to hang his hat on. Kai also possesses a great hockey sense and an innate ability to play off the puck. What do I mean by this? Uchacz commonly finds ways to wander away from the masses and await a nice saucer pass from a teammate for an uncontested shot on goal. To go along with that, when a teammate is breaking into the offensive zone and is able to rip a nice shot on net, Kai always wands up instinctively in the exact position for the puck to rebound right onto the blade of his stick for an easy put-back.
Uchacz is currently scoring at a 1.40 points-per-game pace this season, totaling 38 goals and 25 assists for 63 points in just 45 games played. If he keeps up this pace, he is projected to finish the season with 57 goals and 38 assists for 95 points. What a difference a year makes, right? That’s why it would seem that being forced to take another year to continue to grow and refine his skills may not have been such a bad idea after all. While his age will see to it that he may not get the acclaim some others listed in this article will get from being selected in the first round this summer, his play this season should at least afford him the opportunity of an NHL team taking a chance on him during the latter part of day two down in Nashville.
The Flyers: Too Good to be Bad, Too Bad to be Good
Over the last ten games, the Philadelphia Flyers have given their fans something to finally get excited about by delivering a record of 8-2-0 during that time. But sadly, their recent stretch of wins didn’t manage to see them move out of the Metropolitan Divisions cellar seeing that even with the recent win streak, they still find themselves in 7th place with only 19 wins in 45 games played, which leaves them with a total of 45 points on the season.
So, to dive further into why the Flyers latest run didn’t advance them in the standings, let’s put the Flyers’ last ten games under a microscope. Ten games ago, the Flyers played the San Jose Sharks and beat them 4-3 in OT. A team who currently finds themselves seated in the 7th position in the Pacific Division, only achieving 13 wins and 35 points on the season to date. Meaning if the season ended today, they would be drafting 5th overall. Then the Flyers traveled to LA, where they took on the Kings on December 31st, where they were able to pull out a win by the score of 4-2. This win was quite impressive, seeing that the Kings presently find themselves among the playoff hopefuls ranked third in the Pacific Division. Now on a roll out in Cali., Philly then journeyed to Anaheim to take on the Ducks on January 2nd. Where once again, they were able to cash in on the success of their young goaltender Samuel Ersson earning themselves a 4-1 victory against a team who, if the season ended today, would be drafting 3rd overall. This is because the Ducks are, and have been for most of the season, ranked dead last in the Pacific Division. Moving on to Jan. 5th, some seven games ago now, the Flyers found relief (for some reason) in Carter Hart’s return and were able to gain yet another victory against the Arizona Coyotes, who have won just one game in their last ten which explains why they are currently positioned 7th in the Central Division with them only totaling 33 points on the season—making them now on pace to draft 4th overall. Then came an actual test when the Flyers faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 8th, where their star goalie (sarcasm) Carter Hart let in six goals with the Flyers only able to score two. Now while this loss should have given most fans a hard dose of reality on how their team compares to a true playoff contender, most just brushed it off. So, let’s continue; five games ago, Philadelphia lined up against the Buffalo Sabers on January 9th, and with Ersson back in net, the Flyers beat an improving Sabers team by a total of 4-0. Speeding it up now, the Flyers then went on to face the Washington Capitals in back-to-back games on Jan. 11th and 14th, resulting in Philly being able to win one of those contests against one of the oldest teams in the league. This brings us to Monday’s 6-0 thrashing dealt out by the Atlantic Division’s 1st-place team, the Boston Bruins, an outing that once again proves the Flyers cannot compete against the upper echelon of the NHL. Finally, we’ve reached their latest game, where the Flyers defeated the struggling Ducks again by a score of 5-2.
So, when you look at these last ten games with a bit of scrutiny, you’ll begin to see that these wins are not that impressive. Don’t get me wrong; I applaud the team for winning the games they played against opponents they should have beaten! But I’m not going to go on record and say I’m satisfied with how the team has played. Sure, there are bright spots like the way Konecny, Hayes, and Owen Tippett are on pace to have career years, and who could not get excited about the early success that the young Sam Ersson has had; but what is concerning is the fan bases willingness to buy into the teams’ propaganda (or selling of these players achievements and the teams’ recent success) in order to hide the franchises ongoing battle with mediocrity.
Let’s face it, when was the last time you truley felt the Flyers put together a roster that could compete for a Stanley Cup? I hope you didn’t say 2010 when the Flyers lucked out and squeaked into the playoffs as the seventh seed. Only then to somehow make it to the Finals with Michael Leighton in-between the pipes to take on the Blackhawks, who had Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp gunning for him, with guys like Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson standing guard for Corey Crawford and Marty Turco.
No, I’m thinking more like the 1997 Flyers roster that the Legion of Doom Line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg led. With a supporting cast of Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Desjardins, Paul Coffey, and Ron Hextall. Sure, they went on to be swept by an incredible Detroit team that had SEVEN now Hall of Famers, then playing on their roster. But be honest; wasn’t that the last time you truly believed the Flyers had a shot at winning it all? It was for me.
That’s why since then, I think the Flyers have been Too Good to be Bad, and Too Bad to be Good. What I mean by that is the way the Flyers were able to stay so competitive over the years was by throwing their checkbook around. Today is different, though; no team has been able to buy a championship in the salary cap era. Instead, the successful ones have had to endure years of hardships to gain the nucleus of what would then become their dynasties.
Take, for instance, the Penguins. After Lemieux retired and Jagr moved on, their fans had to suffer through several brutal seasons to get the chance to draft Marc Andre Fleury with the 1st overall pick in 2003. Then again, to be able to select Evgeni Malkin with the second overall pick in 2004. Only to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division once more to take Sidney Crosby 1st overall in 2005 and Kris Letang in the third round that same year. Then and only then were they able to return to their winning ways, winning cups in ’09, ’16, and again in ’17.
Or how about the aforementioned Chicago Blackhawks, who it took drafting Brent Seabrook in the first round of 2003, Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006, and who could forget them lucking out and getting what was supposed to be the Flyers 1st overall pick in 2007 only to draft arguably the best American born player ever to play the game, Patrick Kane. (Let’s squash this argument before it happens-Remember Brett Hull may have always played for Team USA, but he was born in Ontario, Canada) Anyway, it took the Blackhawks drafting these three players before they could go on to raise banners in ’10, ’13, and ’15.
Or a more recent example would be the Tampa Lightning, whom it took drafting Steven Stamkos 1st overall in ’08, Victor Hedman 2nd overall in ’09, and selecting Andrei Vasilevskiy as the first goalie off the board in ’12 before they could win it all in ’20, ’21, and lose in the cup finals in ’22.
Now I don’t want to put this kind of pressure on the kid, but the Flyers may already have gotten a jump start building their own future dynasty when they selected Cutter Gauthier 5th overall this past off-season. He’s already scored 19 points in just 15 games played for Boston College this year. Along with scoring 10 points in seven games played for Team USA at the recent World Junior Championships. So why not continue on that trend for a year or two and get players like:
Andrew Cristall- in the upcoming draft from the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, who currently has 62 points in 36 games played this season.
Then maybe grab a defenseman like Finland’s Aron Kiviharju in the 2024 draft.
In 2025 maybe the Flyers will try and take either American sniper Cooper Dennis
Or a goalie Gabriel D’Aigle who is already shining at only 16 years of age playing for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. I mean, he only spends his summers training with Marc Andre Fleury.
I could go on, but I think if Philadelphia just accepted how bad they really are and made sure they are in a position to draft these players in the coming years. Then a couple of seasons down the road, when these prospects join the group of talented youth they already have in place. The Flyers would then be able to at least spark the interest of some enticing free agents enough to make Philadelphia a place where talented players once again consider to come and play. Thus, they then, might have the makings of a successful NHL franchise. It’s worth a shot, right? I mean, everything they have tried since winning the 1975 Stanley Cup up to this point hasn’t, so why not give it a shot?
The Flyers would be wise to Trade Ivan Provorov to this NHL team ASAP
When the Flyers selected defenseman Ivan Provorov back in 2015 with the seventh overall pick in the NHL’s Entry Draft, they thought they might have just found their franchise’s next great blueliner. However, despite Provorov being able to log a ton of minutes for the orange and black over the last seven NHL seasons, I think most fans would agree he still is a far cry from the likes of Kimmo Timonen, Eric Desjardins, or Mark Howe.
With that being said, Philadelphia currently finds themselves in quite a conundrum. In the midst of their third straight losing season, the Flyers clearly can longer be considered the perennial playoff contenders they once were, and to add insult to injury, they are again up against the cap ceiling. So, with no clear answer in sight and far too many bad contracts currently on the books. The team must now look to unload what they can in order to acquire future assets that will help them moving forward.
Now it should go without saying that the team would love to rid themselves of the injury-prone defenseman Ryan Ellis’s contract that has the Flyers on the hook for $6.25 million for not only the rest of this season but the next four. But the likelihood that Chuck Fletcher will be able to find a fellow NHL general manager as gullible as he was when he accepted a trade for Ellis from the Nashville Predators is slim to none. So that should be considered but a pipe dream.
Instead, a more feasible option would be to try and trade away the aforementioned Ivan Provorov, who Chuck Fletcher overpaid a few seasons ago when he inked Ivan to a six-year $40.5 million deal with a cap hit of $6,750,000 a year. While this deal, on its face, does not seem that bad considering what other defensemen are getting paid nowadays, it does cause a problem when you take into consideration that the Flyers also just handed out an eight-year $50 million contract to fellow left-hand shot defender Travis Sanheim. If you do the math, Sanheim will be getting paid a cap hit of $6.25 million through the end of the 2031 season. That means the Flyers now have $19.25 million tied up into two left-hand shot defenders and a broken-down Ryan Ellis, who will most likely milk his injury until his contract runs out in 2027. Giving the team the earliest chance at any cap relief from these three players coming when Provorov is off the books after yet another two seasons.
However, if the team were to trade Provorov, who is still in his prime at just 26 years of age with term still left on his contract, they could not only get back quite the return but free up space in the top pairing for their 2019 first-round pick defenseman Cam York; which would finally give him the ice time he not only deserves but needs to have in order to continue to develop his game.
But then comes the question of what team might potentially be a buyer if the Flyers were willing to move on from Provorov? Well, if I were in Chuck’s position, I would call Rob Blake, the Los Angeles Kings general manager, and here’s why. The Kings are currently in second place in the Pacific Division, and this season may be their last real chance at hoisting another cup with the aging trio of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, who were previously able to hang Championship banners for their club back in 2012, and 2014. Why might they make this trade, you may be asking? Well, as good as LA has been this season, they still have needs. One of those needs is a left-hand shot defenseman. The team has only substantiated these claims by forcing their right-hand shot defenseman Sean Durzi to play his offside as well as kicking the tires on Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. So why not try and offer them, Ivan?
The Kings are ideal trade partners for the Flyers because, besides the fact that LA’s window of winning a championship with their current roster may be closing, they have a plethora of promising prospects in their system that should be considered ripe for the picking.
Brandt Clarke is a 6’2 185 pound, 19-year-old who was taken eighth overall back in ’21
Helge Grans is a 6’3, 205-pound 20-year-old who was taken back in the ’20 draft in the second round.
Or Jordan Spence, a 5’10 181 pound 21-year-old who the Kings drafted back in 2019 with their fourth-round pick.
Samuel Fagemo, a 6’0, 201-pound Swedish winger LA, picked in the second round of the ’19 draft.
Arthur Kaliyev, a 6’2, 209-pound sharpshooter who the Kings took back in the second round of 2019
Alex Turcotte a 21-year-old forward who stands at 5’11 and 185 pounds. That LA took with their fifth overall pick back in 2019.
Or Rasmus Kupari, a 6’2, 201-pound 22-year-old Finnish player that the Kings were able to acquire back in the first round of the 2018 draft.
If the Flyers could acquire a couple of these young and talented prospects in a trade for Provorov, they should not think twice before sending Ivan packing. For if they did, they would be not only giving themselves some breathing room financially but would be setting themselves up in the future as well, as most of these promising prospects have already started to show some success at the professional level in both the American Hockey League as well as the National Hockey League.