|Travis Sanheim continues to develop his game in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
When other NHL general managers take a look around at what’s going on at the lower levels, they have to be jealous of what Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers are building.
I mean, we’re talking about a team that just sent nine (!) prospects to the World Junior Championships.
Don’t worry, we’ll get to that later. Highland Park Hockey will have a WJC recap with in-depth analysis of each prospect once the tournament concludes later this week.
But back to the topic at hand. The Flyers have a plethora of young talent currently playing in the NCAA, overseas and at the junior level. There really isn’t much bad to report.
And then there is the AHL. Within the past couple of days, we saw Anthony Stolarz and Taylor Leier returned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Both Stolarz and Leier were called up and proved to be serviceable replacements when NHL talent went down with injuries.
There aren’t many organizations that can say they have this much depth. The Phantoms are only going to be scarier with Stolarz and Leier back in the fold. Barring injury, they’ll probably be key fixtures in next month’s report.
After all, Stolarz posted a 1.79 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in four games with the Flyers. Leier notched his first career NHL goal and also picked up an assist while playing a bottom-line role for 10 games.
The Flyers are just scratching the surface when it comes to their prospects. We’ve said it before but it’s nearly impossible to not be excited for the future.
But, for now, Leier (six goals, 14 assists in 22 AHL games) and Stolarz (2.39 GAA and .927 save percentage in eight AHL games) are on their way back to the minors. We’ll have to wait to see how that shakes up the team.
So, in the meantime, why don't we take a look at how everybody else fared in December? Here we go!
Prospect of the Month
Forward Oskar Lindblom - Sweden Brynäs IF (SHL)
Acquired: 2014 fifth-round pick (138th overall)
Season Stats: 30 GP, 9 G, 19 A, 10 PIMS, Plus-16, 53 shots
Monthly Stats: 8 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 2 PIMS, Plus-5, 14 shots
Come on. Don't act like you're surprised to see Lindblom take home prospect of the month yet again.
The 20-year-old Swede continues to impress on so many levels. He is just one point back of the SHL lead in scoring and leads the entire league in even-strength points with 20. His plus-16 rating also has him ahead of everybody else.
And now he's starting to become a late-game hero. He scored with just two minutes and 30 seconds remaining on Dec. 28 to give Brynas a win and was instrumental -- though pointless -- in helping his team force overtime on Dec. 26, a game they won after Lindblom set up a brilliant screen in front.
Oh, yeah. Did we mention he made his senior international debut for Sweden too?
Yep, no biggie. All Lindblom did was score and create three high-quality chances for his country in a 3-1 win over Russia on Dec. 15. Not bad, kid. Not bad at all.
Goaltender Alex Lyon - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016
Season Stats: 22 GP, 14-6-2, 2.77 GAA, .907 save %, 1 SO
Monthly Stats: 11 GP, 7-3-1, 3.09 GAA, .904 save %
Lyon saw a lot of rubber in December.
With Stolarz up with the Flyers, Lyon was the unchallenged starter for Lehigh Valley. He started 11 games and saw a grand total of 356 shots fired his way.
It may seem worrisome that he allowed 34 goals in 11 games on the surface, but in reality he was very steady and calm in net. It should be interesting to see how Scott Gordon manages his goalie tandem moving forward.
Defenseman Sam Morin - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2013 first-round pick (11th overall)
Season Stats: 31 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 53 PIMS, Minus-5, 48 shots
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 24 PIMS, Minus-5, 16 shots
I'm going to make this very clear: The Phantoms do not need Morin to put up points, so don't panic when you look at his game log and see he's gone 12 straight without a goal or an assist.
Morin is a bruiser. He's going to make his living clearing the slot and throwing his body around in the corners. The thing is, his skating and puck movement is getting better.
That's really just a bonus when you consider his workload. He's a top penalty killer and a reliable shutdown guy at 5-on-5.
Morin has been just fine.
Defenseman Robert Hagg - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2013 second-round pick (41st overall)
Season Stats: 25 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 20 PIMS, Plus-3, 43 shots
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 12 PIMS, Plus-1, 29 shots
Hagg has been fun to track as of late.
Though he may not look like it, he's quite the agitator on the ice. He makes opponents earn their space and he's not afraid to jab his stick in their side to let them know he's there.
Hagg has been a polarizing name the past few years. We gave a full update on him during our Highland Park Hockey Seven Days of Christmas series. You can check that out here.
Defenseman Travis Sanheim - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2014 first-round pick (17th overall)
Season Stats: 31 GP, 4 G, 11 A, 28 PIMS, Plus-6, 59 shots
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 4 G, 2 A, 16 PIMS, Plus-1, 22 shots
The puck is finally starting to find the back of the net for Sanheim.
The first-year pro notched four markers in a five-game stretch in December and has been noticeably more active in all aspects of the game.
What Gordon wants from Sanheim is more physicality. We went into detail about that.
Defenseman Reece Willcox - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2012 fifth-round pick (141st overall)
Season Stats: 25 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 4 PIMS, Plus-10, 22 shots
Monthly Stats: 9 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PIMS, Plus-2, 6 shots
More of the same from Willcox.
The young blueliner plays a relaxed game. He's the perfect fit to play with guys like T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill. He'll hang back and make sure the defensive zone is taken care of.
Unfortunately, the Phantoms have a bit of a logjam at defense with Mark Alt nearing a return. Willcox has already been scratched a few times this season, so he's a candidate to sit yet again.
Forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2014 second-round pick (48th overall)
Season Stats: 30 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 12 PIMS, Plus-6, 29 shots
Monthly Stats: 11 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 4 PIMS, EVEN, 11 shots
This season is all about learning for Aube-Kubel.
Gordon has made sure to not ask too much of the first-year pro. Aube-Kubel has played almost exclusively in a bottom-six role and has been charged with providing reliable two-way play.
Aube-Kubel was another prospect we featured last week. You can read about his development here.
Forward Danick Martel - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2015
Season Stats: 28 GP, 8 G, 12 A, 39 PIMS, Plus-6, 58 shots
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 14 PIMS, Plus-6, 37 shots
Martel has his confidence back.
The diminutive forward snapped a lengthy goal drought right before Christmas, when he posted two tallies and an assist on Dec. 17.
We went into detail about Martel's season right here.
Forward Radel Fazleev - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2014 sixth-round pick (168th overall)
Season Stats: 30 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 14 PIMS, Plus-3, 27 shots
Monthly Stats: 11 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 4 PIMS, Minus-3, 11 shots
Fazleev is another young forward who has had to earn his ice time.
Gordon has used Fazleev on the third and fourth lines and as a key penalty killer. The Russian has been lauded for his sound play in all three zones.
Last month, he even provided a few goals. He scored in back-to-back games on Dec. 10 and Dec. 14.
Forward Jordan Weal - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: Included in the Vinny Lecavalier/Luke Schenn trade with the Los Angeles Kings in 2015-16
Season Stats: 29 GP, 10 G, 21 A, 18 PIMS, Plus-4, 70 shots
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 3 G, 9 A, 8 PIMS, Minus-3, 28 shots
Weal looks out of place at the AHL level.
The 24-year-old is toward the top of the league leaderboards when it comes to points and has stood out in virtually every game he's played this season.
Weal has yet to get a true shot to show what he can do in the NHL but he's biding his time. He talked about that and more in this feature here.
Forward Scott Laughton - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: 2012 first-round pick (20th overall)
Season Stats: 17 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 2 PIMS, Plus-1, 37 shots
Monthly Stats: 9 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 0 PIMS, Minus-2, 22 shots
Laughton was dominating offensively when he was first sent down to the Phantoms.
Lately, it hasn't been about goals or assists for him though. Gordon has brought up on several occasions how well Laughton has played defensively and in the neutral zone.
Sure, the Flyers would probably like to see more than two points in nine games but it's not like he's playing poorly. He's been a big part of Lehigh Valley's success because of his effort being the same on a nightly basis. They know what he can bring. Now he just needs to show he can do that at the next level.
Forward Cole Bardreau - Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Acquired: Signed as free agent in 2015
Season Stats: 27 GP, 5 G, 3 A, 32 PIMS, Plus-2, 28 shots
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 3 G, 0 A, 6 PIMS, Minus-1, 15 shots
Bardreau is a skater who doesn't take many shifts off.
Gordon tends to look Bardreau's way when the team is in need of a spark. Whether it be a big hit or a strong shift, Bardreau almost always delivers.
The points haven't come in bunches but that's fine. Bardreau knows his role isn't to score goals. He's relied on to tire out the opposition and bring energy. That's what he's doing.
Goaltender Merrick Madsen - Harvard Crimson (ECAC)
Acquired: 2013 sixth-round pick (162nd overall)
Season Stats: 12 GP, 9-2-1, 2.16 GAA, .917 save %, 1 SO
Monthly Stats: 3 GP, 3-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .923 save %
Before an extended break for the holidays, Madsen earned back-to-back road victories over St. Lawrence and Clarkson on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, respectively.
When Harvard returned to action, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior looked like he never left the ice, turning aside 30 shots in a 5-1 win over Rensselaer on Dec. 30.
Madsen was a relatively unknown goalie when the Flyers used a sixth-round pick on him but his physical attributes and competitive nature are making him quite successful at the NCAA level. His greatest asset is his ability to use his size to his advantage.
Defenseman Mark Friedman - Bowling Green Falcons
Acquired: 2014 third-round pick (82nd overall)
Season Stats: 22 GP, 5 G, 9 A, 16 PIMS, Plus-3, 47 shots, 26 blocks
Monthly Stats: 7 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 4 PIMS, Minus-1, 15 shots, 6 blocks
Don't be concerned by Friedman's low point total for the month.
The junior defenseman is working on perfecting his two-way game. He plays on the top defensive pair at Bowling Green and is making serious strides in all three zones.
The offense has always been there, as evidenced by his one-time blast from the point for his fifth goal of the season on Dec. 16 against Alaska Fairbanks. He's no slouch in his own end, either. He's really figuring it out.
Forward Cooper Marody - University of Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Acquired: 2015 sixth-round pick (158th overall)
Season Stats: 2 GP, 0 G, 3 A, Plus-2, 0 PIMS, 6 shots, 1 block
Monthly Stats: Same as above
Marody, who was deemed academically ineligible for the first semester this season, had some signs of rust in his season debut on Dec. 29 during the Great Lakes Invitational.
The positive? He needed just one game to shake it off. Marody recorded three assists and was a plus-2 in his second game back on Dec. 30 to help Michigan to a 5-4 overtime win over Michigan State.
Marody has skated with his team all season long, he just wasn't allowed to play in a game until last week. Now that the sophomore has a few tilts under his belt, he'll look to improve on an impressive rookie campaign, in which he tallied 10 goals and 14 assists in 32 games. Michigan plans to use him, too, as he served as the first-line center in both of his appearances thus far.
Forward Pascal Laberge - Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Acquired: 2016 second-round pick (36th overall)
Season Stats: 17 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 19 PIMS, Minus-2, 50 shots
Monthly Stats: 8 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 13 PIMS, Even, 25 shots
Great news on the Laberge front. The tough and spirited two-way center/winger no longer appears to be showing any concussion-like symptoms.
Now healthy, Laberge went on to record seven points in eight games since Dec. 8. He's also fired 25 shots on net during that stretch.
Yeah, he's feeling better. Laberge is always causing havoc when he's on the ice, constantly hunting for turnovers. And that's what he's done. The Flyers have to be thrilled to see him returning to form.
Forward Carsen Twarynski - Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Acquired: 2016 third-round pick (82nd overall)
Season Stats: 34 GP, 9 G, 10 A, 40 PIMS, Minus-10
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 16 PIMS, Minus-4
Twarynski is a well-rounded forward who uses his size and frame intelligently. He doesn't have many attributes that can be considered high-end but he has a tireless work ethic and is as competitive as they come.
Producing consistently has been an issue, however. December was no different.
Twarynski had two goals and two assists in a three-game stretch early last month. Then he went scoreless in two straight. After that? An assist in three consecutive games. Then he went another two contests with his name empty in the box score. Once he masters consistency, he’ll be even more dangerous.
Forward Connor Bunnaman - Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Acquired: 2016 fourth-round pick (109th overall)
Season Stats: 32 GP, 16 G, 10 A, 20 PIMS, Minus-4, 76 shots
Monthly Stats: 7 GP, 4 G, 1 A, 2 PIMS, Minus-2, 15 shots
It was another eventful month for Bunnaman.
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound center, who has been skating on Kitchener's second line, netted a hat trick on just three shots on Dec. 3. A week later, he scored another goal during the Rangers' annual Teddy Bear Toss game. That's two straight years he made it rain stuffed animals.
Then the natural goal scorer fell under the weather and missed a game. It wasn't anything serious, however, and he was able to return on Dec. 30.
Prospects Playing Overseas
Defenseman Linus Hogberg - Vaxjo Lakers HC (SHL)
Acquired: 2016 fifth-round pick (139th overall)
Season Stats: 30 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PIMS, Even, 11 shots
Monthly Stats: 8 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 4 PIMS, Plus-4, 6 shots
Hogberg is really starting to settle in nicely for Vaxjo.
The young Swede has been trusted to play big minutes at even-strength and on the penalty kill. He's more than handled his own, too.
Hogberg even managed to chip in three assists combined on Dec. 8 and Dec. 10. He played a season-high 22:22 on Dec. 3 as well. His stock is rising.
Forward Samuel Dove-McFalls - Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Acquired: 2015 fourth-round pick (98th overall)
Season Stats: 34 GP, 6 G, 21 A, 30 PIMS, Plus-8, 86 shots
Monthly Stats: 10 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 16 PIMS, Plus-3, 21 shots
Dove-McFalls is starting to showcase his versatility.
Though he has spent most of the season as the top-line left winger, Dove McFalls saw time as a second-line center in December. He moved up and down the lineup all month between the positions and was even used on the third-line checking unit on New Year's Eve.
He fared very well, too. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder has two goals and 10 assists in his last eight tilts and registered a season-high four points in an 8-2 drubbing of Charlottetown on Dec. 17.
Forward Wade Allison - Western Michigan University (NCHC)
Acquired: 2016 second-round pick (52nd overall)
Season Stats: 18 GP, 9 G, 6 A, 10 PIMS, Plus-3, 49 shots
Monthly Stats: 6 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 2 PIMS, Plus 1, 14 shots
Allison's freshman tour is going extraordinarily well.
Could the Flyers have a future power forward on their hands? It sure looks like it. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound winger racked up six points in December, including a two-goal, one-assist showing in a 3-1 win at North Dakota on Dec. 10.
Allison currently ranks second on Western Michigan University in goals (9), points (15) and shots (49) and leads his team with five power-play markers.
Forward Anthony Salinitri - Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Acquired: 2016 sixth-round pick (172nd overall)
Season Stats: 35 GP, 16 G, 16 A, 19 PIMS, Minus-9, 113 shots
Monthly Stats: 10 GP, 6 G, 3 A, 2 PIMS, Minus-4, 33 shots
Remember that rough patch Salinitri went through in November? Yeah, it's a thing of the past.
The offensively-gifted forward notched a hat trick of his own on Dec. 17 and was another Flyers prospect to score the much-sought after Teddy Bear Toss goal.
At one point in December, Salinitri potted six goals and three assists in a seven-game stretch. He's still firing a ton of shots on net, too. Expect more results.
Defenseman Terrance Amorosa - Clarkson University
Acquired: 2013 fifth-round pick (132nd overall)
Season Stats: 11 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 10 PIMS, Plus-1, 20 shots, 5 blocks
Monthly Stats: 4 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 2 PIMS, Minus-3, 5 shots, 1 block
Amorosa, a junior, had some struggles in late November that spilled into December.
The offensive-minded defenseman went five straight without a point and had his fair share of lapses in his own end. He did, however, pick up a helper in a horrid 8-2 loss to Northeastern in his final appearance of the month.
Clarkson, as a whole, needs to tighten it up defensively. The Golden Knights have allowed 20 goals in their last four games.
Goaltender Ivan Fedotov - Toros Neftekamsk (VHL)
Acquired: 2015 seventh-round pick (188th overall)
Season Stats: 5 GP, 2.01 GAA, .928 save %
Monthly Stats: 1 GP, 3 goals allowed, 19 saves
Just one start for Fedotov in December.
The 20-year-old Russian stopped 19 of 22 shots fired his way in a 3-2 loss in VHL action on Dec. 3.
Yeah, the last time he played was Dec. 3. That’s it.
Defenseman David Drake - University of Connecticut
Acquired: 2013 seventh-round pick (192nd overall)
Season Stats: 15 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 10 PIMS, Minus-1, 17 shots, 24 blocks
Monthly Stats: 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 6 PIMS, Minus-1, 7 shots, 6 blocks
Drake consistently does things that won't appear on the box score and that's OK.
The junior blueliner has great size and is fairly mobile for a player considered to be a shutdown defender.
Drake, skating mostly on UConn's second pair, continues to log plenty of ice time but still needs to work on his positioning if he wants to fit the mold of a stay-at-home guy. He could stand to be a little more aggressive on the attack, too.
Hard to find many negatives, huh?
That’s because there aren’t many. The Flyers’ prospect pool is in great shape.
The major storyline to follow in January will be how the Phantoms manage their roster. With Leier and Stolarz around, they sure do look like an AHL contender.
As for the rest of the kids, meaningful games are on the horizon. Playoff races are coming, so it should be fun to see which prospects can elevate their play.
And be sure to check back in a few days for our WJC recap. At least one Flyers prospect will take home the gold. That’s already a certainty. Now we wait and see!