Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Which Flyers prospect has the most to gain in 2017-18?
When I think about the prospect within the organization who has the most to gain, I take it from a bell curve approach where the line was skimming the bottom when he first arrived and has only been trending upward during that time. The one player that instantly comes to mind is goaltender Alex Lyon.
If you had to compose the perfect goaltender, you might take the athleticism of Jonathan Quick, the glove hand of Pekka Rinne with the puck-handling skills of an old Martin Brodeur. However, the Yale-educated Lyon may be the most cerebral-thinking goaltender on any team at any level. Spending 15 minutes with him back in April, Lyon provided more insight into his first season with the Phantoms than most goalies can provide in a season’s worth of quotes.
Combine that strong mental presence along with steady positional play and sound technique on the ice, and Lyon has the opportunity to swing that curve even higher. He exceeded expectations finishing with a 2.74 GAA and a .912 save percentage in 47 games while adjusting to the workload, conditioning and level of competition coming straight out of college.
Helping Lyon’s cause is the team’s two-year transitional period at the goaltending position with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth serving as the stopgap tandem until the front office feels one of the prospects is ready to assume the No. 1 role. There will also be competition for the Phantoms' starting role with Lyon (undisclosed leg injury) and Anthony Stolarz (tore MCL in his right knee) working their way back from injuries.
Just in the past five years we’ve seen Cal Heeter, Rob Zepp and Eric Semborski (well, almost) make their NHL debuts, so it’s not outside the realm to think Lyon could get his shot if the Flyers are hampered with injuries and inconsistency. While few people may have the 24-year-old on the Flyers' radar, it was general manager Ron Hextall who recently reminded us, “Don’t forget about Alex Lyon.”
It’s hard to look at Pascal Laberge and not want to root for the 19-year-old. Stories like Laberge's are one of my favorite things about sports. It reminds us athletes are people too. Laberge endured another season mired with adversity in 2016-17 but this time on the ice.
Laberge was the victim of a vicious, dirty hit to the head last October and suffered a pretty serious concussion that he said this summer forced him to sleep all day for the first month. The concussion forced him out of the lineup for over a month before returning for two games. Then the symptoms returned and he had to miss three more games.
During development camp in July, Laberge admitted he had confidence issues when he did return. He said he was shy to go to the boards and caught himself looking over his shoulder too much. Laberge finished the 2016-17 season in Victoriaville with 32 points in 46 games. Hextall said he didn’t like what Laberge went through last season, either, but he also didn’t like, at times, the level the Flyers’ 2016 second-round pick was playing to.
I view Laberge as a prospect that has been lost in the shuffle after his underwhelming campaign last year and I expect him to have a bounce-back season this season in Victoriaville. With added motivation, Laberge has an opportunity to prove himself again to the Flyers. That said, he is also a candidate to have the most to lose in 2017-18 too. If he has another down season, the Flyers could sour on him. But I don’t think that will be the case.
Laberge was a fringe first-round prospect in his draft year and fell to the second round. He has the playmaking and skills to be a pretty solid NHL prospect, but he’s dealt with some adversity. I believe we’ll see the Laberge who scored 68 points in 56 games during his draft year than the one we saw last season. He has both a lot to gain and lose this season.
But his story is one that you want to root for and you want to pay attention to. I certainly will be.
Some may see Morgan Frost and think baby-faced teenager, 5-foot-11, 172 pounds.
Frost might be a lot closer to the NHL than it looks.
First-round picks can rise quickly, while this man's league is becoming more and more predicated on speed, skill and smarts. Just look at Travis Konecny. He was 18 years old and 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, when drafted 24th overall in 2015. In his draft year, he put up 68 points over 60 OHL games. One prolific junior season later, Konecny was in a Flyers sweater on 2016-17 opening night.
Frost was drafted 27th overall this summer after turning 18 years old in May. The center is coming off a 62-point OHL campaign in 67 games. Every player's development is different, but there are similarities here to forecast the potential climb for Frost.
Playing with Bruins 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn, Frost racked up 42 assists in 2016-17 to take a big leap in his second junior season. In 2017-18, Senyshyn will be in the AHL or NHL. It'll be interesting to see how Frost's role changes in Year 3 with Soo, but more growth and another sizeable jump in production could have him in the Flyers' picture come 2018-19.
Let's face it — I'm not breaking any news here when I say the Flyers need scoring, and specifically from the wing, where only Wayne Simmonds has produced and shoveled pucks into the net consistently and been a true known commodity who hasn't lost goal-scoring touch for games or weeks at a time for the last several seasons.
Don't stop the presses now with that info.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel has proven in the past in junior that he can score from the wing. In four seasons with Val-d'Or of the QMJHL, Aube-Kubel put frozen rubber to twine 108 times all while becoming the Flyers' second-round pick in 2014.
Last season was his first full pro campaign, and, well, let's just say things didn't necessarily go as he planned, as he tallied just nine times in 71 contests with the Phantoms. There were clearly adjustments that needed to be made to the size and skill of the AHL level, and, in many ways, expectations were tempered.
Now, there's no real push or expectation for Aube-Kubel, a natural right winger, to make the Flyers out of camp. The eyes of Flyers fans will be on the Oskar Lindbloms and the Nolan Patricks of the world when it comes to the club's forwards.
And that could be a good thing for Aube-Kubel. He can come into camp without any pressure, just play his game and leave an impression that will stick on Hextall, Dave Hakstol and crew.
He's playing with house money. What exactly does he have to lose? Not much. What exactly does he have to gain with the orange and black poker chips he'll be playing with? A whole heck of a lot.
For Aube-Kubel, it isn't just about the here and right now at this very moment. His chances of making the club out of camp are quite slim. But it's about leaving that impression and keeping his name and skills fresh in the minds of those who matter.
Despite what happened last season, the kid can still score. That skill doesn't just evaporate in a talented 21-year-old. It was a year of development and learning the pro game. Now it's up to him to show what he learned.
If he leaves a mark by blistering pucks into the net during camp and the preseason along the same lines he did in his days with Val-d'Or, and then continues that production during the early part of the season with Lehigh Valley, Aube-Kubel could very well be among the first call-ups on Hextall's checklist.
That's a big skate blade stride he'll have the chance to take starting in September.