End to End: Which Flyers prospect has most to lose in 2017-18?

End to End: Which Flyers prospect has most to lose in 2017-18?

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 reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Which Flyers prospect has the most to lose in 2017-18?

When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall started preaching patience with the organization’s prospects, the poster boy for that process was Sam Morin.

When Morin was drafted by then-general manager Paul Holmgren, the Flyers liked the defenseman's composition, his toughness and his athleticism, but knew he would require some significant grooming before his time arrived.

Four years later, that time appears to be now. Morin logged 246 games (including playoffs) in four seasons in the Q for the Rimouski Oceanic and another 155 games in two seasons at the AHL level for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. That’s a considerable amount of seasoning for the 11th overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft. The 10 previous picks in that draft all have at least 100 games played … at the NHL level. Once again, the maturation process is different for every player and Morin is well aware. Following his NHL debut in April, Morin, who’s usually brutally honest in his assessments, told reporters he needs to be “more mature physically.” 

Even as Morin enters training camp with a spike in expectations, there is also an injury history to be a little concerned about — a freakish jaw fracture in 2014, hip and abdominal surgery in 2016 and he’s coming off surgery on both wrists this summer. The latter injury is worth monitoring during training camp and the preseason. Regardless, that’s the medical dossier of a player who’s been in the NHL for five to six years.

By no means is this a make-or-break season for Morin, but it feels more like a make-it-happen type of year as the Flyers have a stable of young defensemen who are also closing in on the organizational depth chart. Robert Hagg, a 2013 second-round pick, made significant progress last season with the Phantoms and also gave a solid effort in his Flyers debut. There were moments last season when Hagg was Lehigh Valley’s most consistent defenseman, and consistency goes a long way toward NHL stability. Travis Sanheim took a big leap in his first full pro season and his all-around, two-way game is better than any defenseman the Flyers have in their system, and Phil Myers is on the cusp of NHL readiness.  

First-round picks, and certainly those selected in the top 20, come with an expectation that they will have some sort of impact at the NHL level. Morin’s window of opportunity may not ever be as wide open as it is now. 

It certainly wasn’t a banner first professional season for Nicolas Aube-Kubel last year in Lehigh Valley, and this season will be an important one for the 2014 second-round pick.

Aube-Kubel tallied just nine goals and 18 points in 71 games for the Phantoms in 2016-17. The offensive production we saw from Aube-Kubel in junior did not immediately translate to the pro ranks, which isn’t exactly out of the ordinary. In junior, Aube-Kubel said in July, scoring always came naturally. That doesn’t happen in the pros.

During development camp, Aube-Kubel said his main focus in his first season at Lehigh Valley was paying attention to detail and fulfilling the role Phantoms coach Scott Gordon asked of him. It could explain the low point totals. Now settled in, Aube-Kubel’s focus will be adding the scoring element he enjoyed in the QMJHL to his arsenal in the AHL.

He better.

Things have changed since the Flyers drafted him in 2014. The Flyers’ system is deeper at all levels. It has more skill at every level. There’s more competition at every level. Where does Aube-Kubel fit into the puzzle? It’s hard to tell.

But with the prospect pool overflowing, Aube-Kubel could find himself on the sidelines if he doesn’t make a sizable jump in his second season with the Phantoms.

There is a lot on the line this season for Aube-Kubel. It’s a storyline at the AHL level to keep an eye on. It could be a make-or-break campaign for the 21-year-old.

Scott Laughton is still a prospect.

Yes, he had a full NHL season in 2015-16, but he turned 23 years old this past May and is from the same draft class as Anthony Stolarz. Laughton very much remains in the Flyers' youthful equation.

Hextall wasn't about to give up on a 2012 first-round pick this offseason. If anything, Laughton is still an asset for the organization as it moves forward. The restricted free agent was protected in the June expansion draft and then re-signed in July for two years.

Opportunity and time are waning, though.

Following 71 games with the Flyers in 2015-16, Laughton played just two in 2016-17. And now his competition is building in numbers. Last season, he wasn't up against Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Mike Vecchione.

At this point, Laughton is just fighting for a roster spot. So while he has essentially bought himself two more years, if he doesn't carve out a role or take strides this season, imagine how buried he could be when the Flyers' forward depth becomes even deeper in 2018-19? Valtteri Filppula and Matt Read are set to be unrestricted free agents that offseason, but that's it. Take into account more prospects and potential free-agent additions, and Laughton's future in Philadelphia would become awfully precarious.

He's an invested player. He works hard and his time hasn't run out … yet.

With as desperately as the Flyers are yearning for scoring, and especially so from the wing, the consensus of many is that 21-year-old Swede Oskar Lindblom is a virtual lock to make the Flyers out of training camp and don an orange and black sweater come opening night at Shark Tank in San Jose.

With the way Lindblom tallied 39 times and added 49 assists in his age 18, 19 and 20 seasons against men in the SHL the last three seasons, the odds are in his favor to be a Flyer come October. Recognize his spike last season in Sweden with 22 goals, and the odds jump even higher that Lindblom breaks camp with the big club.

The key words above, though, are "virtual lock."

Despite the hype and expectations, nothing regarding Lindblom's status is etched into some sort of stone tablet Hextall is holding in his hands as he watches his team from his perch above during camp and the preseason slate.

The talented, young winger still needs to come into camp and have a good showing to earn his spot.

The Hextall way of prospect development is to let a kid get as much seasoning as needed at the AHL level rather than pushing him immediately in the NHL. That's just the way he thinks and operates. Always has been, probably always will be.

That's not to say a kid can't come in and change his mind. There are exceptions. See: Provorov, Ivan.

But if Lindblom, the Flyers' fifth-round pick in 2014, comes in and has a poor showing, that could hurt his standing within the organization and Hextall could be more apt to take on a veteran, say, for example, Colin McDonald, rather than a rookie with limited North American experience (eight games and two goals with the Phantoms at the end of 2015-16) who just struggled during training camp.

If Lindblom underwhelms and flames out during camp, it could hurt both his confidence and the confidence Hextall has in him. And Lindblom would have to do plenty of work in Lehigh Valley to earn that trust.

At the end of the day, count the guy writing this among those who firmly believe Lindblom will make the Flyers out of camp.

But that doesn't change the fact there is still a heck of a lot at stake for Lindblom in the coming weeks.

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Replacing Wayne Simmonds on the power play may be one of the toughest assignments in the NHL.

After all, the guy is second to only Alex Ovechkin with 85 man-advantage goals since the 2011-12 season.

So when the predicament actually faced Dave Hakstol this week, the Flyers' head coach turned to … a 19-year-old rookie.

Why Nolan Patrick?

Three components of the decision stand out:

Intelligence factor
Leading up the NHL draft, the overwhelming strength of Patrick's scouting report was his hockey sense.

Those close to him, as well as draft experts, lauded Patrick for comprehending plays before they even happen and being above the ice in understanding spacing.

Those characteristics are crucial when having an extra man.

Patrick has two goals over two games filling in for the injured Simmonds on the Flyers' top power-play unit. Patrick exhibited his IQ with Thursday's game-winner, where he quickly planted himself right in front of the net, had the presence of mind to find the puck and then bury it past Sergei Bobrovsky.

"We told him, just stand in front, if you see a puck, bring it home," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We tried to simplify it for him and he's going to take care of it himself, he's a great hockey player. It's paying off for him."

All about the touch
Patrick has excellent hands.

Put him around the net, and he'll know how to deflect pucks and find holes in a goalie. His vision, skill and finesse are why he's regarded as such an all-around playmaker.

In Tuesday's win, Patrick found immediate success with the first power-play group. Making his way to the middle, Patrick took a Claude Giroux pass and showed off that touch, adeptly going top shelf as Carey Price went low.

Studying Simmonds' net-front proficiency hasn't hurt, either.

"I watch him every game, he's unbelievable there and good at tipping pucks and making plays," Patrick said. "You learn from just watching every day."

Building up the kid
With time, Hakstol and the Flyers have allowed for Patrick to become comfortable instead of putting the world on his shoulders from the get-go.

That's part of Patrick's makeup.

"He almost always wants to be comfortable and then he really starts to exert himself," Patrick's uncle, James, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last June

We're starting to see Patrick let loose.

As the Flyers have gradually upped his opportunity and responsibility, Patrick has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 12 games after putting up six (two goals, four assists) over his previous 34.

Placing Patrick among the team's best talent on the man advantage will only help with his confidence moving forward, in all situations.

The Flyers' power play entered Friday with the NHL's sixth-best percentage at 21.6.

It'll need more of Patrick — but the Flyers couldn't have asked for a much better start to life without Simmonds over the next two to three weeks.

Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

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Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each had two goals and an assist and the Pittsburgh Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Friday night for their season-best sixth straight victory.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, Sidney Crosby scored a late goal and Olli Maatta also scored. The Penguins took control with three goals -- two by Kessel -- in a 7:39 span in the second period.

Matt Murray made 27 saves for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 13 to overtake idle Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Since the Penguins were shut out by Carolina on Jan. 4, they are 16-3-1.

They were just as busy off the ice, completing a mid-game trade in which they picked up center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators. As part of the complicated three-team deal, they sent defenseman Ian Cole to Ottawa and forward Ryan Reaves to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teuvo Teravainen scored and Cam Ward stopped 33 shots for the short-handed Hurricanes, who have gone 0-3-1 during a four-game slide that's keeping them outside the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Wild dominate skidding Rangers for New York sweep
NEW YORK -- Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal each scored twice and Devan Dubnyk made 22 saves in the Minnesota Wild's 4-1 victory over the free-falling New York Rangers on Friday night.

The Wild completed a three-game sweep of New York-area teams after beating the Monday night and New Jersey on Thursday night.

The Rangers lost for the sixth straight time in regulation. New York is 6-17-0 since beating Buffalo in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (see full recap).

Blackhawks’ Berube dominant in 1st Chicago start
CHICAGO -- Jean-Francois Berube made 42 saves in his first start for Chicago to help the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Friday night.

Defenseman Jan Rutta, activated from injured reserve Friday, and Nick Schmaltz scored, and Artem Anisimov added an empty-netter with 30.5 seconds left.

Anthony Duclair had two assists for the Blackhawks. They won their second straight and third in four games following an eight-game losing streak that dropped them to last place in the Central Division.

Berube lost a bid for this first NHL shutout when Timo Meier scored his 15th goal on a screened shot with 7:51 left in the third period.

Martin Jones stopped 33 shots for the Sharks, coming off a 7-1 loss at Nashville on Thursday night (see full recap).