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.

Flyers prospect Mike Vecchione gives thanks with Union hockey

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Flyers prospect Mike Vecchione gives thanks with Union hockey

As much as the stories pierced his heart, Mike Vecchione wanted to listen.

There he sat in the Schenectady YMCA, next to a war veteran a few days before Thanksgiving. After tours in Iraq, the gentleman had lost so much. His home gone due to foreclosure, his livelihood ripped out from underneath him, with the terror of war still fresh.

There wasn't much to be thankful for, but he had someone in Vecchione that night.

Not an NHL prospect or an NCAA national champion.

But just someone who cared.

"He went over there, back and forth, and next thing you know, he's out of his home and can't afford to pay for the necessities — and it's really sad," Vecchione said. "I feel like I've heard a couple of those stories where guys go over there and come back and kind of lost a lot of their lives. It's difficult to listen to and you can see he was kind of shaken up about the whole thing. He was talking about when he was over there, what he saw and it still kind of haunts him at night.

"I thought that was one of the tougher stories. He was only like in his mid-40s and seemed to be doing really well, and now he's just living day to day, trying to figure out a way to make a living. That was one story that stuck with me and I definitely hope he's doing OK."

This was one of four years, from 2013-17, in which Vecchione helped continue a growing tradition of the men's hockey program at Union College, a private liberal arts school in Schenectady, New York, located in the state's Capital District.

"It's one of the highlights of the year," Union head coach Rick Bennett said. "And you say that, you think highlights of the year, it revolves around hockey, but it's just the opposite."

This Tuesday marked the 13th consecutive year Union hockey has helped serve Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate at the Schenectady branch of the Capital District YMCA, which houses war veterans, men with disabilities, mental illness and chemical addiction.

Vecchione, 24, now a Flyers prospect in his first season with the Phantoms after signing as a college free agent at the end of March, will always remember the people he met.

"Some guys can't handle those stories, other guys can, and I was one of the guys who were listening to them, talking to them," Vecchione said earlier this month in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Afterward, they just kind of say, 'We're very thankful for what you guys do here, to come here and talk to us, serve us and listen to us.' All the little things you don't really think about are biggest things for them, that they're most appreciated."

Rick Bennett and Mike Vecchione (Union College)

What has become a staple of the Union hockey season started before Vecchione's time and prior to Bennett becoming head coach.

It began with the teams of Nate Leaman, who is now in his seventh season at Providence. Bennett, who was an assistant under Leaman and has been Union's head man ever since his predecessor's departure, has pushed the annual event forward.

"First and foremost, we're just trying to help others. We're trying to help our community, and the lessons that we all learn — not just the players, our staff learns from it every time that we do it every year — of how fortunate that we are and how we can help others," Bennett said. "When you do things in your community, to really help others, it's a good feeling. We're fortunate enough to be on the coaching staff here at Union College and our players are lucky to be student athletes at Union College. Some of these people that we're serving actually have come to our hockey games. They actually know some about the program, which is really impressive."

But, as Bennett and Vecchione will tell you, the credit goes to the Schenectady YMCA.

Union hockey is simply happy to lend a hand and add to the night.

"There's really not much that goes into it," Vecchione said. "The YMCA does a great job setting everything up with the food services and that sort of thing."

Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere took part during his three years at Union (2011-14) and is proud of what the community outreach has become.

"It's Schenectady, it's not the biggest place, so it's definitely cool," he said. "A lot of people, even though they don't have the best in the world, they find a way to put a smile on every day.

"It's the holiday season, some people aren't fortunate enough to be with their friends and family and whatnot. For us to be together, spend it with some people that are less fortunate, I think it's awesome. Puts everything in perspective for your life, to realize how lucky you are."

Over time, Union and the Schenectady YMCA formed a special bond with one common goal around Thanksgiving. Lou Magliocca, the executive director of housing for the Capital District YMCA, is a leader in coordinating the event and deeply appreciates the realness of Union hockey. The men's and women's programs are the school's only Division I sports, while the rest compete at the Division III level.

The institution of 2,200 undergraduate students hit the national map in 2014 — Vecchione's freshman year — when the men's hockey team captured its first-ever NCAA championship.

Magliocca, however, was blown away the following season.

"I thought it would be over with when they won the title, I thought I wouldn't see them again, you know? Now they're real big," he said. "Matter of fact, Coach called us and he said, 'Do you know the date of your Thanksgiving?'

"It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing."

Union hockey at Schenectady YMCA (Union Athletics)

To make each year possible, Magliocca said the YMCA receives donations from various businesses within the community to help provide the food.

The dinner is then prepared in the YMCA's kitchen and served from 4-7 p.m., typically on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Day. Magliocca has been with the YMCA for nearly 17 years and fondly looks back on how it started with Union.

"Their athletic programs do some great volunteer work in the community," he said. "They've made it a mainstay that they all give back to something in the community.

"So what the Union hockey team did, we started to put together a Thanksgiving dinner. And what we did during the Thanksgiving dinner is we gave thanks to the guys that live here, they can invite a family member over, they can invite a friend over, that type of thing.

"Of the 188 that live here, we usually serve around 220, 225. Some don't have families, some do."

Magliocca said Union hockey works all three hours in numerous roles. Some are stationed in the back preparing the plates and drinks, while others hustle out the food and provide the dinner conversation.

"All the guys, great attendance, all the guys come, they mingle with homeless veterans here in Schenectady County," Magliocca said. "It's turned out to be a great event, a great partnership between the YMCA and Union College, where it's kind of grown with steam every year.

"It's just been a really good relationship, real good time and a real purposeful event serving the individuals here at our program."

And a person like Vecchione brightened the days of those individuals.

"What Union hockey adds to it, it adds a smile to their face," Magliocca said. "The conversation that they don't normally have."

Union hockey this year at Schenectady YMCA (Ross LaDue, Union Athletics)

It's no surprise such an effort and setting is right up Vecchione's alley.

The Saugus, Massachusetts, native comes from a family of work ethic and respect, values that have shaped him on and off the ice. His father, Joe, is a correctional officer and his mother, Diane, works as a billing assistant for a fence company.

Growing up, Vecchione learned the importance of hard work — nothing being given to you.

During his college summers, instead of focusing only on hockey — a sport that has earned him all sorts of accolades and now a professional career — Vecchione worked manual-labor type of jobs, from construction to building fences, to landscaping and roofing.

His daily routine consisted of waking up at 7:30 a.m., working out for two hours, skating for another two, before heading off to the day's job from 2-6 p.m.

Then doing it all over again.

"I did all those blue-collar jobs while I was home for the summer," Vecchione said. "It was something that's been instilled in my family — you've got to work to make a living. So I had to find a way to make some money and have a job. It definitely taught me some good lessons."

The drive and grind turned the 5-foot-10 Vecchione into a four-year college standout at Union, where he put up a program record 176 points, won the national championship in 2014 and was named a 2017 Hobey Baker Award (top college player) finalist.

The accomplishments weren't a product of pure talent.

"Family sacrifices growing up are a huge part of it," Bennett said. "It always starts at home; as we say, it starts at the kitchen table.

"[His parents] did it the right way."

The right way is a major reason why Vecchione took Thanksgiving at the YMCA to heart.

"Talking to some of the people, and there were some of them that sounded like they didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving because they couldn't afford it or they were alone on Thanksgiving," Vecchione said. "It's kind of a time to be around friends and family, whoever, but in this case, we were their family. Stand and kneel with them, hanging out, having some laughs, telling stories.

"You wouldn't think they would care too much about those little things that we take for granted, but at the same time, it can be a lonely world, a tough world, and these people have to go through with it every day. And we don't even think about those things. For us just to be there, have fun, listen to them and just kind of share this holiday, it was something they really appreciated and we didn't even think it was a big deal. It was very rewarding and I definitely always love to do that for those people."

Mike Vecchione (Union Athletics)

It was more than about simply showing up.

As a team captain his junior and senior years, Vecchione, humble and unassuming, wanted things done right when representing Union at the YMCA.

Just like it was for the war veterans, this meant something to Vecchione.

"They absolutely love it," Vecchione said. "The people that we serve are very generous and just very thankful that we go out there and support them and help them."

Bennett knew his team was in good hands with Vecchione. In this instance, the coach was not there to bark orders. He was there to listen to his leader.

"He was a two-year captain here, so let's just say we never had an issue at the YMCA with our team when Mike was running the show," Bennett said. 

"I'm usually with our staff in the back with a couple players getting the plates ready. I think that's where Mike said that I belong, so I was just following his orders.

"He said, 'You know what Rick, you just get the back, keep it quiet and just make sure the food is out here so I can serve it.'"

Vecchione deflected the attention away from the importance of his role.

"My job really was to make sure everybody's there, dressed appropriately and we're on time. And just delegate jobs to guys, need people to refill the water and the juice, guys in the kitchen, putting things together, servers, that sort of thing. We have the easy part," Vecchione said. "For me, I just delegated jobs, figure out what guys like to do. Some guys are more comfortable in the kitchen, where other guys are more social and can listen to those stories. So you kind of get a feel for what guys are willing to do and give them the job that best suits them."

Vecchione knew he wanted to listen.

"Just give them an ear to lean on," he said. "I definitely don't forget about those people when Thanksgiving comes around."

They were thankful for Vecchione.

But a guy like him was thankful for the opportunity.

Best of NHL: Nick Bjugstad stars in Panthers' shootout win over Maple Leafs

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Best of NHL: Nick Bjugstad stars in Panthers' shootout win over Maple Leafs

SUNRISE, Fla. — Nick Bjugstad scored Florida's only goal in regulation and the game-winning goal in a shootout as the Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Bjugstad skated in and held the puck until Toronto goalie Frederick Andersen was sprawled out, then moved to his right and flipped in his goal during the fourth round of the shootout.

The Panthers won the tiebreaker 2-1 after Aleksander Barkov scored for Florida, and Patrick Marleau was successful for Toronto.

Vincent Trocheck and Henrik Haapala had assists for the Panthers (8-11-2).

Nazem Kadri netted a goal for Toronto (14-8-1), assisted by Connor Brown and Marleau (see full recap).

Forsberg, Turris lead Predators past Habs in SO
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Filip Forsberg scored a pair of power-play goals and Kyle Turris had the only goal in a shootout to lead the Nashville Predators to a 3-2 victory over the struggling Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.

Pekka Rinne made 27 saves in regulation and overtime, then denied all three Montreal shootout attempts as Nashville won for the eighth time in nine games.

Jordie Benn and Joe Morrow scored for the Canadiens, who have lost their last five. Morrow's goal evened the score with less than a minute left in the third period.

In the tiebreaker, Turris beat Antti Niemi with a wrist shot between the pads (see full recap)

Anderson's goal in OT gives Blue Jackets win
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After missing training camp because of a contract dispute, Josh Anderson has performed at a consistently high level for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Anderson scored two minutes into overtime to give Columbus its fifth straight win, 1-0 over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky had 22 saves for Columbus in his third shutout this season and 22nd of his career. Mike Smith turned away 40 shots for Calgary.

It was the first time this season that either team ended regulation scoreless (see full recap)

Point scores in overtime as Lightning beat Blackhawks
TAMPA, Fla. — Falling behind Chicago and staging a comeback has become the norm for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Brayden Point scored a power-play goal 3:25 into overtime, and the Lightning rallied again to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Wednesday night.

Point took a pass from Steven Stamkos while positioned near the post and put the winner past Corey Crawford and complete a three-goal rally.

"To be down 2-0 to a team as good as Chicago, it was a great bounce-back performance," Stamkos said.

Chicago was short-handed after Nick Schmaltz was sent off for slashing at 3:10 (see full recap)