Future Flyers Report: Taylor Leier, Jordan Weal earn AHL All-Star honors

Future Flyers Report: Taylor Leier, Jordan Weal earn AHL All-Star honors

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we move on from the world juniors and check-in on some Phantoms, collegiate prospects and another check-up on a 20-year-old force in Sweden.

Taylor Leier, LW, 5-10/176, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
After spending most of December with the big club, Leier was returned to Lehigh Valley last Sunday when the Flyers activated Matt Read from injured reserve. Shortly upon his return, Leier received news he will be one of three Phantoms to participate in the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic, which will be hosted in Lehigh Valley. Leier has a goal in three games since his return to the AHL, registering nine shots and finishing the week as a plus-1. He has 21 points in 25 games this season, scoring at a 0.84 point-per-game pace and sits third among Phantoms in plus/minus at plus-eight.

Jordan Weal, C, 5-10/179, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Joining Leier in Allentown for the All-Star Classic on Jan. 30 is Weal, whom the Flyers acquired last season from Los Angeles in the Vinny Lecavalier trade. The 24-year-old is tied for fifth in the league lead in points with 33 — 11 goals, 22 assists. His 33 points are three points ahead of the Phantoms’ second-leading scorer, defenseman T.J. Brennan, who is the third Phantom to make the All-Star team this year. Last week, Weal had a goal and an assist, and going back before the holiday break, the centerman has three points in his last five games and nine points in his last 10 games.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 6-1/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
While his goaltender, Felix Sandstrom, was away at the world juniors earning Goalie of the Tournament recognition, Lindblom continued to show that he is not mismatched as a 20-year-old playing in the third-best professional league in the world. In Brynäs’ 1-0 win over Färjestad BK on Thursday, Lindblom unleashed a quick wrist shot as he entered the slot via the left faceoff circle to beat Färjestad goalie Stefan Steen for the game’s only goal. Lindblom was credited with just two shots on goal, but the winger created several quality scoring chances for both himself and his linemates. On Saturday, Lindblom was held pointless in 16:45 in a 4-1 loss to Växjö. His goal Thursday briefly gave him the SHL scoring lead at 29 points, but he now trails Broc Little (32 points) in the point race.

Merrick Madsen, G, 6-5/190, Harvard (NCAA)
Much has been written in this space about the Flyers’ future in net, specifically highlighting Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz and Sandstrom, and rightfully so. General manager Ron Hextall made it a priority to make organizational goaltending depth atop his agenda, and we can add Madsen, a junior, to the list of intriguing prospects. The Acton, New Jersey, native is a major reason Harvard sits No. 4 in the country at 11-2-1. Madsen led the Crimson to two more victories last week, with an impressive 34-save showing in a 5-2 Harvard win over No. 15 Quinnipiac on Friday night. QU forward Thomas Aldworth beat Madsen at 10:31 of the first period, on a mini-break, but then Madsen held the fort down until late in the third period. He withheld a 13-save second period, and stopped 12 of 13 shots in the final stanza en route to his 11th win. Both Quinnipiac goals came on the power play, with the second coming with Madsen screened. Madsen’s 2.14 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 14 games ranks second in the ECAC behind St. Lawrence’s Kyle Hayton.

Quick hits
• Ron Hextall provided the latest on the German Rubtsov contract situation Saturday, saying he doesn’t know if Rubtsov’s KHL contract has been terminated.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa sparked a 6-1 Golden Knights victory over Rensselaer on Saturday with a power-play one-timer for his second marker of the year.

Mark Friedman added another goal and an assist in a weekend split against No. 17 Bemidji State. The junior is now third on Bowling Green with 17 points in 24 games.

• The Flyers returned Stolarz to the Phantoms last Tuesday, and he made his first AHL start since Nov. 12 on Friday, a 2-1 loss to Hartford in which he stopped 21 of 23 shots.

• Lyon continues to be a workhorse for the Phantoms, starting both of Lehigh Valley’s weekend games. He pitched a 31-save shutout Saturday against Albany, and followed that up with a terrific performance against Utica on Sunday night, stopping 22 of 23 shots in a 4-1 win, his AHL-leading 16th win.

• Rouyn-Noranda defenseman Philippe Myers will reportedly miss one to two more weeks because of a concussion he suffered during the world juniors.

• Another productive week for Pascal Laberge, who added three more assists to his season total. Laberge now has 10 points in his last 11 games for Victoriaville.

• Two goals and an assist for Samuel Dove-McFalls last week. The Saint John’s centerman has 15 points in his last 12 games for the Sea Dogs.

• Kitchener center Connor Bunnaman has four goals in four games last week, with goals in back-to-back games for the Rangers.

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

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It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

Take a second and guess which Flyer leads the team in plus/minus. Nope, it's not Ivan Provorov or Sean Couturier.

Give up? At plus-14, rookie defenseman Robert Hagg leads the team. And while plus/minus isn't an ideal depiction of a player's success, it's something the rookie takes pride in.

“Well, absolutely. It means I’m more on the ice when we score goals than against, so of course, I’m taking pride in that," Hagg said. "But at the same time, you can’t read too much into that because every game is different."

Every game is different, but Hagg's steady, solid play has largely remained the same across his first 31 NHL games. The 22-year-old is averaging 19:22 ice time a game — sixth most on the team and third among defensemen behind Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. He's also tied for third in the league with 101 hits this season. 

It's easy to forget about Hagg on a team full of young talent. But that's the way he likes it. 

"No, I love to go under the radar," Hagg said. "I don’t like the attention so much. It’s hard to disappear when you’re playing in the NHL, I guess."

On the ice, it's easy to miss Hagg. He doesn't have the flashy moves of Gostisbehere or the puck-moving skills of Provorov. He just goes out there and quietly gets the job done, at both ends of the ice. And for a rookie D-man, going relatively unnoticed at times can be a good thing. It mean's he's not making mistakes. 

While he may go unnoticed by fans, he has certainly stuck out in the mind of Dave Hakstol.

“He doesn’t fly under the radar in our dressing room," Hakstol said. "He’s been a good player and just by nature of some of the injuries and with [Radko Gudas'] suspension — with a couple veterans out of the lineup — he’s logged some minutes that maybe we didn’t predict quite this early, but by necessity, he’s been in these situations and he’s handled them well.

"Those are challenging minutes and assignments for a young defenseman. But Hagger has handled all of those things with pretty good poise. So he’s learning, he’s giving us good minutes and he keeps pushing to improve his game, so those are all positive things.”

With Andrew MacDonald's injury and Gudas' suspension, Hagg has been forced into playing more — and tougher — minutes than Hakstol originally anticipated for the rookie. But the coach has shown in the past — take Provorov's ascension to No. 1 D-man for example — that a player's age or experience will not limit minutes earned on the back end. 

Hagg has been a constant on the Flyers' blue line all season, and it's time to start appreciating his play as he continues to develop into a sturdy, top-four defenseman. 

Mr. 300
Michael Raffl will play in his 300th NHL game tonight and it's a special one for the 29-year-old. 

In 2012-13, Raffl was playing in Sweden when the Flyers took a chance on the Austrian.

Playing in the NHL at all seemed like a farfetched idea to him then, and 299 games later, it still doesn't feel real.

“If you asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it," Raffl said. "It’s part of my life now. I think it’s awesome and I’m very proud of that."

This season — Raffl's fifth — had the appearance that it may have been his last. At least for the first 21 games. Playing mostly on the fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier, Raffl didn't record a single point in that span. 

“I was trying not to change my game too much, to be honest," Raffl said of his early struggles. "I know the points weren’t there the first 20 games and I was struggling offensively, but I thought I played very well. I was trying to help the team win one way or the other. Now it’s clicking and I’ll try to ride the wave. Yeah, it’s more fun like that, for sure."

Over his last 10 games, Raffl has eight points — five goals and three assists — including five points during the Flyers' four-game win streak. It's no coincidence that the two overlap. 

Raffl's resurgence came with Hakstol's decision to break up the team's top line of Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Now on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Voracek, Raffl has looked like the 2014-15 player that scored a career-high 21 goals. 

“It’s been a benefit for us," Hakstol said of Raffl's hot streak. "Raf is a guy that’s scored 20 goals in this league so we know that he can contribute and he can help offensively, and I think he was pretty frustrated early on by not being able to find the back of the net. His continued good play has obviously created different opportunities for him and with the line that he’s with, right now with Fil and Jake, he’s going to get some of those scoring opportunities and in the past couple weeks, he’s made good on them and it’s been a huge boost for our team."

The Flyers take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference Thursday night — the Buffalo Sabres. But with points in their last four games (2-0-2), the Flyers can't afford to take the Sabres lightly. 

“No, we can’t look past anyone and I think where we are at, we gotta bring everything we’ve got," Raffl said. "It’s going to take a lot and I think it’s way harder to play against teams that are down there."

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

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Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson made 27 saves to stop his seven-game losing streak and the Ottawa Senators snapped their five-game skid Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci and Zack Smith scored for the Senators (10-13-7), who returned home from a seven-game road trip and improved to 2-10-2 in their past 14 overall. It was only their second victory in regulation since Nov. 11, which was the last time Anderson had won.

Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers (16-12-3), who dropped to 4-7-0 on the road. Henrik Lundqvist had 27 saves, becoming the 15th goalie in NHL history to reach 20,000 for his career.

Ottawa, which eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, was coming off a 3-2 loss at last-place Buffalo on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Pitlick, Benn lift Stars over Islanders
NEW YORK -- Tyler Pitlick scored twice and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to lead the Dallas Stars to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Alexander Radulov and Remi Elie also scored for the Stars, who won their second straight after a three-game skid. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his 300th career victory, and John Klingberg had two assists.

Anders Lee scored twice for the Islanders, who have lost five of seven (2-4-1), and John Tavares and Josh Bailey each had two assists. Jaroslav Halak, starting for the seventh time in nine games, was pulled near the midpoint of the second period after giving up four goals on 20 shots. Thomas Greiss came on and stopped six of the seven shots he faced (see full recap).