We’re nine days out from the Flyers’ season opener, and when preseason ends, it’s expected that a few mainstays of this report from years past will graduate to the NHL. That’s OK. As the Flyers enter their youth movement, we’ll continue evaluating their first-year players with weekly reports on their progress throughout their rookie seasons.
The CHL opened its regular season last week, and international leagues have been underway since earlier this month. As hockey season returns, let’s dig into the future.
Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Think back to draft night in June, when the Flyers traded Brayden Schenn to the Blues and then used the 27th overall pick on Frost. Not many knew who Frost was, and the projections had the centerman as a second-round pick. Fans reacted as such on social media, without ever seeing Frost play. I didn’t know too much about the player when the Flyers drafted him, but all the reports were positive and I immediately thought of the Travis Sanheim draft. It’s too early to say Frost will rise to that level of prospect, but he showed in development camp the hockey smarts and playmaking ability that drew the Flyers to him.
Frost had an explosive start to the season this weekend, especially Saturday night in the Greyhounds' season opener against Oshawa, a 7-4 loss. He picked up two assists in Sault Ste. Marie's loss, but his first helper was a dandy. Frost found Tim Gettinger open in the faceoff circle across the ice, through multiple defenders with a slap-pass and Gettinger finished with the goal. On Sunday night, Frost followed up with a shorthanded penalty shot for his first tally of the season.
It was exactly the type of start you'd want to see from Frost, who was sort of a riser in his draft class. It's his third season in the OHL, and you want to see a leap offensively from him. He got off to a strong start this weekend.
Felix Sandstrom, G, 20, 6-2/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
One of the Flyers’ top goalie prospects, Sandstrom was expected to miss the start of the season because of a simple laparoscopic procedure, but the procedure was postponed. Sandstrom made his first start Thursday, stopping 29 of 32 shots in Brynäs’ 4-2 loss to HV71. With Oskar Lindblom, German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyev in North America, Sandstrom is the most intriguing international prospect in the Flyers’ system. It’s a safe bet he’ll be the top-selling international flavor of this report this year.
Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Before the Rangers’ first game Friday against Flint, Bunnaman was named the 53rd captain in Kitchener history, replacing Frank Hora, who is with the Phantoms on an AHL contract. Bunnaman joins Mike Richards (2003-05) and Bill Barber (1971-72) as Flyers draft picks who wore the ‘C’ with the Rangers. Paul Evans, who was drafted by the Kings but later played for the Flyers, was the Rangers’ captain in 1973-74. Bunnaman also played in his 200th career OHL game Friday night, recording three shots and no points in a 5-3 Rangers loss. He was highly effective in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over Sarnia on Saturday night with five shots on goal, his first assist and a plus-three rating.
Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
This is an important season for Salinitri if he wants to earn an entry-level contract with the Flyers. This will be the Flyers’ final season of holding Salinitri’s rights before having to decide to either sign him or let him go. They elected not to sign Sam Dove-McFalls this summer, and Salinitri, a 2016 sixth-round pick, is in a similar situation. There’s no guarantee the Flyers sign him, and he was cut early during training camp. With a 50-contract limit, the pressure is on Salinitri to make a major impact this year in Sarnia.
Salinitri’s 2017-18 campaign didn’t get off to a bad start, though. In his first game Friday night, the centerman scored his first goal of the season and also potted a shootout goal in the Sting’s 4-3 win over the Guelph Storm. He did lose 10 of his 13 faceoffs, however. On Saturday night, against Kitchener, Salinitri was a minus-two with two penalty minutes, two shots on goal and no points. He won two of his five faceoffs in the 3-1 loss.
Pascal Laberge, C/RW, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge is another prospect with an important season ahead of him. After dealing with more adversity in 2016-17, this time with concussion issues, Laberge has to put himself back in good standing within the Flyers’ organization. General manager Ron Hextall, while understanding of the situation, made it clear this summer he didn’t like the way Laberge competed at times last season. In training camp, Laberge showed he still has a lot of work to do. Still, the 2016 second-round pick still has plenty time to develop.
I would expect Laberge to have a bounce-back season. In Victoriaville’s season opener Friday night, Laberge was the top-line center. He was held pointless in the Tigres’ 2-1 win over Gatineau, registering three shots and winning 50 percent of his draws. Laberge picked up his first point of the season Sunday night, setting up Maxime Comtois' game-winning goal in the Tigres' 4-3 overtime win over Shawinigan.
• Rubtsov was unavailable for Chicoutimi during the Saguenéens’ opening weekend because of paperwork, according to La Presse. He should play this week.
• Isaac Ratcliffe, a hulking 6-6 winger, netted a shootout goal in Guelph’s 4-3 loss to Sarnia on Friday but didn’t register any points in either of the Storm’s first two games.
• David Kase, a 20-year-old European prospect who’s playing in the SHL this season, had a goal and assist with three shots in Mora IK’s 5-1 win over Rogle on Thursday.
• Olle Lycksell, a 2017 sixth-round pick, has four assists in four games with the Linköping HC J20 team.
• Linus Högberg, a 2016 fifth-round pick, has an assist in three games with Växjö (SHL).
• Valeri Vasiliev has three assists in four games and is averaging over 17 minutes with Severstal (KHL). Vasiliev, 23, was a seventh-round pick in 2012.
• The Russian goalies: Ivan Fedotov has a 1.92 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in four games with Toros Neftekamsk (VHL). Kirill Ustimenko has a 2.00 GAA and .904 save percentage in six games with Dynamo St. Petersburg (MHL).