Flyers

No gutting and wishes fulfilled, Chuck Fletcher has been impressive with Flyers

No gutting and wishes fulfilled, Chuck Fletcher has been impressive with Flyers

With all of Chuck Fletcher's wheeling and dealing over the past six days, two results stand out in particular.

Firstly, the general manager has done what was asked of him. He was brought on board by president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott to make things happen now, not later. Back in late November, early December, both Holmgren and Scott believed the Flyers had all the resources to be further along in their process toward contending for a Stanley Cup.

They wanted action.

In a span of six days before the NHL entry draft has even arrived, Fletcher parted ways with Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald, added experienced veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, and signed Kevin Hayes, a top-six forward entering "the prime of his career," as the GM put it Wednesday.

Secondly, the process suffered no casualties. Fletcher didn't injudiciously disassemble the work done before him. The Flyers didn't lose a prospect from their impressive pool or sacrifice a young foundation piece to get better.

They had 10 picks in the 2019 draft and upwards of $30 million in cap space. It's been more than time to augment what's in place, so Fletcher took his resources and went to work. The Flyers lost three picks (one in 2020) and cap space.

It's how you get better.

"Speaking with the group, that's always been the intention," Fletcher said. "The past few years, the staff has worked hard to acquire as many young assets as possible and rebuild the foundation of the club. At the right time, the idea has always been to more aggressively add veteran pieces. We feel we've done that now."

Down the middle — where the Flyers wanted to be deeper and tougher to play against — the team looks much improved. From first-line center to third-line center, the Flyers boast 26-year-old Sean Couturier fresh off back-to-back 30-goal, 40-assist seasons, 27-year-old Hayes coming off a career-high 55 points split between two teams, and 2017 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, a two-way guy only 20 years old.

On defense, the Flyers now have three righty-shot blueliners to potentially complement a trio of 22-year-old Ivan Provorov, 23-year-old Travis Sanheim and 26-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere. Niskanen is a Stanley Cup champion, Braun has played 84 playoff games and the Flyers are "bullish" on Philippe Myers, a 22-year-old who was rated as a top-50 prospect last season by NHL Network.

"When you combine our signing of [Hayes] with acquiring the two veteran right-shot defensemen that we did in the past week, we just think as a group, we're stronger, we're deeper and we filled a lot of the holes that we identified coming into the summer," Fletcher said.

On paper, it looks good — especially with how it was done.

"As importantly as anything, we've kept all of our prospects," Fletcher said. "Our staff has worked hard the last few years to acquire some top picks, some top kids, and we've been able to keep all of those assets. We're still as deep as any franchise with respect to quality and quantity of prospects, and we certainly anticipate adding to that this weekend.

"We knew we were going to have to give up some assets going forward to acquire some pieces that we felt we needed. We kept our first-round pick, which should be a great asset for our franchise — it's a strong draft and we have the 11th selection, so we anticipate drafting a very good player there. We still have two third-rounders, both of which are early in the round.

"We're a deeper group right now, a more talented group. But we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a new coaching staff coming in and we'll have an opportunity in training camp to put the pieces together and push forward." 

Fletcher will now focus on this weekend's draft and his restricted free agents. It's only June 19, though. Don't rule out some moves ahead.

"Obviously we'll continue to speak with teams and see what opportunities may be out in the trade market," Fletcher said.

On April 18, the GM was adamant about the Flyers' picture.

"It's not like you have to gut this thing," Fletcher said. "We have cap space, we have picks.

"We're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly."

So far, the Flyers look better. It took less than a week and little was gutted.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

zack_hill_philadelphia_flyers_noah_cates.jpg
Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

You can never have enough competition.

There will be plenty of it when training camp rolls around in September as the Flyers have a third-line job opening on the wing.

General manager Chuck Fletcher added a candidate Wednesday by signing forward Chris Stewart to an NHL pro tryout for camp.

Stewart, 31, was a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Avalanche and has played 652 career NHL games between six teams. His best season came as a 22-year-old with the Avalanche in 2009-10, when he scored 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) over 77 games. Last season, he played in the EIHL for the Nottingham Panthers, scoring 13 points (six goals, seven assists) through 23 games.

The 6-foot-2, 242-pound winger has ties to the Flyers' GM. He played parts of three seasons for Fletcher's Wild from 2014 to 2018, putting up 25 goals, 20 assists and a plus-6 rating in 146 games.

The Flyers like their options for the third-line winger vacancy. The names include Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Andy Andreoff and Kurtis Gabriel.

Farabee and Frost have drawn a lot of attention as young first-round draft picks coming off big seasons with Boston University (see story) and the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (see story), respectively. Rubtsov is an underrated option given his size, advanced game and positional versatility. Ratcliffe is a 6-foot-6 winger who scored 50 goals last season with the OHL's Guelph Storm, while Vorobyev saw time with the Flyers in 2018-19.

"It's more than Farabee and Frost," Fletcher said July 1. "I think Rubtsov had a tremendous prospect camp here. Ratcliffe is a quality young player. Vorobyev is a young man that we feel is going to come back next year a little bit stronger.

"There are several players down there that can play games, never mind Andreoff, who's a player that I think will make a very strong push to make our team this season. Kurtis Gabriel is a player that's played games in the NHL the past few seasons. We have a lot of options. That's what training camp is for — it's an opportunity for players to come in and show that they belong. It should be an exciting camp."

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