Flyers

Have Flyers found late-round gem they covet in Wyatt Kalynuk?

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Christina Daly/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Have Flyers found late-round gem they covet in Wyatt Kalynuk?

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall talks about it all the time leading up to the NHL draft.

While everyone focuses on the first round, Hextall places equal emphasis on the mid-to-late rounds. Draft picks are lottery tickets and the later they are, the odds of hitting are longer.

Just before last month’s draft, Hextall again stressed how “friggin’ important” seventh-round draft picks are in constructing hockey teams, and then one turned heads at development camp.

“Wyatt Kalynuk, you guys probably don’t know much about him,” Hextall said. “He’s a smooth-skating defenseman at Wisconsin. He’s a late-round pick and he’s taken a step. You watch the way he skates, the way he reads the game, the way he passes, [it’s impressive].”

Kalynuk was the 196th overall pick in the 2017 draft or the 10th selection of the seventh round. He went to the University of Wisconsin but took an unorthodox path to the NCAA.

Born in Virden, Manitoba, Kalynuk didn’t take the road more often traveled by Canadian hockey players. Instead of playing in the CHL, Kalynuk opted for the USHL and eventually, college.

“When I was 16, I had the option to go to the Western Hockey League,” Kalynuk said recently. “But at that time, I was too small. I knew I needed more time to develop, so I played a year of junior hockey at 16 in Manitoba and then I moved down to the UHSL when I was 17.

“The whole idea was to give myself more time to develop. For me, I developed a little later than some guys. I didn’t really need to prove myself, I just had an opportunity to play a big role.”

During his freshman season at Wisconsin, Kalynuk went from a seventh-round pick to an intriguing prospect worth paying attention to as he progresses through Division I hockey.

Kalynuk played all 37 games for the Badgers and led the team with 22 assists. He became the first Wisconsin blueliner to score 25 or more points in their first season since Ulvis Katlaps posted 35 points in 1992-93. His 25 points were fourth on the Badgers and second among freshmen defensemen in the Big Ten. He was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and shared the Mark Johnson Rookie of the Year award with Wisconsin forward Linus Weissbach.

The Badgers finished sixth in the Big Ten during the 2017-18 season and lost to the University of Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. But Kalynuk was certainly a bright spot.

“I thought I had a decent year,” Kalynuk said. “I think coming in, I had pretty high expectations for myself. I knew bad things were going to happen, but when they did, I just tried to brush them off and keep moving forward. … I just tried to take it all in stride.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I wouldn’t say I was expecting to do that well either. I just tried to do my best. I got a good opportunity when I got there and did my best to take advantage.”

What drew Kalynuk to Wisconsin over other programs was equal part coaching staff and opportunity to play, but the lefty defenseman did suggest the Badgers’ history was a factor too.

With Tony Granato as the head coach — Granato coached Team USA during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics — and Mark Osiecki as the defensive coach, Kalynuk wasn’t as drawn to the Badgers’ style of play than he was the program’s ability to churn out NHL players.

“Mark Osiecki is the defensive coach there, he’s sent a lot of guys to the NHL,” Kalynuk said. “He’s really good at what he does. Him along with Tony Granato … if you look around college hockey, you can’t get much better than that. They’re pretty good coaches, to say the least.”

Osiecki served as an assistant coach at Wisconsin from 2004 through 2010 before he got his first college head coaching gig at Ohio State. He returned the Badgers’ staff in 2016.

Throughout his first stint coaching at his alma mater, Osiecki built his reputation of developing defensemen. On the 2010 national title team alone, the Badgers had Ryan McDonagh, Justin Schultz, Jake Gardiner, Brendan Smith, Cody Goloubef and John Ramage. Other NHLers to play for Osiecki at Wisconsin include Tom Gilbert, Davis Drewiske and Jamie McBain.

“He takes the time,” Kalynuk said of Osiecki. “We go out early almost every practice 20 minutes before everyone else. He just loves doing it. He focuses on a lot of little details that maybe other coaches wouldn’t, so I think he just loves it. That’s probably why he’s so good at it. I’ve never played for a coach who loves coaching as much as he does.”

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

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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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