Connor Bunnaman

End to End: Flyers' most under-the-radar prospects

End to End: Flyers' most under-the-radar prospects

This week, Sporting News ranked the farm systems of all 31 NHL teams.

The Flyers, impressively, came in at No. 2, as general manager Ron Hextall has tirelessly restocked the franchise's prospect pool.

In light of the rankings, we'll take a look at some of the Flyers' prospects the next few days.

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: The three most under-the-radar prospects in the system.

Boruk

1. Mikhail Vorobyev
The 21-year-old center and Flyers' fourth-round pick has progressed nicely in the three years since he was drafted. However, he started raising eyebrows during last year's training camp and preseason, and it will be intriguing to see where Vorobyev is at next month. His playmaking ability, vision and awareness are his greatest strengths, and clearly Vorobyev looked as if he had the all-around game necessary to play in the NHL. He needs another season with the Phantoms before we can consider a jump to the NHL. 

2. Connor Bunnaman
There’s not much about Bunnaman’s game that really jumps out and grabs your attention, but he’s the type of player and personality that makes an NHL locker room better. The Flyers' fourth-round selection in 2016 captained the Kitchener Rangers to a deep run in the OHL playoffs before losing to Morgan Frost and Sault Ste. Marie in double overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Bunnaman has the frame to transition to wing coupled with a strong net-front presence. He wasn’t a prolific scorer in four years with Kitchener, so a role as a bottom-six forward could be his ticket to the NHL.

3. Reece Willcox
If you recall last season, there was a stretch of games in November when the Flyers were so decimated by injuries on the blue line they had to call up Will O’Neill from Lehigh Valley just to have six healthy bodies on defense. It was an unusual situation and one you don’t expect to repeat itself, but in a similar event, I can see Willcox earning a potential call-up. He just signed a two-year extension and the right-handed defenseman, 24, now has two full seasons with the Phantoms under his belt after four years at Cornell. If the Flyers are pressed for a last-minute replacement, Willcox is a veteran presence who can handle the responsibilities.

Dougherty

1. Tanner Laczynski
The 2016 sixth-round pick has turned heads at Ohio State and was in the Hobey Baker conversation last season. Perhaps he's not so much "under the radar." He's on it now. That could turn into a problem when trying to sign him, but it appears like Laczynski could be on his way from a late-round pick to a legitimate NHL prospect.

2. Wyatt Kalynuk
Another late-round draft pick with a chance to turn into something. Kalynuk had a breakout campaign at Wisconsin in his freshman season. Given his situation at Wisconsin — the coaching staff, etc. — I think Kalynuk has a very real chance at developing into an NHL defenseman some day.

3. Mark Friedman
I don't think Friedman has a high NHL ceiling. Probably projects as a sixth/seventh defenseman. But I always liked his game, his skating and the fact that he's a righty. Had a pretty strong college career at Bowling Green. Seemed to get it as his first professional campaign progressed. I wouldn't put high expectations on him, but a quality depth defenseman is fair.

Hall

1. Noah Cates
The 19-year-old is a skilled winger with nice size (6-1/180) and some razzle-dazzle to his game. He was taken in the fifth round of the 2017 draft at 165 pounds out of Stillwater High School, so not much was made of the pick. People are starting to know his name, though. He competed in the World Junior Summer Showcase and is headed to the national champs this upcoming season.

2. Maksim Sushko
The Belarusian plays with speed and a pursuit of the puck. His 2017-18 featured a four-goal game with the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, where he put 60 points (31 goals, 29 assists) and a plus-13 rating in 60 regular-season contests. The 2017 fourth-round pick also had a strong World Junior Championships. Other wingers in the Flyers' system have garnered a bit more attention, but keep an eye on Sushko.

3. James De Haas
De Haas did not come to the Flyers' organization with a lot of hype. He was signed by AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley last summer. The 24-year-old is a 6-foot-4 defenseman who had an impressive development camp this summer and drew high praise from Hextall. "He's a big, strong, mature guy out there," the general manager said. "His leadership in some of the days, in some of the activities we had, was off the charts. It's kind of one of the things we look at. The steps he's taken the last 12 months, you go, 'Whoa.'"

More on the Flyers

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

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Photo: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

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.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Greyhounds won their 20th straight game Saturday afternoon and now haven’t lost a game since Oct. 27, and Frost has been at the forefront of Sault Ste. Marie’s winning stream. Frost is averaging two points per game, collecting 40 points during the Greyhounds’ 20-game winning streak. Last week, Frost had eight points in three games.

Frost capped off the week with a two-goal, two-assist effort in Sault Ste. Marie’s 7-1 blowout win over Guelph. He also had a two-goal game Wednesday in the Greyhounds’ 4-1 win over the Flint Firebirds. Frost is now second in the OHL in scoring, with 55 points, second in assists with 36 and leads the OHL with a plus-42 rating. He’s averaging 1.67 points, third in the OHL, and winning 50.1 percent of his faceoffs.

As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor pointed out, Frost is scoring comparable to what Travis Konecny was during his after-drafted season. Konecny spent one more season in the OHL after the Flyers drafted him in 2015 and then made the team in 2016-17. While it’s easy to look at Carter Hart in awe, Frost is the one prospect who’s breaking out.

We knew what Hart was — and what he’s doing in Everett is astonishing. We’ll see Hart plenty next week in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. Frost wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s selection camp this year, but it’s a safe bet he’ll be there next year. We continue to see panic over the Brayden Schenn trade, but that’s misguided. Frost is turning out to be an intriguing prospect, and remember, the Flyers have another first-rounder from St. Louis. Frost is most certainly trending upward. Sound familiar?

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge has played his final game for Victoriaville, as the forward will be traded Monday to the Quebec Remparts, according to La Nouvelle’s Matthew Vachon. After a brief period to start the season, Laberge cooled off considerably and has since been inconsistent. In his final week as a Tigre, Laberge had a three-assist game last Friday night in Victoriaville’s 7-2 win over Shawinigan but was pointless in his two other games.

When evaluating Laberge, it’s hard to root against the versatile forward because of his backstory. The 19-year-old faced adversity throughout his draft year and then dealt with concussions during his first season as Flyers property. He’s a kid you want to succeed, and so far, he hasn’t been able to get back to his draft-year production. He has just six goals and 20 points in 31 games this year. He will get a fresh start with the Remparts.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
We’re starting to see Lindblom come into his own with the Phantoms. The Swedish forward continues to adjust to the North American game, and we’re seeing more consistency from him in the AHL. Last week was no different. Lindblom saw his point streak hit four games before it came to an end Sunday against Bridgeport. Lindblom scored his seventh goal of the season last Wednesday, which capped off a three-goal run in a four-game stretch. Then he picked up an assist on Friday against Charlotte and another Saturday against Syracuse. When we look at the advanced metrics, with many thanks to Broad Street Hockey’s Brad Keffer, you can see Lindblom’s Corsi numbers consistently improving, which is an indicator that he’s becoming more comfortable here.

Carsen Twarynski, LW, 19, 6-2/201, Kelowna (WHL)
We don’t talk a lot about Twarynski, the Flyers’ 2016 third-round pick, but let’s check in on the defenseman-turned-left-winger. Twarynski, who the Rockets acquired last season from the Calgary Hitmen, is producing above a point per game in Kelowna. Twarynski had six points in four games last week. He has 24 goals — seven on the power play — and 39 points in 31 games. What kind of future does Twarynski exactly have? It’s tough to get a read on him because he’s a streaky player. Twarynski projects to be a serviceable AHL player, but whether he’ll be an NHLer is up in the air. His WHL numbers are respectable, but he doesn’t seem to have the consistency to excite.

Quick Hits
• As expected, German Rubtsov made Team Russia for the World Junior Championships. Last week, Rubtsov had a goal in two games for Acadie-Bathurst.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri has a three-game point streak after picking up two goals and an assist in three games last week. Salinitri has 33 points in 35 games this season.

Matthew Strome, of the Hamilton Bulldogs, extended his point streak to five games. Strome has three goals and six points during his streak. He has 17 goals in 32 games.

• Kitchener’s Connor Bunnaman’s point streak reached five games with a goal Friday and an assist Sunday. Bunnaman has seven points during his current point streak.

Samuel Morin returned to action last Tuesday for the Phantoms but sat out Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. He’s been dealing with lower-body injuries.

• Without any official declarations, it appears Mike Vecchione is dealing with some sort of injury with the Phantoms. Vecchione hasn’t played since Dec. 9.

• The offense has picked up for Nicolas Aube-Kubel in his second pro season. He had two goals and two assists in four games last week. He now has 21 points in 30 games.

Future Flyers Report: Is it time for Samuel Morin, Mike Vecchione call-ups?

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USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Is it time for Samuel Morin, Mike Vecchione call-ups?

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.

Samuel Morin, D, 21, 6-7/202, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
After Radko Gudas was slapped with a 10-game suspension Sunday, many pointed to Morin as a call-up option to replace Gudas. Here's why that won't happen.

Morin returned just last week after missing a few weeks with an injury. That's one reason. Another is, Andrew MacDonald is nearing a return from his lower-body injury. He could return as early as Tuesday. Mark Alt has played adequately, and if MacDonald is ready to return, the Flyers would need an extra body, not a regular on the blue line.

The Flyers are not going to have Morin sit in the press box. That much is clear. When MacDonald suffered his injury, the Flyers wanted to call Morin up. They announced it but later found Morin was injured himself. Hence the Alt call-up. Tough luck for Morin.

Many believed Morin showed enough to make the Flyers in the preseason. I was among them. I still would like to see the Flyers have Morin with Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim here. But the Flyers were and are not comfortable with three rookies on defense, and the blue line hasn't been the team's wart.

So Morin will have to stay patient for his opportunity. It will come. Unfortunately, Morin's best route to the NHL this season is a long-term injury to a defenseman already here.

As for what Morin did last week. Morin returned Wednesday and had a rough showing in the Phantoms' 6-2 loss to Belleville. But it wasn't a strong game for any Phantom. On Friday night, Morin had an assist and a fight in Lehigh Valley's 5-2 win over Laval.

Mike Vecchione, C, 24, 5-10/194, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
As the Flyers’ scoring woes outside of their top line continue, the noise for shaking up the roster will continue to get louder and louder, and rightfully so. Many are calling for Danick Martel, who is scoring at a ridiculous clip with the Phantoms. But the more realistic call-up is Vecchione, who had yet another big week as he's banging on the NHL's doorstep.

Vecchione had a pair of two-goal games, including a three-point night, in two games. He accounted for both goals Wednesday in the Phantoms’ 6-2 loss to Belleville and then three points in Friday’s 5-2 win over Laval. After collecting five points in two games last week, Vecchione now leads AHL rookies with 18 points. He ranks second on the Phantoms in goals (6), assists (12), points (18) and points-per-game (1.06).

Now comes the question: Could we see Vecchione in a Flyers uniform soon? It’s a fair question to ask, especially considering the Flyers’ scoring imbalance. I’d like to see Vecchione come up because I think he would be an instant upgrade over Dale Weise, a Ron Hextall signing and a player the Flyers continue to put in a top-nine role.

Vecchione is producing at the AHL level, and he appears physically ready for the NHL too. At some point, the Flyers have to try something. It's still early in the season, but there are enough warning signs that this scoring imbalance could be a problem all year long. Vecchione is an in-house option that could provide an offensive spark to this team.

I doubt we'll see Vecchione get a call-up anytime soon, though. The Flyers are committed to Weise. They have Jori Lehtera and Matt Read in the press box. It doesn't seem like they're open to bringing Vecchione, or anyone else, up yet. That could change soon.

It should.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Bunnaman’s four-game goal streak ended last Tuesday, but it was still a productive week for the Rangers’ captain. Bunnaman recorded three goals and three assists in a four-game week. He had a tally in Kitchener’s 7-5 win Friday over Guelph, scored the game-winner and added an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Barrie and then a goal and an assist Sunday in a 4-1 win over Peterborough.

Bunnaman, in his fourth OHL season, leads the Rangers with 14 goals and ranks second with 20 points. During his current 10-game point binge, Bunnaman has nine goals and 12 points, failing to register a point in just one game.

Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
Salinitri continued to ride an offensive wave last week for the Sting, collecting his first hat trick of the season while his point streak reached four games before ending Sunday.

On Friday night, Salinitri led Sarnia to a 6-3 win over Windsor with his first hat trick of the season and his third of his OHL career. He scored the game’s first goal, broke a 2-2 tie and then scored the game-winner. All three of his goals had an impact. Salinitri had an assist Thursday in Sarnia’s 5-3 loss to Flint. During his four-game point streak, Salinitri had six goals and eight points. He has 23 points in 23 games this season.

Quick Hits
Cooper Marody had two more multi-point games for Michigan. Marody now has eight straight multi-point games, compiling 19 points over that span.

• A big week for Carter Hart, who recorded his 21st career WHL shutout last Wednesday, tying him with Leland Irving for Everett’s franchise record.

Hart’s shutout last week was also his second straight. He then turned in a 31-save performance in a win over Seattle. Then on Sunday, Hart stopped 48 shots in a 2-1 loss to Regina.

Wade Allison had an assist Friday and a two-goals Saturday as No. 15 Western Michigan swept UNO. He has 12 goals and 29 points so far in his sophomore season.

Philippe Myers returned last week after missing four games with a groin injury. Myers had an assist Saturday in the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Laval.

• Hamilton’s Matthew Strome is heating up. Strome had three goals, including a two-goal game, and four points in three games. He currently has a seven-game point streak, recording six goals and 13 points during that span. 

Wyatt Kalynuk had a four-assist weekend, including a three-assist game for No. 6 Wisconsin, who beat No. 17 Michigan, 7-3, Friday and tied Michigan, 4-4, Saturday.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa had an assist Friday and a goal Saturday. Amorosa has four goals and 13 points 14 games into his senior season.