Flyers End to End

End to End: Flyers prospects with most to prove in 2018-19

End to End: Flyers prospects with most to prove in 2018-19

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 prospects with most to prove in 2018-19.

Boruk

1. Nicolas Aube-Kubel 
Phantoms veteran forward Chris Conner was raving to me about how talented Aube-Kubel is and his ability to make plays. Depending on the night, those skills are clearly on display. He possesses a goal scorer’s mentality, strong skating and physically he has matured in two seasons in Lehigh Valley. However, Aube-Kubel struggles with consistency and in the AHL playoffs he was hardly noticeable, failing to register a single point in 10 games. It’s time for the Flyers' 2014 second-round selection to dial up his game this season while giving the coaches a long, hard look during training camp.

2. Tyrell Goulbourne 
Goulbourne still qualifies as a prospect after that nine-game audition in January last season. If you include his brief stint with the Reading Royals in the ECHL, Goulbourne has over 200 games of minor-league experience, so the time to take the next step is now. Goulbourne is one of those spark plug-type players that can infuse some energy when he’s on the ice. We saw that when he took his first shift in his first game against the St. Louis Blues as he leveled defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, which led to the game’s first goal. The Flyers need more of that this season from the 24-year-old forward, who plays a physical yet responsible game. 

3. Carter Hart
Hart made it clear when we talked in the PPL Center press box during the AHL playoffs that his goal is to make the Flyers this season — as a 20-year-old rookie. Lofty expectations for the top goaltender selected in the 2016 draft, but he’s set the bar high as he approaches his first year of professional hockey and has cited Carey Price as a career path he’d like to follow. So entering his first training camp with the Flyers, Hart has something to prove even if he doesn’t make the big club to start the season, and after talking to him recently, I think he’d appreciate being on this list.   

Dougherty

1. Pascal Laberge
There have been some speed bumps along the way in his young hockey career and for that, he deserves a pass. But it's safe to say this is an extremely important season for Laberge. He started to put together some consistency last season when he was traded to Quebec. Now he'll be with the Phantoms full-time. He has a chip on his shoulder and he needs to use it.

2. Philippe Myers
For Myers, it's not so much on the ice; it's more about whether he can stay on it. Myers is a top-level prospect with a bright future … as long as he can stay healthy. For me, that's the only thing preventing Myers from receiving serious NHL consideration now.

3. German Rubtsov
It seems as if many outside the Flyers' organization have soured on the former first-round pick, but Hextall appears high on Rubtsov. Rubtsov needs to show more aggressiveness in the offensive zone as he heads to the AHL. He's a smart player but a little too conservative offensively. He needs to prove he has another level in the O-zone.

Hall

1. Felix Sandstrom
The Flyers are loaded with goalie prospects and Sandstrom is coming off a difficult 2017-18 season plagued by an illness. Hextall and the Flyers are still high on the 2015 third-round pick, but this SHL season will be important for the Swede to show his ability again.

2. Mike Vecchione
Vecchione is a hard-working, well-polished forward who had a productive first season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, scoring 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 65 regular-season games. Some seem to overlook Vecchione when it comes to the Flyers' third-line center job. He'll have a chance to change that.

3. Isaac Ratcliffe
Ratcliffe is a 6-foot-6 winger with skill and touch, unique for a player his size. He scored 41 goals for the OHL's Guelph Storm in 2017-18. The 19-year-old's name is gaining buzz and Ratcliffe is eager to prove his strength can hold up against NHLers. He's set for another junior season but could be a quick riser to the Flyers.

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End to End: Grading Ron Hextall's offseason for Flyers

End to End: Grading Ron Hextall's offseason for Flyers

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

The topic: Grading general manager Ron Hextall's offseason.

Boruk
A week after free agency, Rogers Sportsnet in Canada ranked all 30 teams for most improved during the offseason. 

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the no-brainer No. 1 by virtue of signing the top-rated free agent on the market in center John Tavares. However, there were a number of surprises. 

I was stunned to see the Washington Capitals ranked third on that list after losing their head coach Barry Trotz and basically retaining what they already had with defenseman John Carlson and forward Devante Smith-Pelley.

Somehow, the Flyers checked in at 19th on Sportsnet’s list. How does a team that signed one of two available 30-goal scorers not crack the top 50 percent?

When evaluating a team’s offseason, there’s a simple two-fold criteria — who did the organization add and who did it lose, and is the franchise better off moving forward? In the signing of James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers clearly improved by adding a power forward at a very reasonable contract (five years, $35 million). 

Additionally, the Flyers didn’t lose an indispensable player that can’t be replaced internally. Valtteri Filppula joined the Islanders and Brandon Manning is now part of the Blackhawks' organization.

Hextall locked up his restricted free agents and the Flyers can go into training camp with a 23-man roster and $10 million in cap space that will be needed as Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds are all looming free agents.

The JVR signing alone should have placed the Flyers in the top 10 of the NHL’s most improved teams this offseason and for the first time since Hextall took over as GM in 2014, there’s an expectation that the Flyers can not only reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season but also advance past the first round for the first time since 2012.

Dougherty
With the Flyers' offseason all but officially over, now is as good a time as any to grade Hextall's fifth summer as general manager. Quite frankly, I have to say this might be his best one yet because he found a perfect blend of improving the now and the future.

By signing van Riemsdyk, Hextall gave this team an immediate boost. JVR upgrades the Flyers' top nine and the team now has forward depth. It should have three, strong lines.

One could say Hextall didn't do enough to upgrade the defense, but I like the signing of Christian Folin. He's a righty and a seventh-defenseman type. If anything, Hextall showed faith in his young defensemen by not bringing in anyone else. I like that approach.

Goaltending is status quo, but we knew that coming in. Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon will all see time this season and that's OK.

You didn't come away from Hextall's overall draft as excited as in years past, but with their first two picks, I think they struck big. Joel Farabee was the perfect fit, and Jay O'Brien feels a lot like a Morgan Frost-type selection. In a few years, we'll be praising Hexy for it. But for now, I think it was a mostly safe draft.

If I had to hand out a grade, I'd give Hextall an A-minus.

Hall
All signs pointed to now being the time for Hextall to become a major player in free agency and push the Flyers' process into a new gear.

The team had just watched the confluence of its core pieces experiencing career years and foundation pieces making big strides.

So what did Hextall do? On Day 1 of free agency, he signs a 36-goal scorer familiar with the organization and the Flyers' nucleus.

That's a significant win in my book.

And it wasn't the only objective taken care of by the general manager this offseason. While Hextall filled a need with van Riemsdyk, he didn't box out any of his youngsters from taking the next step and playing greater roles in 2018-19, an aspect he has always emphasized throughout his construction.

Substantially, the Flyers improved their top six and power play this summer and I like their internal options for help on the back end and in the bottom six.

Time will tell how productive the offseason truly was, but the Flyers should be better, and by a healthy margin. To me, Hextall passed with flying colors.

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End to End: What is Flyers' biggest training camp storyline?

End to End: What is Flyers' biggest training camp storyline?

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

The topic: What is the biggest training camp storyline?

Boruk
Looking back at the 2017-18 preseason, much of the anticipation surrounded the three-way prospect battle among the young, talented defensemen of Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim.

I don’t see a similar roster battle brewing as we inch closer to September. I expect some of the Phantoms forwards to make a strong push to make the team, but their role (if they make the team) will likely be as a fourth-line player.

So the anticipation surrounds the goaltenders, and the most commonly asked question I’ve been receiving is when will Carter Hart will be ready? The answer to which all depends on Hart himself and the preseason will serve as an early-season litmus test.

Let’s keep in mind it’s also a very important season in the careers of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both in contract years and both looking to overcome injury-plagued seasons that rendered them not close to ready when the playoffs started. Elliott is the presumed No. 1, but when healthy and confident, Neuvirth is capable of making a serious push for playing time. 

If either Elliott or Neuvirth goes down with another injury, who steps in and fills that void and where is Anthony Stolarz in his progression? All of which makes for another intriguing (and yet redundant) storyline in the world of Flyers goaltending.

Dougherty
This is pretty simple.

Who is the third-line center?

The Flyers do not have a clear-cut favorite for their third-line center vacancy. Scott Laughton may have the inside track, but we can't rule out the team's prospects or even Claude Giroux returning to the middle. It will be the most intriguing camp battle this year.

We can move forward believing that moving Giroux back to center is the Flyers' last resort. It's an option, sure, but not the plan. My bet is that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is betting on either Laughton or a prospect to prove they can take the reins.

But if Laughton doesn't show he can handle a more offensively-dependent role and none of the kids are ready, then moving Giroux back to center could be in the cards.

Much like the defensive position battle last September, the third-line center will have a few prospects attempting to show Hextall they're ready for The Show.

I'm going out on a limb and saying Morgan Frost will do just that — force his way onto the NHL roster.

Hall
How about Dave Hakstol's personnel decisions within the power play and top six?

I'm most intrigued to see how those shake out during camp and preseason action because the outcomes won't come easily.

These are good problems, though. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' depth was bolstered, giving Hakstol and company much more to work with in 2018-19.

Does van Riemsdyk, who has developed a net-front prowess, jump right onto the first power-play unit? Or does Wayne Simmonds, coming off a wide range of injuries and eyeing a new contract, take back that role? Or is Nolan Patrick the sleeper to stick there after showing his skills in deep during the stretch run last season?

It will be fascinating to see how Hakstol experiments early, not only with the man advantage but also piecing together his top six, which is much more loaded.

People love to analyze the coach's decisions. It'll only pick up come September.

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