Flyers prospects

Flyers prospect Matthew Strome finding his stride with Barbara Underhill

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Christina Daly, NBCSP/AP Images

Flyers prospect Matthew Strome finding his stride with Barbara Underhill

If he wanted, Matthew Strome could proudly tout all of his strengths.

He can score, as evidenced by his 37 goals and 68 points in 65 regular-season games for the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2017-18.

He has a powerful shot generated by great size, a 6-foot-3, 201-pound frame well employed.

Oh, and his vision, hands and smarts aren't too shabby — just watch this.

But he brings on what everyone says — his skating is flawed. Strome, only 19 years old, takes it like a pro and works at it like one. The left wing prospect has already improved since the 2017 draft in which the Flyers picked him in the fourth round.

"He's made some strides," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last month. "He had a real good year.

"Skating is always going to be something he has to work at, and the kid absolutely works his tail off."

With the help of a retired Olympian … figure skater.

Barbara Underhill, who was a world pair champion in 1984, is now prominent in the hockey world. She's worked with several NHL teams and is currently a skating development consultant for the Maple Leafs.

Strome connected with her through a friend. The two have worked together and are doing so again this summer in Toronto, practicing two to three times a week.

"She's helped me so much the past couple of summers," Strome said, "so it's going to keep getting better.

"Just working on everything really — stride, fast feet and edges, just getting a bit of everything in."

Strome isn't lacking for supporters in his corner. With tons of instruction, skating is always a focus at Flyers development camp, while Strome also leans on his older brothers Ryan and Dylan, both NHLers and former first-round picks.

"If I need anything, I ask them," Strome said. "I talk to them almost every day, whether that's over text or just playing video games with each other, we're always talking. I turn to them first if I need anything. They've just been a big help for me throughout my draft year and last year, just learning and growing as a player."

But skating with Underhill is a major resource.

Hextall said hockey players honing that all-important skill with figure skaters is becoming more and more common. Slava Kouznetsov, the Flyers' power skating coach, is a former figure skater. Hextall's wife, Diane, will also remind her husband of the dynamic.

"My wife was a figure skater and she always tells me she's a better skater than me," Hextall said with a laugh. "It's not going to get out of this room, but she's right. She could teach skating certainly better than I could.

"There are a lot of figure skaters in it now. They know how to skate."

Strome is aware. 

With Underhill's teaching, he'll glide into September more smoothly and confidently.

"Coming to camp, you never know what's going to happen, I obviously want to make the best impression I can," Strome said. "Whether I'm with the Flyers — which is my goal — or back in Hamilton, I'm just going to keep growing, keep growing as a player, keep working on my skating and try to make the Flyers next season."

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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.'"

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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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