Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn the calendar back a month and take a mulligan on the final stretch of the season? This time last month, the Flyers were within four points of Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East. They were on a nine-game point streak, despite not having their starting goaltender. Things seemed to be falling into place at the right time. In reality, here we are a month later and they are back to their inconsistent ways that has haunted them the entire season, and has also all but officially eliminated them from playoff contention.
With ten games remaining, the Flyers trail the Bruins by ten points for the final Wild Card spot, along with the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers by six and three points, respectively. With recent injuries suffered and the playoffs just about out of the question, this last call gives General Manager Ron Hextall the opportunity to see some of his prospects, and for those who he feels are ready, an idea of what they could bring to the team in the near future.
We all agree on the need of major improvements on defense, and it’s just a question of when. The Flyers are loaded with talent on the blue line in the minors, including Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Robert Hagg. At this point, the bigger question is what talent do they have in the wings that will produce on the offensive end? The Flyers have often relied too much on Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds to put the puck in the net. Those three have combined for 66 of the teams 184 goals this season, almost 36 percent. A young player on the roster who is nearing the next step to that group is Michael Raffl, who has 17 goals in just 57 games this year. After the top four, the only other two forwards with double-digit goals are Brayden Schenn with 14 and Sean Couturier with 13. The Flyers need to piece together a third line that will produce offensively on a regular basis next season, and they may have solutions to that problem in their farm system.
Nick Cousins was the first prospect called up from Allentown of the AHL to make his NHL debut Tuesday night in Vancouver. He finished the game with one shot on goal and 10:04 of total ice time, but showed some flashes on the ice. While one game isn’t going to tell you a whole lot about a prospect and what they bring to the table, it more importantly allowed Cousins to experience both a professional game and atmosphere that he deserved. Just last week, Cousins was named the CCM/AHL player of the week with four goals and two assists in just three games, which included a game winning goal on a penalty shot. He leads the team in scoring with 21 goals and 34 assists in 60 games, which is also good for fifth in the league. Assuming he remains a regular in Coach Craig Berube’s lineup, don’t be surprised to see him make some noise.
Scott Laughton has split time between Lehigh Valley and the Flyers this year. He has two goals and four assists in 31 games in Orange and Black, but more importantly, the two-way center has had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the NHL level. He dressed for the first five games of last season and then returned to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
Two others in the farm system with potential include Jason Akeson, and the recently signed Danick Martel. We haven’t heard much of Akeson this year, but I’m sure you remember him from last years playoff series against the Rangers. Some players, especially those with raw talent, need more time in the minors than others to take their game to the next level. Don’t count him out just yet. Martel is in his fourth and final year with Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and will likely play for Lehigh Valley next year. In 63 games this season, he has 48 goals and 54 assists which ties him for second in the league. In 195 games, he has 99 goals, 104 assists and 177 PIM.
Although the majority of us will look at this season as a lost cause, the future is definitely getting brighter with Hextall at the reigns, and the main reason for that is he builds through the draft. They are also loaded with picks in the draft this summer from the Brayden Coburn and Kimmo Timonen trades at the deadline. It may take a few years to see this youth producing at the Wells Fargo Center, but they are headed in the right direction.