With September just around the corner, training camps for all NHL clubs will be opening up in a matter of weeks. With all of the recent changes (although none have been of the Earth shattering variety that many fans may have hoped for), the Flyers training camp will be particularly interesting due to the battle that will ensue for the remaining forward spot on the roster. By not addressing the third line right wing position through free agency or trade this offseason, the spot will be filled via a promotion from within the organization.
There are many intriguing candidates to fill this position. The sexiest picks without a doubt are the two highest ranking prospects in the Flyers system: Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost. Other viable candidates to make the club in that slot or possibly another forward position include German Rubtsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Carsen Twarynski. Finally, those with an outside shot at the position include Connor Bunnaman, Isaac Ratcliffe, and recent AHL free agent addition Andy Andreoff.
With so many candidates vying for one spot (the recent injury to Tyler Pitlick should see him back in time for the season opener) the competition at training camp will be fierce. Head Coach Alain Vigneault and his staff will be carefully monitoring the fitness, health, and performance of all the competitors and will no doubt have to whittle down the numbers in short order to get a better look at some of the more serious candidates (something the Democratic Party should be doing as well).
With another solid showing in the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase (WJSS), many have tabbed Joel Farabee as a virtual lock for the position. Not only do they point out his productivity on offense (3 GP 2G 1A 3P), but his motor was always on go allowing him to be effective in all three zones of play. This performance was preceded by his efforts at the 2018 WJSS where Farabee amassed 5G 2A 7P in 7GP.
Both years of the WJSS and his freshman year at Boston University in the NCAA really entrenched Farabee as being in the upper echelon of talent in the Flyers prospect pool. But is success at the WJSS an indicator of if a player will win a spot on an NHL lineup in the fall? Are we taking a summer exhibition tournament that’s main goal is to evaluate talent for the U20 World Junior Hockey Championships too seriously? Lets examine some of the players that excelled at this tournament with a point per game average or better (as Farabee did) and see if their performance helped land them a full NHL job that same fall.
The NJEC and WJSS
Before we start, it is important to note that the World Junior Summer Showcase (WJSS) took off under its current name in 2017. Before 2017, the slate of summer exhibition games was known as the National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC). Basically, all national junior national teams invite a slew of players (under the age of 20) that they want to evaluate in preparation for the World Junior Hockey Championships that take place in late December to early January every year. Let’s now look at each year of the event and the players that stood out in each year.
The 2013 NJEC
|Teuvo Teravainen (FIN)||5||3||5||8|
|Artturi Lehkonen (FIN)||5||5||1||6|
|Andre Burakowsky (SWE)||5||3||2||5|
|Will Butcher (USA)||2||2||2||4|
|Brendan Gaunce (CAN)||2||1||3||4|
|Olli Maatta (FIN)||3||0||4||4|
|2013-2014 NHL SEASON||GP||G||A||PTS|
|Teuvo Teravainen (CHI)||3||0||0||0|
|Artturi Lehkonen (MTL)||—||—||—||—|
|Andre Burakovsky (WAS)||—||—||—||—|
|Will Butcher (COL)||—||—||—||—|
|Brendan Gaunce (VAN)||—||—||—||—|
|Olli Maatta (PIT)||78||9||20||29|
At the top of the scoring charts for the 2013 edition, Teuvo Teravainen had a dominant exhibition series from an offensive standpoint, but didn’t really translate that into success at the NHL level as he only ended up playing 3 games that season. Those three games are more than the rest of the forwards examined from this year. In fact, only Olli Maatta ended up making the Pittsburgh Penguins and had a very productive rookie season as a defenceman. Maatta’s play was so impactful that he ended up finishing 5th in Calder Trophy voting that season.
|2014-2015 NHL SEASON||GP||G||A||PTS|
|Jack Eichel (N/A)||—||—||—||—|
|Alex Tuch (MIN)||—||—||—||—|
|Tyler Motte (CHI)||—||—||—||—|
|Kasperi Kapanen (PIT)||—||—||—||—|
The 2014 NJEC
|Jack Eichel (USA)||2||1||7||8|
|Alex Tuch (USA)||3||4||2||6|
|Tyler Motte (USA)||3||4||1||5|
|Kasperi Kapanen (FIN)||4||2||2||4|
Leading the way at the 2014 NJEC was Jack Eichel, the co-generational talent that scouts would have touted as the number one overall pick in any other draft year that didn’t feature Connor McDavid. His massive eight points in only two games entrenched him as an elite talent for the 2015 draft. As a result, Eichel was drafted 2nd overall in 2015 by the Buffalo Sabres and therefore was not eligible to play in the NHL in 2014-2015. It is important to note that every other player in the chart above was drafted by an NHL club and did not play any games for their respective teams in the 2014-2015 season.
The 2015 NJEC
|Matthew Tkachuk (USA)||3||3||2||5|
|Patrik Laine (FIN)||4||3||2||5|
|Joel Eriksson Ek (SWE)||4||2||3||5|
|Brock Boeser (USA)||3||3||1||4|
|2015-2016 NHL SEASON||GP||G||A||PTS|
|Matthew Tkachuk (CGY)||—||—||—||—|
|Patrik Laine (N/A)||—||—||—||—|
|Joel Eriksson Ek (MIN)||—||—||—||—|
|Brock Boeser (VAN)||—||—||—||—|
The 2015 edition of the NJEC again featured top junior talents that for various reasons did not go to the NHL. Patrik Laine was not draft eligible at the time and was just entering into his draft year. He would end up going 2nd overall behind Auston Matthews in the 2016 NHL Draft. Matthew Tkachuk, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Brock Boeser were all drafted in the 2015 NHL Draft, but for various reasons did not make their respective NHL teams. Boeser chose to go the NCAA route joining the University of North Dakota, Joel Eriksson Ek returned to the SHL in Sweden, and Matthew Tkachuk returned to the OHL to play with the London Knights. It is important to note here that all the players listed above (other than Laine who played NHL hockey right after being drafted) played in the NHL in their draft plus one year with varying levels of NHL exposure. Boeser played 9 games for the Vancouver Canucks while Eriksson Ek played 15 games for the Minnesota Wild. Matthew Tkachuk played 76 games with the Calgary Flames during the same season.
The 2016 NJEC
|Kieffer Bellows (USA)||2||3||3||6|
|Tage Thompson (USA)||2||5||1||6|
|Eeli Tolvanen (FIN)||5||3||3||6|
|Jonathan Davidsson (SWE)||2||2||2||4|
|Clayton Keller (USA)||2||1||3||4|
|2016-2017 NHL SEASON||GP||G||A||PTS|
|Kieffer Bellows (NYI)||—||—||—||—|
|Tage Thompson (STL)||—||—||—||—|
|Eeli Tolvanen (N/A)||—||—||—||—|
|Jonathan Davidsson (N/A)||—||—||—||—|
|Clayton Keller (VAN)||3||0||2||2|
In 2016, the top scores of the NJEC included players that were not eligible until the 2017 NHL Draft (Eeli Tolvanen and Jonathan Davidsson) and players who were all drafted in the 1st round of 2016 (Kieffer Bellows, Tage Thompson, and Clayton Keller). Of these players, only Clayton Keller managed to play in the NHL playing 3 games and tallying 2 assists. The following season (2017-2018), Keller played all 82 games for the Arizona Coyotes. Thompson played 41 games for the St. Louis Blues in 2017-2018 and 65 games for the Buffalo Sabres in 2018-2019. He has seen his seasons divided between the NHL and AHL with both organizations. Kieffer Bellows and Jonathan Davidsson have played no NHL games in their career, while Tolvanen has played mostly in the AHL with only 7 games played at the NHL level with the Nashville Predators.
The 2017 WJSS
|Adam Fox (USA)||5||3||6||9|
|Casey Mittlestadt (USA)||5||3||6||9|
|Patrick Harper (USA)||6||2||5||7|
|Ryan Poehling (USA)||5||1||6||7|
|Kailer Yamamoto (USA)||5||3||3||6|
|Fredrick Karlstrom (SWE)||5||2||4||6|
|Joey Anderson (USA)||5||4||1||5|
|Jordan Kyrou (CAN)||3||4||1||5|
|Janne Kuokkanen (FIN)||5||3||2||5|
|Joni Ikonen (FIN)||5||3||2||5|
|Logan Brown (USA)||5||2||3||5|
|Quinn Hughes (USA)||5||2||3||5|
|Sam Steel (CAN)||3||2||3||5|
|Brady Tkachuk (USA)||5||1||4||5|
|2017-2018 NHL SEASON||GP||G||A||PTS|
|Adam Fox (CGY)||—||—||—||—|
|Casey Mittlestadt (BUF)||6||1||4||5|
|Patrick Harper (NSH)||—||—||—||—|
|Ryan Poehling (MTL)||—||—||—||—|
|Kailer Yamamoto (EDM)||9||0||3||3|
|Fredrick Karlstrom (DAL)||—||—||—||—|
|Joey Anderson (NJD)||—||—||—||—|
|Jordan Kyrou (STL)||—||—||—||—|
|Janne Kuokkanen (CAR)||4||0||0||0|
|Joni Ikonen (MTL)||—||—||—||—|
|Logan Brown (OTT)||4||0||1||1|
|Quinn Hughes (N/A)||—||—||—||—|
|Sam Steel (ANA)||—||—||—||—|
|Brady Tkachuk (N/A)||—||—||—||—|
The 2017 WJSS had a significant number of high end prospects who scored at a point per game pace or better. Of all the players listed above, Quinn Hughes and Brady Tkachuk were not drafted in 2017 as they were not eligible until the 2018 NHL Draft. All other players on the list were either drafted in 2017 or 2016. Some real high end talent from 2016 and 2017 have thus far failed to make any significant NHL impact. Kailer Yamamoto played in 9 games for the Edmonton Oilers in 2017-2018 scoring 3 points. This past season he played 17 games registering 1G 1A 2P. Joey Anderson did not play for the New Jersey Devils in his draft season. He did play a little in the NHL in 2018-2019 with 34 GP 4G 3A 7P. Jordan Kyrou did not play in his draft year. He played only 16 games with the St. Louis Blues this past season registering 1G 2A 3P. Janne Kuokkanen played in 4 games in 2017-2018 despite being drafted in 2016. He is still not a regular in the Carolina Hurricanes lineup after only playing 7 games in 2018-2019 with zero points. Ryan Poehling was drafted in 2017 and played 1 game at the end of this past season. Making the most of his opportunity, Poehling ended up recording a hat trick in his Montreal Canadiens debut. Immensely stacked with size, Logan Brown only played for the Ottawa Senators in 2 games this past season and could not get on the scoresheet. Sam Steel, Adam Fox, Joni Ikonen, Patrick Harper and Fredrick Karlstrom have all not yet suited up for their respective NHL clubs. So far, only Casey Mittlestadt has become an NHL mainstay. He played 6 games for the Buffalo Sabres in 2017-2018 before landing with the Sabres full time playing in 77 games this past season.
The 2018 WJSS
|Quinn Hughes (USA)||6||2||5||7|
|Josh Norris (USA)||7||2||5||7|
|Joel Farabee (USA)||7||5||2||7|
|Grant Mismash (USA)||7||3||4||7|
|Liam Foudy (CAN)||4||0||6||6|
|Jason Robertson (USA)||7||3||3||6|
|Jay O’Brien (USA)||6||4||2||6|
|2018-2019 NHL SEASON||GP||G||A||PTS|
|Quinn Hughes (VAN)||5||0||3||3|
|Josh Norris (SJ/OTT)||—||—||—||—|
|Joel Farabee (PHI)||—||—||—||—|
|Grant Mismash (NSH)||—||—||—||—|
|Liam Foudy (CLB)||—||—||—||—|
|Jason Robertson (DAL)||—||—||—||—|
|Jay O’Brien (PHI)||—||—||—||—|
The 2018 WJSS displayed great performances by two Flyers prospects. Both Joel Farabee and Jay O’Brien dazzled at the showcase, just weeks following both being selected in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft. Both did not make the Flyers lineup and went to the NCAA instead (Farabee to Boston College and O’Brien to Providence). Quinn Hughes returned for a second consecutive WJSS and for the second year in a row was among the scoring leaders. He only managed to get into 5 games once the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated from playoff contention, garnering rave reviews for his play to go along with 3 assists. Hughes will feature prominently for the Canucks blueline in 2019-2020. Every other player (with the possible exceptions of Farabee, Foudy, and possibly Norris) most likely will be on the outside looking in when the NHL season begins and rosters are finalized for this season.
While it is impressive that Joel Farabee has performed exceedingly well at the WJSS, the data shows that performance at this event in no way translates into making an NHL roster when training camp opens. The only real exception to the rule was Olli Maatta whose performance in the 2013 NJEC came the year after he was drafted in the 2012 NHL Draft. Top talents like Jack Eichel, Patrik Laine and Brady Tkachuk were able to use this event to give them a solid start to their draft years and convince scouts that they were indeed worthy of being ranked at the top of their draft classes. Being selected among the top five usually is a strong indicator (although not always) that a player is ready to make the jump to the NHL that same season.
Among players that excelled at the NJEC/WJSS, those that broke into the NHL a full season after their draft year and played significant time included Matthew Tkachuk, Andre Burakovsky, Clayton Keller and Casey Mittlestadt. If Joel Farabee were to make the Flyers, this would be the select company that he would be joining. Of the 35 players (39 in total minus Farabee, Eichel, Laine, and Brady Tkachuk) only 4 were able to do what many Flyers fans and pundits are expecting Farabee to do and make the NHL team this season out of training camp a full year after his draft selection.
More likely is the scenario that other highly touted prospects in the lists above faced; seeing NHL time but not being full time NHL players. After all, Quinn Hughes was dominant like Farabee for 2 consecutive WJSS’s and he only got to suit up for 5 games once it became clear that the Canucks wanted to let the kids play and get some experience. Quinn Hughes would be considered a more highly touted prospect than Farabee even when taking into account that Farabee is a winger while Hughes is a defenceman.
Opportunity is everything, and different organizations approach plaer development differently. The Ottawa Senators were the worst team in the NHL and were eiminated from postseason contention early on, and yet still did not bring up players like Josh Norris or Logan Brown from their farm system.
What the Flyers will do is anybody’s guess. But what is clear from the data is that success in the WJSS doesn’t make anyone ‘a lock’ to make their NHL clubs in training camp. Rather, NHL training camps will determine whether or not young players will be able to make the jump. At best, the WJSS is exactly what it is advertised as: a showcase/tryout for the World Junior Hockey Championships. It is exclusively junior players playing against other junior or collegiate level players. NHL training camps pit these same players against full professionals who are the best players in the best league in the world.
Can Joel Farabee make the Flyers this year out of camp? Yes. But it is unlikely. If I were a betting man I would say that the most probable outcome for Joel Farabee is that he starts the season in Lehigh Valley and makes his NHL debut (along with Morgan Frost) at some point during the 2019-2020 season.
There is a world of difference between the WJSS and an NHL training camp. Let us try to remember what the WJSS actually is: a chance to watch some skilled prospects strut their stuff in a bunch of exhibition games during the summer against others in their age group while we wait for NHL hockey to return.
Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com,
Manny Benevides @mannybenevides
Photo credit: NHL.com