The Philadelphia Flyers pipeline is strong! At least it used to be. After years of rebuilding under former General Manager Ron Hextall the prospect accumulation was impressive, but one by one they made their way to the NHL and now most of the flashy names we were patiently waiting for are on the main roster. While the depth is certainly more shallow than it was a few years ago, there are still a few worthwhile names to be excited for. So which prospects are left in the Flyers organization?
Frost was the Flyers’ 27th overall pick in 2017 and, after cruising to a two-point-per-game pace during his last season in the OHL in 2018-19, many were hoping he’d make a flawless jump to the NHL during his first professional season. That didn’t exactly end up happening. He ended up playing most of the season with the Phantoms after a lackluster 20-game stint with the Flyers. Frost did accompany the team to Toronto for the playoff bubble but never saw game action. He returned to the Flyers and saw two games with the club before separating his shoulder and got sidelined for the rest of the 2021 campaign.
With the signings of Derick Brassard and Nate Thompson, Frost seems to be boxed out of the main roster at least to start the season, but with only four periods of hockey under his belt since March of 2020, maybe a stint with the Phantoms to get his game together won’t hurt. Unlike 2019-20 when the Phantoms roster was a bit shallow on talent, Frost will play with the likes of Tyson Foerster, Gerald Meyhew, and potentially Tanner Laczynski, so his game as a playmaker should be much easier this time around. If he plays well, expect him to be the first to get the call if injuries plague the main roster.
Speaking of Laczynski, he’s one of the many players in the system that could reasonably snag a bottom six role with the Flyers, but may start the year in Lehigh Valley due to the depth on the main roster. With just 19 games of professional experience last season before a hip injury and subsequent surgery ended his season prematurely, he may not be a candidate to make the Flyers roster if they still see potential in him. Getting top line minutes with the Phantoms will benefit the 24-year-old more than a fourth line role in the NHL. He recorded six goals and ten points on 14 games for the Phantoms last season before his recall.
A fourth round pick that turned heads during training camp found himself in the AHL at just 18 years old thanks to the covid pandemic. He has not looked out of place playing with the Phantoms and that can be backed up by his 18 points in 28 AHL contests last season. He underwent shoulder surgery at the beginning of August and will be out indefinitely, and may still be a few years away from regular NHL ice time upon his return, but his work ethic has shown through early in his career and will leave a positive impression on anyone who watches him.
19-year-old Tyson Foerster will be back in Lehigh Valley this season thanks to an agreement with the OHL, and he didn’t look out of place during his AHL debut last season. The 2020 first round pick may be young, but he’s listed at 6’2 and 194lbs and handled himself well last year, scoring 10 goals and 17 points in 24 AHL games. With a full offseason to train and a better understanding of what to expect at the professional level, expect Foerster to be back with a vengeance during 2021-22. He’s got the size and skill to hang with the men and getting this opportunity will only benefit him later in his career when he makes the jump to the NHL, even if that doesn’t occur this season.
Sushko had a surprisingly good rookie season in 2019-20 when he posted 11 goals and 21 points in 53 AHL games, but took a step back during 2021. He made his NHL debut playing in two games going pointless, but his time in Lehigh Valley was derailed by injuries and covid outbreaks on the team. Sushko will be looking to get back on track in 21-22 and rebuild in Lehigh Valley. Unless things go catastrophically wrong on the main roster, don’t expect Sushko to appear with the Flyers this season, but he’ll be building his audition tape for a 2022-23 shot, provided he re-signs with the organization next summer.
The most recent addition on the list, the 2021 second round pick is ready to start his North American career. It’s still unclear as to weather he will start the year in the AHL or the CHL, but either way it’ll be his chance to adapt to North American ice and his assimilation to the new landscape begins. He may be the first true offensive prospect the Flyers have drafted in quite some time. He’s a smaller (5’10, 174lbs) winger who possesses immense speed and one hell of a shot. He may not be on the immediate radar to earn a spot with the big club, but if he handles himself well this season, expect Tuomaala to show up to the party sooner rather than later.
The crown jewel of the Flyers’ defense prospects doesn’t turn 21 until January. He had a whirlwind of a 2021 season, playing in college at the University of Michigan, to captaining Team USA to a gold medal at the World Juniors, played his first professional game in the AHL, and made his NHL debut and played in three games for the Flyers. Due to the logjam on defense, Cam York may be the odd man out to start the season, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong for York, who has just 11 professional games under his belt, to get a bit more seasoning in Lehigh Valley. If he does indeed start the year in the AHL, expect him to get plenty of ice time in all situations as the team’s top defenseman.
The undrafted defenseman has been in the Flyers’ system since 2018 when he signed an ELC after an amateur try-out and impressed during the preseason. Zamula admitted during development camp that he has been in contact with Ivan Provorov all summer and is learning from the fellow Russian. Zamula looked decent during his first year in Lehigh with six assists in 25 games, but his hockey IQ was put on display much more than his ability to score. His size, listed most recently at 6’3 and 177lbs, which is already ten pounds heavier than he was listed at last year. It will be something he has to overcome in the short term, but he should continue to grow into his frame as he gets older. It’ll be an important season for Zamula, who has to learn to use his size to his advantage and continue his adaptation to the professional game.
The new guy in town is the next man up in the Flyers’ goaltending carousel. Ersson, who will turn 22 in late October, is ready to take a crack at the North American game after successfully spending the last two seasons in the SHL. Between he, Sandstrom and the returning Kirill Ustimenko, there will be a battle for playing time in the AHL, with one of them more than likely starting the year with the Reading Royals in the ECHL. Based on the path the later two took, it is possible Ersson is the odd man out and start the year with the Royals, but if he handles the North American game well and one of the two of Sandstrom or Ustimenko falter, expect Ersson to get a crack in the AHL before the end of the season.
After a messy contract situation at the beginning of the offseason, Sandstrom will indeed be back with the Flyers organization for another year, and the road is clear for him to be the number one guy in Lehigh, and number three on the depth chart overall. Sandstrom played just 11 AHL games last season last season and recorded a 3.19 goals against average and .903 save percentage and just 13 AHL games overall. The lack of experience as a starting goalie isn’t great, but he’s also the most experienced between he, Ustimenko and Ersson. Ready or not, he’ll have every opportunity to take the lion’s share of starts and solidify himself as the unquestioned number three on the depth chart. Beyond the AHL, Sandstrom will also be the first call up if an injury strike to either Hart or Martin Jones. He suited up as a backup for the last few games of the regular season, but has yet to make his NHL debut. There’s a good chance he’ll see his first NHL games at some point this year. If Sandstrom excels this year, he could very well fight for a backup role with the Flyers next season who will be cap strapped and looking for a cheap backup option.
Best of the Rest
Linus Hogberg falls through the cracks when talking about the Flyers’ defensive depth because Cam York and Egor Zamula get a majority of the spotlight, but he quietly put together a decent rookie season in Lehigh last year. He’s a no-frills kind of guy but can handle himself offensively if need be. The 23-year-old had 8 goals in 26 points during his rookie campaign last year. The Phantoms are pretty deep on the blue line, so until York and/or Zamula get their recalls, Hogberg may play a lesser role during the season.
Wylie stands out in the current prospect pool not necessarily for his play, but because he is the only natural right handed defenseman in the system. He posted one goal and seven points in 21 games during his rookie season in Lehigh. Whether or not he has a big future in front of him is yet to be seen, but given his positional luck, he should have every chance to carve his own path.
Desnoyers, the 2020 5th round pick, is still just 19 years old and surpised everyone with 21 goals and 49 points in 37 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL during the 20-21 season. He led the team in both goals and points while riding shotgun with Predators first round pick Zachary L’Heureux. The big test for Desnoyers will come this season as he will be expected to keep up his point production as he’s coronated in Halifax. If he dazzles yet again, the Flyers may have snagged a real diamond in the rough.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a couple years for Ustimenko. He started out in Reading in 2019-20, forming a tandem with Sandstrom that he eventually ended up winning, earned a recall to the Phantoms after J.F. Berube was dealt away before the trade deadline, and then proceeded to not look great in the handful of games he played before the pandemic shut down the season. He spent the 2021 season in his native Belarus before undergoing season-ending hip surgery soon after Christmas. Now, as he battles back, he will have to compete with Sandstrom, who took the reins as the top guy in his absence, and the new guy Samuel Ersson, who has quite the reputation. As stated in the Ersson entry, it is unknown who will be the man behind Sandstrom to start the year. Ustimenko may be the guy as it was his spot in the first place, but they may also see it fit to send him to the ECHL to get the lion’s share of starts as he works his way back from his injury.
We’ve quickly approached put up or shut up territory with Ratcliffe, who is entering his third professional season with very minimal results to show for it so far. He has recorded just 8 goals and 24 points in 75 AHL games. Ratcliffe has not been able to master his size like he did in juniors and when you’re 6’6 and can’t use it to your advantage, it becomes more of a hinderance than a positive. Based on his quotes from development camp, he sounds healthy and more driven than ever. With a deep Phantoms team around him, hopefully he can finally make all the pieces fit this year, it could be his last chance to make it all work.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com