Even though Chuck Fletcher was a complete idiot at 98% of his job as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, he and assistant GM Brent Flahr had a pretty decent run with drafting during their four years as a tandem and there are a ton of NHL-ready prospects knocking at the door. Though taking a look around at the roster, there’s only a few open spots to be had, especially if Briere opts to not sell during the first summer of his rebuild.
So which of the kids can we expect to see in the NHL next season?
Bobby Brink (RW)
Bobby Brink was the Flyers’ second round pick in 2019 and made the jump to the professional level last season after winning a National Championship at the University of Denver. He ended up on IR to start the 2022-23 season after undergoing offseason hip surgery and returned to the Phantoms in early January.
He has a strong conclusion to the season with eight points in his last eight games and possesses a strong work ethic and tends to be noticeable in a positive way more often than not, so even if his game may not be 100% ready for the NHL, it’s an attribute that will pull on head coach John Tortorella’s heartstrings which could lead to at least a sustained trial run at the NHL level. Though the abundance of right wings could force Brink to be the odd man out for the foreseeable future, especially if Danny Briere does nothing to address the overflow at the position. Brink will turn 22 in July, so an extra bit of seasoning in Lehigh won’t hurt if need be.
Tyson Foerster (RW)
Foerster falls into the right wing logjam as well, but as a former first round pick that the organization seems to be high on, he’ll (theoretically) take priority when it comes to carving out a role in the NHL. He left a positive taste in everyone’s mouths during his eight-game NHL sample size late in the 2022-23 season when he scored seven points in eight games.
He led the Phantoms in points by season’s end with 48 in 66 games, which included 15 points in his final 16 games. He doesn’t lack on-ice charisma, though both his skating skills and knack for ill-advised penalties can both be cleaned up a bit. Nevertheless, he possesses a ton of talent, and for a Flyers team that is currently devoid of it, it’s a very attractive trait. If he doesn’t make the roster out of camp, there will be a countdown clock ticking until they have no choice but to recall him.
Olle Lycksell (LW)
Lycksell was the Flyers’ sixth round pick in 2017 and made his North American debut during the 2022-23 season and took everyone by surprise along the way. He ended the AHL season with 14 goals and 45 points in 53 games which was second on the team in total points and first in P/GP. He was recalled to the Flyers a couple times during the season, but saw very little ice time when he was up. Chances are, his NHL ceiling is a bit lower than the stud he’s been in the AHL, with comparables being Oskar Lindblom or Michael Raffl- a solid pair of hands that can be plugged in anywhere as need be, but more than likely settles in as a two-way third line winger with a bit of offensive upside.
Elliot Desnoyers (C)
Desnoyers made the jump to the professional level during the 2022-23 season after wrapping up a fairly impressive post-draft junior career. He was picked in the fifth round of the 2020 draft and posted 63 goals and 137 points in 98 games in two seasons after his selection.
He broke the Lehigh Valley Phantoms record for rookie goal scoring record with 23 and recorded another 21 assists to go alone with his solid two-way play as well. He was basically their unquestioned top center through the first two months of the season, but eventually split those duties in December when Artem Anisimov signed with the team and Adam Brooks returned from injury. He turned 21 in January, and with the middle-six center a bit crowded at the NHL level with Frost, Cates and the return of Sean Couturier, it may be best he continues to see top-six AHL minutes rather than fourth line NHL minutes in the short term, but if his run of solid offensive play continues, the anemic Flyers may have no choice but to carve out a spot for him on the main roster.
Ronnie Attard (RHD)
Attard is currently the team’s top right-handed defenseman prospect and given the weakness that is the Flyers current defense, he should get his shot on the main roster next season, but it all comes down as to whether or not they move Tony DeAngelo to open a roster spot on the right side. Considering Attard is a much more promising version of the same player (and $4 million cheaper) it would make sense to cut their losses with DeAngelo and roll with Attard.
The 24-year-old had 12 goals and 38 points in 68 games this season, easily leading the Phantoms’ defensemen in scoring, and was also good enough for seventh on the team. The defensive side of his game rounded out nicely as the season progressed, which was his biggest weakness during his short stint with the Flyers in 2021-22. His ceiling at the main roster is still unknown, but considering how far he’s come in the last few months, maybe his status as a late bloomer means there’s still some untapped potential for Attard to play a meaningful role at the NHL level.
Egor Zamula (LHD)
Egor Zamula started the season on the main roster but failed to see consistent ice time. He was ultimately sent back down to the Phantoms in late November and slowly but surely developed his game into a well-rounded top guy. With Cam York’s recall in December, it gave Zamula the opportunity to claim the team’s one lone left-handed defenseman role, and looked good in the role. He’s not going to be the best scorer or flashiest skater, but he plays a competent role that will hold up just fine as the third pair lefty on an NHL roster. He recently signed a one-year, one-way deal, seemingly indicating that he will make the main roster next season, but with Nick Seeler still under contract, one has to wonder if Zamula can manage to get ice time with the golden boy still holding down a roster spot.
Emil Andrae (LHD)
The 21-year-old left-handed defenseman Emil Andrae had a 10-game sample size in the AHL to close out the 2022-23 season and definitely left a positive impression in that time. A late-season injury to Zamula opened the top LHD spot as well as earning a spot as the PP QB. There’s a good chance he doesn’t earn an NHL gig out of the gate, unless another opportune injury pops up and he gets the call, but if he can replicate his performance from this season over the full 2023-24 campaign in Lehigh Valley, he could be a main roster staple sooner rather than later. The Flyers may have their ace in the hole when it comes to top defenseman if Andrae’s sample size wasn’t a mirage.
Sam Ersson (G)
23-year-old Sam Ersson has always felt like a long-term option for the Flyers in net, and he finally got to get a start down that path this season after missing nearly the entire 2021-22 season with an injury and subsequent surgery. He played 57 games during the 2022-23 season between the Phantoms and Flyers and displayed a wide range of potential. He was near bulletproof from early November until late January, but slowly got worse as the season went on, undoubtedly tired and probably banged up from his heavy workload. He ended the AHL campaign with a 2.84 goals against average and .900 save percentage along with 24 wins in 42 games. He also had six wins in 12 games played with the Flyers recording a 3.07 GAA and .899 SV%.
Chances are, he’ll fight for the backup gig out of camp and could very well win it, but the question remains should he be backing up Hart and only playing once every two weeks or should he remain in the AHL for another season to polish his game? Let Sandstrom ride out the last year of his deal as the backup and focus on him making the full-time jump in 2024-25? Given he fell off towards the end of the season, more than likely stemming from his lack of playing time the season before, getting his conditioning up with plentiful starts in the AHL seems like the best option, at least for the first few months of the season, and reassess around Christmas.
Realistically, all eight players listed above could (and probably should) see NHL ice time in 2023-24. They are in a rebuild after all, so an overflow of NHL-ready prospects is a good thing to have. As noted, it really comes down to how many players on the main roster get moved during the offseason and how many spots are open during training camp. Tyson Foerster, Ronnie Attard and Egor Zamula will probably take priority of the bunch with Ersson being a dark horse candidate to make the roster.
It’s probably best Andrae stays in the AHL for more North American seasoning before he makes the jump, unless he really blows everyone away during camp. Brink, Lycksell and Desnoyers are tweeners. It probably wouldn’t hurt for Brink to get a bit more development time, which is good because he’s pretty much the guaranteed odd man out of the right wing logjam. The abundance of forward depth could just leave Lycksell on the sidelines until a hole opens up, and with Couturier returning and Frost as Cates more than likely both earning another look at the NHL level, it makes more sense for Desnoyers to continue to see top six minutes in the AHL rather than fourth line minutes in the NHL.
The immediate future is bright for the Flyers, who could desperately a jolt of talented youth to give their newly-named rebuild some life out of the gate. Building a great surrounding cast for the arrival of Cutter Gauthier and whoever they take at seventh overall in a few weeks, who could both show up to the main roster in 2024-25, will only help them in the short and long term. Can Briere rise to the occasion and clear out some veterans in the name of advancing his rebuild? There will be some tough calls that have to be made during the 2023 offseason, but hey, that’s just the job he signed up for, right?
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: Lehigh Valley Phantoms / JustSports Photography