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  • Andrew McGuinness

Summer 2019 Flyers Prospect Pyramid: Intro, Tiers 1-3


There isn't a lot to talk about in the hockey world these days. All that's really left to do is count down the days until training camp begins (or we all die from a heart attack from watching the Phillies bullpen, whichever comes first).

The good news is the offseason does provide us the chance to look at players and storylines we simply don't have enough time to cover during the season. Prospects are probably the most exciting of these stories. Every team has some, but the Flyers are blessed with not only some of the best, but a bevy of youngsters with legitimate NHL hopes.

Trying to rank prospects one-by-one is a tedious and frustrating task. It can be nearly impossible to figure out which skill can separate one player from another, and at the end of the day, everyone is going to disagree with you for something trivial like ranking Wyatte Wylie ahead of Mason Millman.

Luckily, there is a better way to handle ranking prospects: the prospect pyramid. Championed by popular hockey YouTuber Steve Dangle, the prospect pyramid groups players into one of six tiers rather than ranking them in a list. In my opinion, it's a lot easier to see the ranker's view of the prospects in question (Tier 1 > Tier 2 > Tier 3, etc.) and eliminates a large chunk of debate. There will always be some with any prospect ranking, which is a good thing - but there can always be too much of everything.

Above is Steve's 3rd annual prospect pyramid from last summer. This will be Back of the Net's 3rd pyramid as well, but I compile this pyramid biannually. The first list was done last summer, and the second at the NHL All Star break in late January. As a reminder, here are the guidelines I use to create my pyramid:

1. Only players under 25 years old will be considered for this list.

2. Only players eligible for the 2018-19 Calder Trophy (fewer than 25 career NHL regular season games played) will be eligible.

3. The list is not necessarily comparing Flyers prospects to each other, but the talent level of each prospect compared to prospects across the NHL landscape. Most teams would not have a single player in Tier 1, and some may not have anyone in Tier 2 as well. If you're familiar with EA Sports NHL's franchise mode (like myself), think of each tier as a potential level (Tier 1 - Franchise, Tier 2 - Elite, etc).

4. There is no specific order to how players are ranked within a tier; a player on higher on the list is not necessarily better than a player lower on the list within the same tier.

5. Teams listed are the projected club that a player will begin the 2018-19 season with. This is different from the first two pyramids, which used the team the player had spent the bulk of the previous/on-going season with.

In order for some perspective, this is what the pyramid looked like in its latest rendition back in January (players in bold are not eligible for this summer's pyramid):

Tier 1: Hart

Tier 2: Frost, Myers, Farabee, Ratcliffe

Tier 3: O'Brien, Allison, Rubtsov, Strome

Tier 4: Sandström, Vorobyev, Aubé-Kubel, Morin, Ginning, Friedman, Högberg, Laczysnki, St. Ivany, Cates, Kalynuk, Fedotov, Lycksell, Wylie, Ersson, Zamula

Tier 5: Laberge, Bunnaman, Bernhardt, Ustimenko, Sushko, Kase, Twarynski

Tier 6: EVERYBODY ELSE!

Hart is the only player who has lost eligibility between January and now. The Flyers have also added seven players in the interim, all at the NHL Entry Draft in June. They are:

D Cam York (Round 1)

RW Bobby Brink (Round 2)

D Ronnie Attard (Round 3)

D Mason Millman (Round 4)

RW Egor Seryduk (Round 6)

G Roddy Ross (Round 6)

RW Bryce Brodzinski (Round 7)

There are six tiers to the pyramid. We'll go through the top half today, and finish out the pyramid tomorrow. Sound good? Great. With all of that fun stuff out of the way, here we go!

Tier 1

Nobody

With Carter Hart graduating from the pyramid after playing 31 NHL games last season, it's pretty hard to argue the Flyers have a tier one prospect. If you didn't watch Steve's video above, tier 1 is reserved for the best of the best prospects, the Hughes' and Kakko's of the year.

Tier 1 is for franchise players, and while the Flyers have some pretty great prospects, none of them are quite that. I caught some flack for having Hart there (since goalies are notoriously hard to project), but thankfully Starter had my back. There is no one in the Flyers system who projects as a generational player, the guy to build a team around. And so this tier is blank.

Tier 2

C Morgan Frost (NHL - Philadelphia Flyers)

2018-19 (OHL): 58 GP - 37 G, 79 A, 109 PTS

January Ranking: 2

For the second straight year, I am projecting that Morgan Frost makes the Flyers out of camp. I'll admit, last year was a bit ambitious considering Frost's small frame and the fact that he was only 19. However, after another year of lighting up the OHL, scoring three fewer points in nine less games.

Frost has also bulked up, now listed at 5'11'', 180 pounds. But it's his skill, speed, and creativity that make Frost such a special prospect. He has mostly played center in junior, but if he makes the Flyers out of camp this year, he will almost certainly start on the wing. Frost needs to show that he can play with pace (using his speed to his maximum advantage) and prove that he is physically ready. Out of all of the contenders for the open spot on line three, Frost is my pick to take it.

D Phil Myers (NHL - Philadelphia Flyers)

2018-19 (AHL): 53 GP - 9 G, 24 A, 33 PTS; NHL: 21 GP - 1 G, 1 A

January Ranking: 2

Myers took another big step last season, going from undrafted to top prospect to NHLer. After a strong second pro-season with the Phantoms, Myers earned a call-up to the big leagues in February. It took him a few games to get into the lineup and establish trust. But once he did, Myers began to flash the skills that should make him a very good defenseman in this league. He has great puck skills, can break the puck out with control, and has the size to win battles in front of the net.

Fletcher has said that he believes Myers will begin the 2019-20 season as the Flyers third pair right defenseman, probably alongside either Travis Sanheim or Shayne Gostisbehere (maybe Justin Braun, but they're both righties). By next year, he could be ready for the top four role that he's projected to fill. This will be both an exciting and crucial year for the future of Phil Myers at the NHL level.

LW Joel Farabee (AHL - Lehigh Valley Phantoms)

2018-19 (NCAA): 37 GP - 17 G, 19 A, 36 PTS

January Ranking: 2

Though Boston University struggled as a team in the 2018-19 campaign, Farabee had as good of a year personally as you could have hoped. Farabee flashed his elite hockey IQ on numerous occasions. He has the energy level of a bottom-sixer and the skill-level of a top-six forward, a dream combination for any player. He was also a PK beast at BU, scoring three short-handed goals.

After season's end, Farabee signed his ELC to turn pro. There is certainly a chance that he can crack the Flyers roster out of camp, especially if Frost does not look ready. Regardless of whether he begins the year at the NHL or the AHL, Farabee should be a great player for the Flyers in the very near future.

LW Isaac Ratcliffe (AHL - Lehigh Valley Phantoms)

2018-19 (OHL): 65 GP - 50 G, 32 A, 82 PTS

January Ranking: 2

Ratcliffe (6'6'') is the gentle giant of the Flyers prospect pool. He captained the Guelph Storm to the Memorial Cup by winning the OHL title, overcoming a 3-0 and a 3-1 series deficit along the way. His size gives him an advantage around the boards and in front of the net, which should make him a joy for coaches.

However, Ratcliffe brings much more to the table than his size. He is a good skater for his size and an excellent goal-scorer, evident by the 50 in that category last year with Guelph. He is a dark horse for the NHL team out of camp, but will likely start in the AHL, where he can learn how to maximize his size advantage and improve defensively to become a great NHL player. Ratcliffe could be a player both old and new school fans love to watch.

D Cam York (NCAA - University of Michigan)

2018-19 (USDP): 63 GP - 14 G, 51 A, 65 PTS

January Ranking: N/A

He may not have been your favorite player available at pick 14 in June, but Cam York is a fine selection by Chuck Fletcher and company. The mobile blue-liner broke records for the US Development Program this year, scoring at a point-per-game and quarterbacking the top power play unit.

York will continue his development at the University of Michigan this season. At 5'11'', he's a little bit small for a defenseman, but he plays a game well suited for the modern NHL. He'll probably need two seasons at Michigan before he's ready to turn pro. York has everything in his tool belt needed to become an elite puck-moving defenseman at the NHL level someday.

Tier 3

C Jay O'Brien (BCHL - Penticton Vees)

2018-19 (NCAA): 25 GP - 2 G, 3 A, 5 PTS

January Ranking: 3

Last year was a Murphy's law season for O'Brien. What looked like a promising year for the #19th overall pick turned into an outright disaster. Injuries limited him to just 25 games at Providence University, where he struggled to produce. It was such a disappointing year for O'Brien that he left Providence for the BCHL, where he will play in for one year before transferring to Boston University.

Even though O'Brien's draft plus one season was a struggle, he is a far from a guaranteed bust. He flashed his plus puck skills at dev camp and is only two years removed from scoring 80 points in 30 games in high school. Hopefully, his skill can carry him to a strong year and return his confidence, but he's going to need to show something soon to avoid dropping on this pyramid.

RW Wade Allison (NCAA - University of Western Michigan)

2018-19 (NCAA): 22 GP - 8 G, 7 A, 15 PTS

January Ranking: 3

On the surface, Allison's junior year numbers look disappointing, certainly not worthy on a tier three slot. However, Allison said he is still not at 100% following an ACL tear as a sophomore, which should explain his regression. Allison is returning to Western Michigan for his senior year, which could suggest that he may not sign an ELC with the Flyers (he'd be a UFA on July 1, 2020 if he didn't). But his comments at dev camp seemed to quell those concerns.

When healthy, Allison is similar to Farabee - a hard-worker in the corners, not afraid to go to the dirty areas, and a great goal scorer. If Allison is fully healthy, expect big things from him this winter, with an ELC from the Flyers hopefully to follow.

C German Rubtsov (AHL - Lehigh Valley Phantoms)

2018-19 (AHL): 14 GP - 6 G, 4 A, 10 PTS

January Ranking: 3

Whether you call him "the Germ" or simply German, the Flyers 2016 1st rounder was off to a promising start to the 2018-19 campaign. He followed up a disappointing first full season in the QMJHL with a spectacular beginning to his pro career. Rubtsov has always been a very good defensive center and capable of making great plays with the puck on his stick. His confidence was soaring in Lehigh Valley, leading to his strong numbers.

Unfortunately, the good news ended in late November, when a shoulder injury wound up costing Rubtsov the rest of the season. The good news is Rubtsov appeared to be at full strength at dev camp, and assistant GM Brent Flahr named him as one of three players he saw as likely candidates to make the NHL this year. Rubtsov doesn't have the high-end skill or elite upside as the tier two guys, but at the very least, he should be an intelligent bottom-sixer and penalty killer in the NHL.

LW Matthew Strome (AHL - Lehigh Valley Phantoms)

2018-19 (OHL): 68 GP - 28 G, 51 A, 79 PTS

January Ranking: 3

The second OHL captain to appear on this list, Strome capped off a stellar junior career with a career-high 79 points. At 6'4'', 205 pounds, Strome uses his size to play a relentless game. He can play at all situations and is very good offensively, both in terms of play-making and his shot.

His obvious weakness is skating, which is improving, but is still not NHL ready. It's the biggest thing holding him back. Strome turns pro this year, heading to Lehigh Valley to continue his development. Once his skates are ready for the big leagues, Strome could easily be a solid top-six forward for the Flyers.

G Felix Sandström (AHL - Lehigh Valley Phantoms)

2018-19 (SHL): 19 GP - 2.16 GAA, .911 SV%

January Ranking: 4

Though he only appeared in 19 games, serving as the backup for HV71 of the SHL, 2018-19 was a needed bounce-back for Sandström. Once on the same pedestal as Carter Hart, injuries harmed Sandström's stats in 2017-18 and lead to him being traded to HV71. Though a larger workload would have been nice, last year showed that Sandström is still a goalie with the potential to be a starter at the NHL level.

Sandström is a bit different from Hart in that he relies on his outstanding athleticism more than technique to make saves. He's not bad at the latter, but he's more capable of making the flashy save than Carter. Sandström is heading to North America this year, and should begin with the Phantoms behind Alex Lyon (though the addition of veteran J.F. Berube puts a small question mark into the mix).

G Samuel Ersson (SHL - HV71)

2018-19 (Allsvenskan): 36 GP - 1.95 GAA, .933 SV%

January Ranking: 4

Perhaps no Flyers prospect had a better 2018-19 season than Samuel Ersson. A fifth-round pick of the Flyers a year ago, Ersson put up downright historic numbers in Allsvenskan, the top minor league of the SHL.

This year, he'll be in the crease for Sandström's old squad (HV71) looking to build on last year's success. If he plays even close to as well in the SHL, look for him to turn pro next summer. In a crowded mess of goalie prospects in the Flyers organization, Ersson's 2018-19 set him apart in the best way possible.

LW Tanner Laczynski (NCAA - University of Ohio State)

2018-19 (NCAA): 27 GP - 10 G, 20 A, 30 PTS

January Ranking: 4

I probably underrated Lacyznski in the initial pyramid, considering he put up 47 points in 2017-18 and was one of the better forwards in college hockey as a sophomore. His junior year was almost as solid - he missed significant time due to injury, but when healthy, he still produced at nearly the same clip. Laczynski has the offensive potential and a power forward that make him an intriguing prospect with top-six potential.

However, like Allison, Laczynski is going to be a senior this year, and could choose to leave the Flyers as a UFA next summer. And unlike Allison, Laczynski was absent for dev camp due to a "school commitment," per Fletcher. His future in the organization is maybe a bit more in doubt than it should be.

RW Bobby Brink (NCAA - University of Denver)

2018-19 (USHL): 43 GP - 35 G, 33 A, 68 PTS

January Ranking: N/A

The final player on the first half of the pyramid, the Flyers showed what they thought of the 18-year old by trading up eleven spots to select him at pick 34 in June. Flahr said that Brink was top 20 on the Flyers internal draft board, and it's easy to see why. Brink is an elite offensively, being a great passer and possessing an outstanding shot. Like Strome, he needs to get a step quicker before he's ready for the next level. But it's always smart to bet on skill in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, and Brink sure has a ton of it.

To be continued...