Ranking the Flyers’ Prospects: Defense

Image courtesy of lightning.nhl.com

Last Monday I ranked the Flyers’ top 10 prospects at forward as I see it. You can click here to view my forward rankings. This week I rank the Flyers’ top 10 defensive prospects. Overall, I like what the Flyers have in their system on the blue line. Names such as Robert Haag and Samuel Morin stick out due to their high potential and where they were selected in the draft. Philadelphia also possesses some lesser known defenseman such as Fredrick Larsson, Maxim Lamarche, and Mark Alt that I believe could have an impact at the NHL level someday. Check back next Monday as I take a look at Flyers’  goalie prospects.

1. Robert Haag

Haag was selected by the Flyers 41st overall in this past year’s NHL Draft. Many experts, including myself, saw Haag as a definite first round pick. His up-and-down season last year could be a reason why he slipped into the second-round. Haag is a gifted player. His hockey IQ is outstanding and he displays a calm presence on the ice. Nothing seems to bother him. Haag’s skating ability is top-notch. He has an excellent first step and his overall skating stride is flawless. Offensively, he’s a creative passer who can make tight passes in traffic. He needs to be more consistent with his play and his overall defense must get better. I just wish he would use his size more. In four preseason games to date with Modo, Haag has scored two power play goals for two points and is plus-one.  I expect Haag to remain in Sweden with Modo for another year or two. He should be on Sweden’s top pair for the World Juniors and overall I see Haag as a top- three defenseman in the NHL.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere

Shayne Gostisbehere is turning into another third-round steal for the Flyers. He’s expected to return to Union College for another year this fall, but I’m sure the Flyers cannot wait for him to get through the developmental process. Gostisbehere was top asset for Team USA at this past year’s World Juniors. He’s an offensive defenseman who is a pure puck handler. He has the uncanny ability to “make things happen” on the ice. Coupled with his tremendous speed he’s valuable on the power play, he’s excellent breaking out of his own zone, and he’s deadly off the rush. He can be too aggressive at times off the attack  with the puck. But I’d rather have a guy who’s aggressive and looking to make plays than a player who sits back and is passive. Defensively, he can be a liability at times but overall his defense is good. Gostisbehere will be a top-four defenseman in the NHL someday.

3. Samuel Morin

Morin’s quality performance in the second half of the QMJHL season last year and in the QMJHL playoffs with Rimouski propelled him to be 11th overall pick in this past year’s draft. I’m on the record of saying that I didn’t like the selection of Morin.  If the Flyers really wanted to pick a defenseman at 11th overall there were better options in my opinion. With that being said, Morin is a massive defenseman who uses his 6’6 frame to his advantage. He’s a decent skater given his size and he has sound stride.  He’s a fearless player who will battle for the puck, fight, and deliver bone crushing hits. In three preseason games this season, Morin had one assist and was minus-four. He was also ejected in the Oceanic’s final preseason game for a cross-checking major. Morin must improve his puck handling skills as they’re sub-par at best. He’s just a raw player that will need ample time to develop. He won’t earn an NHL spot this season but he will attend Flyers rookie camp. Morin has the potential to be a top-four NHL defenseman.

4. Oliver Lauridsen

Philadelphia drafted the 6’6 Lauridsen in 7th round back in 2009.  He’s strictly a shutdown defenseman with little to no offensive upside whatsoever. Ironically, he did have two goals and an assist in 15 games with the Flyers last season. He has a howitzer for shot and his size and reach are tools you just can’t teach. He’s turned into one of the Flyers healthier and more intriguing prospects. I think his play has propelled him past Brandon Manning.  Most likely Lauridsen will start off this season with the Phantoms, but he could find himself back in a Flyers uniform if injuries strike.

5. Brandon Manning

Manning is a quality two-way AHL defenseman who did receive a brief call up last year with the Flyers. In 65 games last year with the Phantoms, Manning had six goals and 15 assists for 21 points. I’d imagine the Flyers were expecting more from Manning who was given the “A” last season. This upcoming season is a make or break year for Manning in my opinion. He does have potential to play in the NHL full-time but he needs to regain his form from 2011-12. Granted, maybe he needs an actual opportunity to play in the NHL instead of being stuck with the lowly Phantoms. Nevertheless, he plays a good physical game and battles well in his own zone. He’s good shutdown defenseman at the AHL level. His offensive skills are below-average and his skating could improve. Manning will start off the year as Adirondack’s number one defenseman but he’ll be Philadelphia’s first call up if an injury occurs on the blue line.

6. Mark Alt

Alt was acquired by the Flyers on January 13, 2013 along with Brian Boucher from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for AHLer Luke Pither. He was the 53rd overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Hurricanes. Alt did not have a good junior season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and many believe that was the reason why Carolina gave up on the young, physical defenseman. Coming out of high school, Alt was one of the top prospects in the country where he was a two-sport star at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Saint Paul. He was also a finalist for the prestigious Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award in 2010. He won’t put up points at the pro level as he primarily is a defensive specialist. Alt is a big, strong defender, who skates incredibly well. Not to mention he’s very physical. He looked comfortable in his brief stint with Adirondack last season, but it remains to be seen how he’ll handle a full AHL season. Alt will battle for a defensive spot with the Phantoms.

7. Valeri Vasiliev

Consider by many experts to be 7th round steal by the Flyers in 2012, Valeri Vasiliev is back on track developmentally after sustaining a serious shoulder injury that hurt his draft stock considerably. Vasiliev is a big stay-at-home defenseman who is downright nasty to play against on the ice. He’s a flat-out fearless animal. He would have been a second-rounder if he played in front of more NHL scouts. His solid season with MHC Spartak of the MHL earned him an 11-game stint with Spartak Moskova of the KHL last season. Anytime you draft a Russian prospect there is the thought of whether or not they will come to play in North America. Just ask the Washington Capitals and the Evgeny Kuznetsov saga. There is nothing but promise for this young defender.

8. Maxim Lamarche

Lamarche signed with the Flyers as a free agent this past May. Lamarche spent the last four seasons between Victoriaville and Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL. He had nine goals and 34 assists for 43 points in 55 games last season with the Drakkar. He was also a plus-31. The Laval, Quebec native was also Baie-Comeau’s assistant captain.  I like his size at 6’3, 218 pounds and that he’s more than willing to drop the gloves. His offensive numbers are a welcomed sign as well. He’s not a flashy guy but he gets the job done.  Lamarche is at least one to two seasons away from getting a shot in the NHL. With the Phantoms abundance of young defenseman it will be interesting to see where Lamarche lands. My bet is he starts the year with Adirondack alongside Manning, Lauridsen, Konan, and Alt.

9. Fredric Larsson

Larsson was fourth round pick of the Flyers in 2012 and earned consistent playing time with Brynas’ junior team in Sweden’s SuperElit League. He’s a 6’3 defender with quality skating ability. He’s a physical player who has potential to be a shutdown defenseman. He still has years of development ahead of him. He will be coming to North America this year to play with the Youngstown  Phantoms of the USHL. I believe his hard-hitting style of play is better suited for the smaller rinks in North America. He’s an intriguing player Flyers’ fans must keep their eyes on.

10. Marc-Andre Bourdon

Marc-Andre Bourdon’s hockey career can best be described as a roller coaster. After flourishing with Rouyn-Noranda and Rimouski of the QMJHL expectations were high for Bourdon, until injuries got the best of him. In 2011-12, Bourdon showed promising play at the NHL level for 45 games recording four goals. Concussion symptoms put him on LTIR for the entire 2012-13 season. Right now it’s hard to say where Bourdon’s path is heading. If he can get healthy and regain his form from two years ago he has a shot to be on the Flyers’ blue line at some point. He’s an offensive defenseman who could improve his skating a bit. I wrestled with even putting Bourdon on my list, but his NHL experience was the deciding factor for me. The biggest obstacle Bourdon faces right now is his health.

Other names to watch

11. Matt Konan

He became a regular on the Phantoms blue line last season. I expect the same this year with even the possibility of a call up to the Flyers if injuries occur.

12. Cullen Eddy

He’s a stable fixture on the Phantoms blue line.

13. Terrance Amorosa

He played the last two years with Holderness Prep in New Hampshire and will play for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL this season. The 6’1, 185 pound defender  has committed to play at Providence College for the 2014-15 season. He was the 132nd pick overall this past year.