VOORHEES, N.J. – Many will identify tomorrow’s game between the Flyers and the New York Rangers as the most important game of the season.
And while it does have some meaning – as any divisional game between two teams jockeying for position would – it still isn’t the be all end all game. The winner does not lock up a playoff spot. The loser does not fall out of one. And even after the game is over the Flyers will still have two games in hand on the Rangers.
Yet, it is Rivalry Night in the NHL, which means a national audience and some hyped up storylines.
Hey, it’s good for hockey.
And it will likely all give birth to a good game as well. Sure, the Flyers and Rangers want to win. Both teams have been playing very well of late. Both play a similar style and will try to forecheck each other into submission.
And, if nothing else, it’s a game that could have a couple calling cards left if the two teams happen to meet in the first round of the playoffs, which seems more and more likely with each passing day.
And yet, with the hockey team focused squarely on the task at hand and the coaches breaking down film and trying to find weaknesses in the opposition, the front office is still keeping one eye on the future.
It’s that time of year after all. Only 16 collegiate hockey teams are still playing, which means there are undrafted players available for NHL teams to sign as free agents.
The Flyers had success with undrafted college players before - like signing Matt Read - and they wouldn't mind doing it again with UMASS-Lowell defenseman Christian Folin.
The Flyers have had a lot of success with nabbing collegiate free agents in the past. Matt Read is probably their most notable hidden gem. Erik Gustafsson was also acquired this way. As were a couple Adirondack Phantoms who have worn Flyers sweaters in the past – Cal Heeter and Ben Holmstrom.
For several years it was a place that only a handful of teams would traverse looking for the next, big, undrafted score.
Now, everyone is onto the fact that the game has grown so much that late bloomers are usually found at NCAA programs.
Last year, the prime target was defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who decided to sign with his hometown Detroit Red Wings despite pursuits from several teams, including the Flyers.
This year, it’s UMASS-Lowell defenseman Christian Folin.
Scouts are drooling over the prospect of adding Folin to their roster because of his combination of good size and elite puck moving skills.
A true two-way defenseman, many scouts believe he is close to NHL-ready despite just being a sophomore.
Odds are that Folin, 23, will leave college as soon as UMASS-Lowell’s season is over. They are one of the 16 teams remaining in the battle for the NCAA crown which will be decided at the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia April 10-12.
The question is, where will he sign?
Every team has checked in on him. More than a dozen are interested, but it’s a good bet that only about half of those teams really have a shot.
Considering he wasn’t drafted, Folin has a choice to go play for whichever organization he wants. Word is, the Flyers are a possibility.
That’s all they are right now – a possibility. No one can contact the player before his college season is over.
But the Flyers definitely like his game, are interested and think he’s the one true NHL prospect remaining in the free agent crop.
He's got a heavy right-handed shot and he has 40 points in 77 career games with the River Hawks.
Where will Folin end up? Well, that depends. He will hear a sales pitch from as many teams as he lets through the door, but what will make one stand out over any other?
Maybe Boston, because they, like the Flyers, have had success in this route and it’s a team that gets a lot of attention in Lowell. Maybe Tampa Bay, where fellow Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman is on the roster.
Or will Detroit sneak in and steal another one? Nicklas Kronwall might be able to help in that manner.
But the Flyers have a lot to offer as well, including director of player development Kjell Samuelsson, who is A) Swedish and B) a former NHL defenseman.
The Flyers also have fellow Swede and defensive prospect Robert Hagg now under contract as well as Gustafsson and Nicklas Grossmann on the NHL roster who can help persuade Folin that Philadelphia would be an ideal choice.
It might be a package Folin can’t refuse.
Pursuing college free agents isn’t an exact science though. It’s a mixture of what you do in NHL free agency and what you do in preparing for a draft. But there is no hybrid process that is a cookie cutter template for getting a kid to agree to come to your team, which is why the Flyers aren’t saying much of anything other than they are interested.
The art of the deal has little to do with money and more to do with selling the franchise. Folin can sign for no more than $925,000 plus a signing bonus and because of his age can only sign for two years.
Speaking of developing, Flyers Director of Scouting Chris Pryor spent a half hour Sunday morning on Satellite Radio discussing the Flyers prospect cupboard on the Hockey Prospect Radio Show on the NHL Network Radio on Sirius/XM.
You can listen to the entire interview above, but there were some interesting highlights:
“Samuel has put a lot of work in and has a great attitude and tremendous work ethic and he’s willing to listen and learn,” Pryor said. “Kjell Samuelsson has done a terrific job with Samuel. He’s eyes wide open and all ears. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level. We all thought it was going to be a little bit of a work in progress and you like what’s there and people are starting to see it come together now which is a testament to Samuel more than anything else.
“We’re happy with his progress. He’s done a great job… There couldn’t be a more perfect and suitable student for Kjell Samuelsson right now than Samuel Morin. He’s a big guy and when Kjell came into the league he grasped onto the concepts that are needed to play in the league and he’s passing those on to his students.”
“A perfect accolade for Taylor is he’s a hockey player,” Pryor said. “He’s a versatile guy. He’s smart and competitive and plays both sides of the puck. He was given a little reward by Hockey Canada and made him a part of their World Junior team which is a credit to the way the kid plays. I don’t think you can ever have too many of those guys that can go out and do a lot of different things. If you need a goal in the last minute or protecting a lead in the last minute [you want him out there]. We’re happy to have him on board… He opened a lot of eyes in our organization. “
“He’s picked up where he left off every year. He’s become an integral part of that Union team. He’s one of the reasons they have a good team there. We were fortunate to get him in the third round. I’ll give accolades to the coaching staff at Union. They calmed his game down a little bit more and Shayne’s picked his spots more. He wants to make a difference and he’s tried to make a difference and sometimes that brings up the learning curve of when to do it and when not to do it. His defensive game has developed just by being there. Knowing when to go and when not to go and he’s a lot better defensively than he was two years ago.”
Listen to the whole thing. It lets you know the Flyers have a lot more in the pipeline than most people think.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers