It is one thing for an NHL team to stockpile draft picks. It's quite another for the labors of the organization's scouts and developmental coaches to produce a farm system brimming with talent. In recent years, the Flyers have been succeeding on both fronts.
Over the last four years, general manager Ron Hextall and assistant general manager Chris Pryor did not oversee a process to bolstering the farm system in an effort to earn praise from pundits. Nevertheless, it is a nice bonus when a major media outlet recognizes the organization's prospect pool as the deepest in the NHL.
Over the last five years, the Flyers have methodically restocked the prospect cupboard while also seeing promising early signs on the developmental side. Correspondingly, the organization has vaulted from 29th in ESPN pundit Corey Pronman's 2013-14 ranking and 25th the next year to 10th in 2015-16, sixth last year to the No. 1 spot for 2017-18.
"It's impossible to hit on all of your picks, but every Draft, you want to identify at least three or four kids who go on to play [in the NHL]. Sometimes it won't work out that way in the long term, but that's the objective each year. It's not just about the top pick," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said shortly after the 2017 Draft.
The fact that the Flyers' farm system is so highly regarded even with 2015 first-round picks Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny having already graduated from "prospect" status to full-time NHLers last season is a testament both to the across-the-board depth at every position and the presence of prospects with the system who have impact player potential.
In terms of forward prospects, there is a diversity of size and skill, speed and power, hockey sense and two-way ability.
On the blueline, there is an array of players with puck-moving ability and positional savvy, offensive upside and all-situations potential as well as several righthanded shooters mixed in among lefthanded shooters.
In goal, the farm system has no fewer than five well-regarded young netminders currently playing at various different levels.
The marquee Flyers forward prospects at present are center Nolan Patrick and left winger Oskar Lindblom, while 2016 first-round pick German Rubtsov and 2017 first-rounder Morgan Frost are also highly skilled players.
Beyond this group, there are promising young players with a variety of different skillsets. There are power forward prospects like 2016 Draft selections Wade Allison and Connor Bunnaman as well as 2017 draftees Isaac Ratcliffe and Matthew Strome. There are young two-way hopefuls such as Mikhail Vorobyev and Tanner Laczynski or the more experienced Taylor Leier and Radel Fazleev.
Meanwhile, there are players in the system with the potential to inject speed into the lineup such as second-year pro Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who is looking to build on lessons he learned as an AHL rookie with the Phantoms last season about the differences between junior hockey and the pros.
On the blueline, 2013 first-rounder Samuel Morin and second-rounder Robert Hagg made their respective NHL debuts late last season and are vying for full-time NHL spots in 2017-18. 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim made big strides as a Phantoms rookie last season in transforming from an offense-oriented junior to a more well-rounded pro who can use his size as well as his speed to his advantage. Originally a free agent signing in 2015, Philippe Myers blossomed into one of the top junior defensemen in the CHL and for the Canadian national team. Myers is set to make his pro debut this coming season.
The depth of promising blueliners doesn't end there. There are skillful puck-movers such as incoming Phantoms rookie Mark Friedman and fast-rising 19-year-old Swedish two-way defenseman Linus Hogberg. Another Swede, David Bernhardt, has shown offensive promise and was a member of Team Sweden at last year's World Junior Championships.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz made his NHL debut last season and fellow Phantoms netminder Alex Lyon enjoyed a generally solid first pro season. Carter Hart earned his second straight Western Hockey League Goaltender of the Year award and played in the World Junior Championships (WJC). Swedish netminder Felix Sandstrom won Best Goaltender honors at the WJC and helped to backstop his Brynäs IF Gävle to within one win of the Swedish Hockey League championship.
In the 2017 Draft, the Flyers further added to their already enviable crop of skillful goaltending prospects with the selection of Kirill Ustimenko. The Russian netminder was a standout at the Under-18 World Championships as well as the Russian Junior League (MHL) last season.
Not all of these players will pan out. Inevitably, some prospects plateau and others stagnate. Less heralded names may emerge as late bloomers. The aforementioned players do not, an exhaustive list of Flyers prospects, with the upsides to someday perform a variety of different roles as pros. Overall, the combination of both quality and quantity of forward, defense and goaltending prospects within the Flyers farm system means there is a realistic shot that a new generation of homegrown talent will step up to claim NHL spots in Philadelphia in the foreseeable future.
Moving forward, the Flyers have continued to stockpile draft pick assets. The team currently owns nine picks for the 2018 Draft, including their own first-round pick and a conditional 2018 or 2019 first-round pick obtained from the St. Louis Blues in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the meantime, the organization will continue to heavily focus resources on player development.
Hextall said that he is pleased with the early track the Flyers' prospect pool as a whole has taken. However, scouting and development are never finite processes for an organization. To get to the top by building from within and then stay there for the long haul, is a work in progress.
"Every Draft looks different when you look back at after three years, four years or five years. So when you talk about young players, you have to be very careful about rushing to conclusions. With these kids, there's the drafting side and there's also the development side. Time will tell. What I can say is we feel good with how the group we have has been challenging themselves to get better each season."
FlyersTV recently took an in-depth look at the club's prospect pool and their strategy on development in their "Why are you here" Originals segment. You can get a look at it below…
Video: Exclusive look at the Flyers 2017 Development Camp