This is the first of a three-part review of Philadelphia Flyers prospects who played in the CHL, NCAA and European leagues during the 2007-08 season.
Over the course of the past year-and-a-half, the Flyers’ front office, led by general manager Paul Holmgren, has succeeded in restocking the club’s feeder system with an impressive crop of talent.
Just as the team relied heavily upon the contributions of young stars such as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn
during its deep playoff run this season, it will look to the next wave of talent as the push to win a Stanley Cup continues.
With this in mind, the following is a look at the performances of the organization’s prospects this season at the Canadian major junior level.
Claude Giroux, RWGatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Widely considered to be one of the top forward prospects in the world, Claude Giroux
enjoyed another stellar season at the major junior level and appears poised to turn pro in 2008-09.
|Claude Giroux, drafted by the Flyers in the first round in 2006, played in two games with Philadelphia this season. (Getty Images) |
The Hearst, Ontario native turned in very strong performances at the Flyers’ rookie and main training camps before being reassigned to Gatineau for his third season in the ‘Q.’ There, he continued to emerge as one of the circuit’s elite players, leading the Olympiques and finishing second overall with 106 points (38 goals, 68 assists) in just 55 games.
The 5-11, 175-pound winger went on to lead all players in playoff scoring with an astounding 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 19 games, en route to leading Gatineau to an upset victory over the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL finals.
For his heroics, Giroux was awarded the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the MVP of the league’s playoffs. He was also named to the QMJHL First All-Star Team.
In addition to his big season with the Olympiques, Giroux was a member of the gold-medal winning Canadian National Team at the 2008 IIHF World Under-20 Championships in Paradubice and Liberec, Czech Republic. He tallied six points (two goals, four assists) in seven games as a key contributor to Canada’s third straight tournament win.
Giroux was also chosen to participate in the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge for the QMJHL Team, and suited up for Team Canada in the 2007 Canada/Russia Super Series, posting eight points (three goals, five assists) in eight games.
In the midst of all of this, Giroux also played in two games as an injury fill-in for the Flyers in late February. Though he did not appear on the scoresheet, he looked comfortable in his debut performances in the NHL, particularly in power play situations.
“Claude not only had a great year, he had a long season playing for his main team, the two games with the Flyers, international competitions and the Memorial Cup playoff run,” explained Flyers Director of Hockey Operations, Chris Pryor. “That’s a good thing, as it will prepare him for the grueling style of play at the pro level.”
Giroux, the Flyers’ first round selection (22nd overall) at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, is expected to make a strong run at roster spot with the big club in training camp this September. The team’s brass feels that he will be able to jump right in at the NHL level, without the need for minor league seasoning.
In total, Giroux registered 321 points (125 goals, 196 assists) and 150 penalty minutes in 187 games over three seasons in the QMJHL. The total averages out to about 1.72 points per game.
“He’s a very special player,” explained Pryor. “I’m not sure I can say much about Claude that hasn’t already been said. He’s accomplished just about all he could at the major junior level, from an individual standpoint. He’s been an elite player in the [QMJHL] for two seasons, and has put up some big numbers. But he’s also matured into an excellent all-around player.”Patrick Maroon, LWLondon Knights (OHL)
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the Flyers’ system this past season, Maroon made the jump from the Junior A level to the OHL and almost immediately became one of the top scoring threats in the league.
After a pair of strong seasons with the Texarkana/St. Louis Bandits of the NAHL, the 6-4, 225-pound forward appeared to be bound for Ferris State University, with whom he had signed a letter of intent. He was convinced to play at the major junior level, however, my former NHLers Dale and Mark Hunter, the Knights' co-owners. Maroon had been selected by the team in the 11th round of the 2004 OHL Draft.
|Patrick Maroon was drafted in the sixth round by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. (Photo courtesy London Knights) |
London, a perennially strong OHL contender, lost several key forwards from the previous season to the pro ranks, including the first and seventh overall picks in the 2007 Entry Draft, Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks) and Sam Gagner (Edmonton Oilers). The team was in need of an influx of offensive talent, and Maroon ended up fitting the bill perfectly.
Maroon and the Knights got off to a slow start, dropping its first six games. There was no turning back after that, though, as the team found its stride, fueled by Maroon's consistent offensive output. The St. Louis native wound up leading the Knights in scoring, finishing 14th in the league and first among all first-year players with 90 points (35 goals, 55 assists) and 57 penalty minutes in 64 games.
"He really had an eye-opening rookie season," explained Pryor of Maroon, who was selected by the Flyers in the sixth round (161st overall). "He was impressive, stepping up to that level and performing the way he did."
Added General Manager Paul Holmgren: “Patrick, because of his hockey sense and his ability to do things with the puck and make plays and score, makes him a good prospect. The big thing with him is his overall conditioning and his fitness level. He’s got a chance to be a pro player if he continues to work and make himself quicker and stronger.”
Maroon was named the OHL Rookie of the Month for October, recording 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 11 games during the month. His totals during that span included six multiple-point games. The early season offensive fireworks were enough for the Flyers, who on November 1 inked Maroon to a three-year entry-level deal.
“We were happy to be able to get Patrick where we did,” said Pryor. “That said you always want to see how a player performs at the next level. Patrick was exposed to a much higher level of play in the OHL, and he came through with a big season.
“He has made some very encouraging strides, and we have high hopes for him in the future. We signed him to a contract early last season, which I'm sure was a good boost for his confidence. He could be a guy who challenges for a roster spot with the Phantoms in the fall, depending on how the summer progresses and he performs at training camp.”Mario Kempe, RWSt. John’s Fog Devils (QMJHL)
The only Swedish-born player in the Flyers system (including the current NHL roster), Kempe turned in a strong second campaign for St. John’s, displaying marked improvement in nearly every area of his game.
The 6-0, 180-pound forward finished third on the Fog Devils in scoring, and first in points-per-game average, with 49 points (25 goals, 24 assists) and 36 penalty minutes in 48 games. He missed a few games due to minor injury, but was also away from the team while representing Sweden at the World Championships, going scoreless in six games.
|Mario Kempe returned to St. John's of the QMJHL after taking part in Flyers training camp in September. (Photo courtesy St. John's Fog Devils) |
Kempe, a fifth round selection of the team (122nd overall) in last summer’s entry draft, is a skilled performer who is often able to dazzle fans and opposition with his speed and puck skills. He impressed in this regard at his first Flyers rookie camp last summer.
This aspect of his game, however, has somewhat overshadowed the fact that he has developed into a solid defensive forward over the past two seasons. He has also emerged as a leader for the Fog Devils, for whom he served as an assistant captain this past season.
"Mario is a very smart player," explained St. John's head coach Real Paiement. I don't think he tends to get the credit he deserves as a two-way player because he is often looked at as just an offensive player. But, he played for us in all situations this season, including the penalty kill.
“He's the type of player that I think will have a role as situational player even if he is not a big offensive player [in the NHL] because he is very versatile.
"We gave Mario an 'A' at the beginning of the year because he had become a leader on the team, and you can see those qualities coming out of him as he gains more experience. He did a very good job in that role."
Kempe is not likely to turn pro next season, at least not on this side of the pond.
“He’s at a point where we have to decide what is best for his development,” said Pryor. “He could return to St. John’s for another season, but going back to play in Sweden in [the Extraliga] is another possibility. And that wouldn’t mean that he’d be out of our plans, but simply that it might be a better fit for him right now.
“As an organization, we’ll discuss what we feel is best for his development.”Garrett Klotz, LWSaskatoon Blades (WHL)
An imposing physical presence at 6-6, 235-pounds, Klotz was a surprise third round selection (66th overall) by the team at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The Regina, Saskatoon native is considered a raw talent with untapped potential.
He recently wrapped up his third season in the WHL, recording four points (one goal, three assists) and 96 penalty minutes in 52 games for Saskatoon. He earned praise from the Blades’ coaching staff as a solid veteran player on an inexperienced team that struggled to compete this year.
|Garrett Klotz drops the gloves. (courtesy Sastakoon Blades) |
After the season, Klotz signed an entry level deal with the Flyers. He is expected to turn pro next season and will likely compete for a spot on the Phantoms roster.
“We were looking for a big, physical body that can skate and provide the physical element to the game,” explained Western scout and former Flyer/Phantom Mark Greig, who pushed for Klotz‘s selection in the draft last summer. “One thing he can do for a big man that is tough and physical is he can skate.”
“His skating will give him a chance to play in this new game, with the way you have to be able to move. He’s a guy that gets in on the forecheck and can punish guys with his size. And of course, in the fisticuff part, he’s a real tough kid.”
Klotz earned a reputation as one of the toughest fighters in the WHL over the past two seasons. His physical prowess should serve him well at the next level.
“Garrett has incredible size and he’s still learning how to use it,” explained Pryor. “He’s also a good skater, and, of course, he can and will drop the gloves. The key is for him to come into training camp in shape and have a strong preseason and challenge for a spot with the Phantoms.”Kevin Marshall, DLewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL)
A gritty, hard-nosed rearguard with exceptional leadership skills, Marshall completed his third season in the QMJHL -- all with the Lewiston -- in 2007-08. He continued to emerge as one of the more promising young rearguards in the Flyers’ system, with his strong play at both ends of the rink.
He finished the campaign with 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) and 143 penalty minutes in 66 games. The point total was good for fifth on the team, and was tops among MAINEiacs blueliners.
|Kevin Marshall speaks with the local media for the first time as a Flyer after getting drafted in 2007. (Flyers Photos) |
The Flyers moved up to nab Marshall in the second round of last summer’s entry draft (41st overall), after a breakout season in which the 6-0, 185-pound defenseman helped lead Lewiston to a QMJHL title as a 17-year-old.
“What’s most impressive about Kevin is his level of maturity, on and off the ice,” said Pryor. “He handles himself extremely well, and is a born leader. He’s the guy that everyone on his team looks up to, even at age 18. He has that presence about him, and he’s just all business.
“Kevin isn’t a huge defenseman, but he knows how to use his body to defend. He’s very tenacious, and will look for the big hit without putting himself out of position. He’s very responsible, and that’s just one of the reasons why we’re excited about his potential.”
Marshall, who wore an “A” for Lewiston this season, was generally viewed as the MAINEiacs’ captain-in-waiting. However, he was dealt to the Quebec Remparts after the season for a pair of first round picks in the 2008 QMJHL Draft, as Lewiston will be looking to rebuild.
The Remparts, best known as the team owned and coached by Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, project Marshall to be a key member of their blueline next season.
“It’s always a good thing when a prospect is asked to take on that kind of role,” explained Pryor. “In this case, it’ll also be a new challenge for Kevin, and a change of scenery. You always want to see how a player will respond to these challenges, but we have no doubt that he will excel [in Quebec].
“We consider Kevin to be a big part of our plans as we move ahead. He’s a defenseman with a lot of potential, and he seems to be hitting his stride.”Jakub Kovar, GWindsor Spitfires (OHL)
Following a path that is becoming more commonplace, Kovar (pronounced KOH-VASH) opted to continue his junior career in North America, leaving his native Czech Republic to join the Oshawa Generals of the OHL for the 2007-08 season.
A blockbuster trade, in which he dealt for fellow Czech goaltender and good friend Michael Neuvirth, saw him land with Windsor, where he had a strong run to round out his rookie campaign.
|Jakub Kovar stretches to make a save. (photo courtesy Windsor Star) |
Overall, the 6-1, 193-pound netminder made a relatively seamless transition to the smaller rinks and high tempo style of play on this side of the Atlantic.
He appeared in 36 total games this past season, recording an impressive 26-6-2-1 record, a 3.30 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. After coming over the Spitfires, he played in 20 games, going 14-3-2-1, with a 3.42 GAA and .893 SP.
“This was his first season in North America, playing at the major junior level, and we like what we’ve seen so far,” said Pryor. “It’s not easy to make that transition from the European rinks, but he did a fine job. He made some good strides, and also handled that midseason trade very well. That says a lot about his character.”
Like many of the notable Czech goaltenders who have preceded him, including Dominik Hasek, Roman Cechmanek and Roman Turek, Kovar employs a very unorthodox style in net. He is very quick from post-to-post, has excellent balance and a strong glove hand.
Kovar would appear to be something of a wildcard in the Flyers system. The question now is, where will the 19-year-old play next season?
“As with Mario Kempe, Kovar is going to be faced with some decisions this offseason,” said Pryor. “There is a feeling that he is ready to move up to the [pro] level already, but he may still need some time. The important thing is that there is no need to rush our prospects, particularly goaltenders and defensemen. We like to see guys develop at their own pace.
“For Kovar, playing back in the Czech Republic next year is a possibility. Or, he could stay in Windsor and play out a second season in the OHL. This is something we have to talk to him about and get his feelings on, but it is a big decision, either way.”