This is the first of three parts of a season review of Philadelphia Flyers prospects currently in the system.
As the Flyers prepare to embark on a pivotal offseason, General Manager Paul Holmgren and his staff will be faced with a number of intriguing challenges.
The most obvious pertain to the courses the team opts for with regard to the upcoming entry draft and free agency. Both of these ventures will be heavily influenced by the positional depth the Flyers have accumulated throughout their system over the past few years.
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.
Steve Downie, C/RW Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Downie turned in another stellar overall performance in 2006-07, finishing the regular season ranked 14th in the OHL with 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists), despite appearing in only 42 games thanks to a few suspensions and time away with the Canadian national team.
After opening the season with the Peterborough Petes, Downie was the focal point of a midseason trade that landed him with the Kitchener Rangers, a perennial OHL title contender. He responded by averaging nearly two points-per-game over the second half of the schedule, notching 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 17 contests with his new team.
Downie was once again phenomenal in helping to lead Team Canada to another gold medal at the World Junior Championships (his second, and the team's third straight), accumulating five points (one goal, four assists) and 16 penalty minutes in six games.
The 20-year-old Queensville, Ontario native inked an entry-level deal with the Flyers last May. He appears poised and ready to begin his pro career, which he will do next season.
Downie made his pro debut with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL on April 15, in a 3-2 home loss to the Hershey Bears. Though he was held off the scoresheet, he played a solid overall game, hitting just about everything that moved and nearly cashing in on a power play opportunity in the third period.
"We signed Steve to a pro contract last summer, and are very excited about him coming to Philadelphia,"said Holmgren. "He had another outstanding season in the OHL, which was expected, and he was dominant again for Canada at the World Juniors.
"Steve will get the chance to make the Flyers next season. I think it’s safe to say that he’s going to be a fan favorite here, someone who is going to bring a great deal of energy, aggression and competitiveness to the table, as well as skill. He‘s a very talented player."
The Flyers’ first round draft selection in 2006 (22nd overall), Giroux exploded out of the gate in his second season with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, leading the circuit in scoring for much of the first quarter of the campaign.
A native of Hurst, Ontario, Giroux (who turned 19 in January) ultimately finished the regular season ranked fourth in the Q with 112 points (48 goals, 64 assists) in only 63 games. These totals included an impressive 20 power play goals and two shorthanded markers. He also boasted a league-best shooting percentage of 26.1.
Giroux was one of the final cuts made by Team Canada for the WJCs. He has an outstanding chance of making the squad next year, especially with several of the nation’s top junior forwards (including Downie) graduating to the pros.
Following the Olympiques' elimination from the playoffs, Giroux signed an ATO with the Phantoms. He appeared in five games, registering two points (one goal, one assist) and six penalty minutes.
"Claude’s numbers speak for themselves,"said Holmgren. "He’s had just a stellar season, and has proven to be one of the top offensive players in his league. We’d still like to see him put on a little more weight and muscle, but that will come. He’s coming along nicely and we consider him to be a good, young prospect."
It is expected that Giroux will return to the Olympiques for one more season in the QMJHL. Regardless, he will be one of the top players to watch come training camp in September.
Ryan Parent, D Guelph Storm (OHL)
Acquired in the blockbuster deal that sent star center Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators prior to the trade deadline, Parent has been widely viewed as one of the top stay-at-home defensemen in the OHL over the past two seasons.
The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native recorded 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 43 games with Guelph this season. For his junior career, he totaled 59 points (10 goals, 49 assists) and 262 penalty minutes in 227 games over four campaigns, all with the Storm.
For the second-straight year, Parent formed a stellar defensive duo with New York Rangers prospect Marc Staal at the WJCs, helping Team Canada capture its third straight gold medal.
Like Downie and Giroux, The 20-year-old rearguard joined the Phantoms after his Guelph was eliminated from postseason play. He appeared in six games with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, registering a goal and four penalty minutes. He also played in one game with the Flyers, making his surprise NHL debut against New Jersey on April 5.
"We were very pleased to acquire Ryan in the Peter Forsberg trade, along with Scottie Upshall,"said Holmgren. "He’s the consummate competitor, a tough stay-at-home defenseman who doesn’t get phased by anything. His biggest asset is his skating.
"Ryan distinguished himself as a top-pairing defenseman for Team Canada on two straight World Junior Championship teams, plus he’s been one of the premiere defensive defensemen in the OHL. So, he graduates to the pros with some outstanding credentials."
Oskars Bartulis, D Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
The first (and, thus far, only) Latvian-born player to be drafted by the Flyers, Bartulis signed an entry level deal with the organization last summer, following a strong season with the Memorial Cup runners-up, the Moncton Wildcats. He is another promising defensive prospect, who is expected to turn pro in 2007-08.
Prior to the start of the recently-completed campaign, the 20-year-old blueliner was dealt to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, as the Wildcats prepared to transition into a rebuilding phase. The move benefited Bartulis, as it gave him the opportunity to continue to play big minutes in key situations for a contending team.
He got out of the gate very strong, but was soon hampered by a variety of injuries, including the lingering effects of a concussion. He eventually returned and got back on track, however, and going onto enjoy another strong campaign in which he finished second among Cape Breton defensemen with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 55 games.
"We really like Oskars’ potential, obviously, which is why we signed him to a contract last summer,"said Holmgren. "He’s had another strong year [in the QMJHL], this time in a new environment at Cape Breton. That’s been a good experience for him, and we look forward to seeing what he can do at the pro level next season."
Jeremy Duchesne, G Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Duchesne enjoyed a strong postseason run as his team, the Val-d’Or Foreurs, advanced to the league championship to Lewiston where it eventually lost in four games. His success came on the heels of a personal tragedy, as his father, former NHL player Gaetan Duchesne, recently passed away suddenly at the age of 44.
Jeremy missed the first two games of the semifinal series with Cape Breton. Upon his return, he starred in the Foreurs' emotional comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit to oust the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
Duchesne began the season, his fourth in the QMJHL (third as a starter) with the Halifax Mooseheads. He was dealt to Val-d'Or in December, where he finished the regular season ranked 10th in the circuit with a 3.33 goals-against average and eighth in save percentage with a .897 mark.
"Jeremy has made some promising strides and continues to develop into a solid goaltender in the QMJHL," said Holmgren prior to the start of the playoffs. "He is a player we have watched closely this season and will assess this [summer]."
- The Flyers must decide on whether or not to offer a pro contract to left wing Josh Beaulieu, whose rights will be lost if he is not signed prior to the upcoming draft. The 20-year-old Windsor, Ontario native was limited to just 44 games due to injury in his fourth and likely final season with the London Knights of the OHL. Known for his aggressive forechecking and penalty-killing, Beaulieu finished with 16 points (10 goals, six assists), a minus-nine rating and 93 penalty minutes.
- Goaltender Michael Dupont enjoyed a strong first season as a starter for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. The 19-year-old Swiss native appeared in 59 games, compiling a 31-23 record, with a 3.68 goals-against average and .875 save percentage. Those numbers are regarded as solid, considering the offensive-oriented nature of the QMJHL and the fact that the Drakkar struggled defensively in front of Dupont for most of the season.
- Rugged defenseman John Flatters, the Flyers’ only current prospect in the WHL, began the season with the Vancouver Giants before being traded to the Prince Albert Raiders in early January. The 19-year-old Calgary native recorded nine assists, a plus-six rating and 145 penalty minutes in 65 total games.