Twenty-one-year-old Flyers defense prospect Mark Friedman has always been an ambitious young man as well a talented hockey player. Over the course of his three-year collegiate career at Bowling Green University, he has improved every aspect of his game at a steady clip. All the while, he has strived to rise to even higher levels.
"I want to be a complete player who can be relied on in every situation; even strength, power play and penalty kill," he said during the Flyers' 2016 development camp. "I'm pretty happy with how [my sophomore] season went but, at the same time, there's always room to get stronger and improve."
A mobile puck-mover with good offensive instincts, above-average first-pass ability and a self-confident demeanor, the Flyers drafted Friedman out of the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks with the 86th overall pick of the 2014 draft. With each year of collegiate seasoning, Friedman has raised his stock as a defenseman with two-way upside. His play without the puck, once the primary question mark about his game, has improved considerably.
"The last three years has been instrumental for Marks development. Bowing Green has been good for Mark to grow as a player. He has played a big role on their team and hopefully they can carry the momentum they have into this weekend and beyond," said Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor.
The fate of the Bowling Green Falcons' 2016-17 season comes down their upcoming WCHA semifinals against Bemidji State University. The teams will play on Friday and Saturday. If necessary, the rubber match will be on Sunday. If Bowling Green is to advance in the quest for the Frozen Four, Friedman will have to be one of the key players to elevate his game.
Although the 5-foot-10, 190-pound blueliner is far from the biggest player on the ice, he is deceptively strong. He is unafraid to take a hit to make a play and he competes tenaciously. Offensively, he was fourth on his team in scoring and tops among defensemen as he produced a collegiate-career best 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists). In the meantime, he logged extensive all-situations ice time for head coach Chris Bergeron's team.
"The defensive side of my game is the best it's been since I first got here," Friedman told BGSUhockey.com in January.
"If you have good defense, you have good offense. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing, and keep getting better and better in the (defensive) zone …. My gap control is a lot better. My stick is a lot better, more active. I'm doing a better job of controlling time and space in the defensive zone."
Even as a freshman in 2014-15, Friedman was an immediate impact player for the revived Bowling Green University program, as he earned WCHA all-rookie team honors.
As a freshman, Friedman's 19 points were tied for fifth among all freshmen position players -- forwards as well as defensemen -- in the WCHA. He had six assists on the power play. Defensively, he was a top-unit regular on the number one ranked penalty-kill in the NCAA (89.4 percent). Overall, Bowling Green allowed just 2.36 goals per game this year, tied for 22nd nationally. Friedman was a plus-seven at even strength.
As a sophomore, Friedman improved his output to six goals and 23 points to go along with a plus-eight rating. Those numbers further improved this season.
Additionally, Friedman has added about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle since his NHL Draft year. The Toronto native has never been not shy about mixing it up with bigger forwards, as he has always played with some sandpaper to his game. As a freshman, he racked up 75 penalty minutes in 39 games. Playing with more discipline but no less competitiveness, Friedman cut his PIMs to 40 as a sophomore and 26 this season as a junior.
Friedman is usually quick on puck retrievals but is not afraid to take a body check to get the puck up to the forwards. He usually protects the puck well and is good at zone clears but will turn over some pucks when he gets a little too aggressive. Defensively, he is good at tying up opponents' sticks and has the hockey sense to know when someone is lurking around the slot.
Prior to being drafted by the Flyers, Friedman was a double-digit goal scorer in the USHL the previous year. Early on, he displayed a knack for finding shooting lanes and getting shots on net and was dangerous when joining the rush. In the years that have followed, he's learned to better pick his spots to the benefit of his overall game.