While the Philadelphia Flyers are a team that in their past has invested heavily in free agency, they never have been shy about letting a young player earn a roster spot.
The team's previous three first-round picks (Scott Laughton, 2012; Sean Couturier, 2011; Luca Sbisa, 2008) all made their NHL debuts as 18-year-olds.
Can Samuel Morin, the 11th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, make it 4-for-4? That decision will come in training camp. And it will be a camp with a few more young players set to make impacts and give the team's decision-makers some headaches when it comes to setting the roster for the 2013-14 season.
Here is a look at the Flyers' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Scott Laughton, C: The Flyers selected the 6-foot-1, 177-pound forward with the 20th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, and after he had 13 goals and 20 assists in 32 games with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League last season, he was invited to the team's abbreviated training camp in January. He showed enough in camp to earn a spot on the opening-night roster, and while he didn't have a point in five games before being returned to Oshawa, the Flyers were impressed with what they saw.
They were even more impressed with his play in the OHL, as Laughton finished second on the Generals with 56 points in 49 games. He then led the team in goals (seven), assists (six), points (13) and plus/minus (plus-8) in seven playoff games.
"In Oshawa last year when we sent him back after five games, he went back there and … he took a leadership role, even bigger than before he left, and he ran with it," Flyers director of player development Ian Laperriere told NHL.com. "I was so pleased by his attitude -- everybody was. The whole organization was pleased by his attitude, and it's going to pay dividends for his future."
Laughton will return to training camp next month hoping to make the Flyers, but if not, he'll go back for another season with Oshawa, and with a strong start likely earn a spot on Canada's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"My goal is to make the NHL, for sure," Laughton told NHL.com during a junior evaluation camp earlier this month in Lake Placid, N.Y. "I think that's anyone's goal in the room [but] it would be an unbelievable experience to represent my country and be able to play in this tournament I've been watching all my life growing up and my family has been. I think it's a win/win [situation]."
2. Anthony Stolarz, G: It was an up-and-down 2012-13 season for the 6-5, 210-pounder picked by the Flyers in the second round (No. 45) of the 2012 draft.
He started at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but left school in January because of a lack of playing time and signed with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. In 20 regular-season OHL games, he went 13-3-2 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
In the OHL playoffs, though, he struggled and lost his starting job in the league finals, and wasn't much better in his three games at the Memorial Cup, posting a 4.50 GAA.
Stolarz admits a long season with a lot of moving around wore him out, but the Flyers were impressed with how he handled everything.
"I really like his attitude," Laperriere said. "He had a tough time in the [OHL] playoffs, it's no big secret. He had great moments and down moments at the Memorial Cup and he's the kind of kid that learns from it. He'll tell you, 'I struggled, but I'll be better.'"
Laperriere said Stolarz staying in the Philadelphia region during the summer has allowed him to spend time with Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese, and those sessions already have started paying dividends.
"He worked with Jeff Reese at the end of the year about his technique and not fighting the puck so much," Laperriere said. "He's so big that he realized he should use his size rather than try to be over-aggressive. That comes with experience."
3. Tye McGinn, LW: McGinn made the most of an 18-game NHL call-up last season, totaling three goals and two assists. The 6-2, 205-pound forward wasn't afraid to throw his weight around, picking up 19 penalty minutes and 19 hits. He also had 14 goals and 12 assists in 46 games with the Adirondack Phantoms, the Flyers' American Hockey League team.
A 2010 fourth-round pick (No. 119), the 23-year-old answered a lot of questions the organization had about him.
"His speed has always been a big knock on him, a big worry," Laperriere said. "Yes, he's a big guy; yes, he's got great hands around the net; and yes, he's tough and physical. But is he fast enough? Last year when he played [in the NHL], he showed he could keep up at the NHL level."
Laperriere said if McGinn continues to improve his speed, he'll have a chance to stay in the NHL full-time.
"He realizes he needs to elevate his speed if he wants to stick in the Flyers' lineup," he said. "I like everything about Tye. He brings that size that Flyers hockey is all about and that grit. … The future's in his hands. If he comes to camp and proves that he belongs here, he's going to be here."
4. Oliver Lauridsen, D: When injuries riddled the Flyers' defense corps late in the season, Lauridsen was given the chance to show his skills in the NHL. The big blueliner (6-6, 220) had two goals and an assist in 15 games -- a surprising amount of offense from a player who had one goal in 59 AHL games.
The Danish-born 2009 seventh-round pick (No. 196) is better known for his physicality -- he had 77 penalty minutes in the AHL, and had 35 hits and 34 penalty minutes in his brief NHL time.
"He played physical, he fought, he scored, which was a very nice surprise because he's not known to be a goal scorer," Laperriere said.
The Flyers added defenseman Mark Streit in the offseason and will have a fully healthy group of blueliners back to start this season, but Laperriere believes Lauridsen can earn a full-time stay in the NHL because of his work ethic.
"He works so hard on and off the ice," he said. "He's one of those kids that do everything you ask him to do and he'll do even more."
5. Nick Cousins, C: The 2011 third-round pick (No. 68) had a breakout season in 2012-13, finishing third in the OHL with 103 points in 64 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He also got into seven late-season games with Adirondack.
Laperriere compared the 5-10, 169-pounder to Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand for his ability to mix offensive skill with being an irritant to the opposition. However, Laperriere said that if Cousins wants to stick in the NHL, he needs to get faster -- with his skating and his decision-making.
"Nick is going to have to pick up his speed," he said. "Skating-wise he'll have to pick up his speed, but more his execution. In junior [hockey] you have more time to make nice little plays, but at the pro level you have backside pressure that's a lot faster. It comes at you a lot faster than in junior. Nick's smart. He's spending his whole summer in Philadelphia, training hard, training smart. He was great in development camp, he worked really hard. I was pleased by his work ethic. … He has the attitude to do whatever it takes.
The offseason addition of Vincent Lecavalier makes the Flyers deep down the middle, meaning when Cousins starts his professional career this season, it likely will be in the AHL. However, Laperriere said with a good training camp, Cousins could make the team's final roster decisions difficult.
"I don't think he's going to break the lineup this year, but he's one of those kids that if he keeps working hard and picks up his speed execution-wise, you never know," he said. "He might be a good call-up."
6. Samuel Morin, D: At 6-6, 202, Morin, the Flyers' first pick at the 2013 draft, brings the back-end size and nastiness the franchise has needed. He had four goals, 12 assists and 117 penalty minutes in 46 regular-season games with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. However, eight of his 16 points came in 18 games he played after Dec. 6, when assistant Eric Dubois was added to coach Serge Beausoleil's staff. Morin said when Dubois arrived his playing time went up, and with that extra time came confidence and increased production.
"When we changed coaches in December, I got more ice after that," Morin told NHL.com. "I get power-play [time], I get penalty-kill [time]. My confidence goes up and my game, too. … When you play 25, 30 minutes in a game, for sure you have more chances to play a better game than if you play 10 or 15 minutes."
He missed five weeks with a broken collarbone sustained in January, but he returned with seven points in six playoff games, and then had two assists and a plus-6 rating in seven games to help Canada win the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
Morin also made a strong impression on Laperriere during a two-week stay at the coach's house earlier in the summer.
"I really like his attitude," Laperriere said. "He's one of those kids that is in bed at 9:30 to wake up at 7 and make sure he's ready to train. I was like that as a player, and when I see that it puts a smile on my face.
"He's a big body, he moves well for a big guy. He'll probably go back to junior and I don't think that's a bad thing. Today's game is a young guy's game. There are some guys that are ready, but I'm not sure at the defense position if it's smart to keep an 18-year-old. But you never know -- he might come and blow the staff out of the water and force us to keep him. He'll do whatever it takes to do that."
7. Robert Hagg, D: The Flyers' 2013 second-round pick (No. 41), the Swedish blueliner broke out for the scouts with a strong performance for Sweden at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. A late addition to the team because of injuries, he had a goal and an assist in five games, but was seen by scouts as the team's most effective defenseman as the team won the silver medal.
After totaling 24 points in 28 games with Modo's team in the Swedish under-20 league last season, he made his Swedish Hockey League debut with one assist in 27 games. He'll play at least one more season with Modo in the SHL in 2013-14 before considering a move to North America.
Laperriere was most impressed by how calm the 6-2, 204-pounder is on the ice.
"He's calm, very mellow on the ice, and that's what his game is," Laperriere said. "He calms the play down and makes those plays … Morin will have the big hit, once in a while will have a fight and be a presence out there. Hagg's the other way. You might not notice him, but he'll do the right thing 99 percent of the time."
8. Shayne Gostisbehere, D: The 2012 third-round pick (No. 78) had a strong sophomore season at Union College, with 26 points and a plus-19 rating in 36 games, and also helped the United States win a gold medal at the 2013 WJC with a goal and an assist in six games.
It was the World Juniors performance that most impressed Laperriere.
"He played at Union College, a great college and a good league, but he played with the best of the best at the World Juniors, and he was one of the best of the best with the best, which is great," he said.
The only question with Gostisbehere is his size -- he's listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds. While it would be nice to see Gostisbehere get a bit stronger, Laperriere said he doesn't want the 20-year-old to bulk up too much.
"It's not the 1980s now," Laperriere said. "You do have defensemen that can move the puck well and they're not that big, but they're so smart they get out of the corner with the puck all the time. I think [Gostisbehere] can be one of those guys. I don’t want him to put 20 pounds on. That would be the worst thing for him to do that, because he's one of those guys that relies on his speed and relies on his quickness out there. If you do put 20 pounds on him, I don't care who you are, you're going to slow down a little bit. He's a smart guy. I really like his game. At development camp he had an edge on everybody in the way he played with the puck, the way his head's up, the way he makes that easy play, skates out of trouble all the time. The kid has a bright future."
9. Brandon Manning, D: Like Lauridsen, Manning got a chance to prove himself at the NHL level when injuries decimated the Flyers' blue line late in the season. The 6-1, 195-pounder had two assists and a plus-4 rating in six games, after an AHL season that saw him total six goals, 15 assists and 135 penalty minutes in 65 games.
"He's a kid that wants to play at the NHL level and will do whatever it takes to do that," Laperriere said of the undrafted free agent signed by the Flyers in November 2010. "He's got the right attitude, that's for sure. … What I like about him is he'll do whatever it takes. He's one of those kids that if he needs to throw the big hit or get in a fight for a teammate, he'll do that too, but I think game-wise he needs to be quicker, react quicker to the plays and make that simple play all the time. If he keeps playing like that, keeps training like he is, he's probably going to be one of our call-ups if there's injuries."
10. Jason Akeson, RW: The lockout forced the 5-10, 190-pound forward to start the season with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL, but after 10 points in 14 games he returned to the AHL and went on to lead the team with 20 goals and 53 points in 62 games. He also scored 11 power-play goals.
That earned him the chance to make his NHL debut in the Flyers' season finale in Ottawa -- his hometown -- and he made the most of it with a goal and an assist in 12:23 of ice time.
The undrafted free agent signed with the Flyers in March 2011, and earned praise for his work ethic.
"He had a tough year starting in the [ECHL]," Laperriere said. "He went back up, finished first in scoring on the [AHL] team after missing 10 or 12 games, and at the end of the year [the Flyers] called him up. These are the little messages you send to your players, a reward like that, and it goes a long way."
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