Flyers hope trio of prospects spells future on defense
The Philadelphia Flyers finished the 2012-13 season with six defensemen on the injured list, one of the reasons the team missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007.
While it gave opportunities to younger players to come up from the American Hockey League and showcase themselves, one of the top items on the offseason to-do list for general manager Paul Holmgren was adding to his defense corps -- in the present and in the future.
He took care of the present by trading for impending free agent Mark Streit and then signing the 35-year-old to a four-year contract.
He also took care of the future with the team's first two picks of the 2013 NHL Draft, selecting Samuel Morin at No. 11 in the first round and Robert Hagg in the second round (No. 41).
Those two, combined with 2012 third-round pick Shayne Gostisbehere, give the Flyers three blueliners they hope will make an impact in the near future.
Morin stands out among the three, mostly because he stands 6-foot-6. He had four goals and 12 assists in 46 regular-season games with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. However, eight of his 12 points came in 18 games he played after Dec. 6, when assistant coach Eric Dubois was added to coach Serge Beausoleil's staff.
ASF: MEET SAM MORIN
"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 sustained a broken collarbone in January, but returned with one goal and six assists in five 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 in April.
The Flyers noted the steady rise in Morin's game when they picked him.
"From where he was a year ago to where he was at the start of the year to the middle of the season to the playoffs, he just kept getting better and better," Flyers scout Todd Hearty told the team's website. "Considering that, and the fact that he has two more years of junior hockey before a year in the AHL, we feel he has a lot more room to grow his game. He has a really high ceiling."
He continued to show that growth during the Flyers' prospect development camp in July, impressing Ian Laperriere, the team's development coach.
"Just his composure on the ice, his shot, the way he moves for a big guy," Laperriere told NHL.com. "He's not done growing. … It's amazing. He's a kid that wants to learn. He's a sponge -- you talk to him, he looks you in the eyes and he's taking everything in. The sky's the limit. We'll see what he's going to be. If he keeps improving like that, he'll be a Flyer sooner than later."
The better bet is later, as is the case for Hagg. A 6-2, 204-pound Swedish blueliner, he emerged at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship as a top prospect. A late addition to Sweden's team, he had a goal and an assist in five games and was regarded as the team's steadiest defender as Sweden advanced to the gold-medal game. He parlayed that strong effort into significant time with Modo in Sweden's top professional league.
"I can imagine what kind of player he is," Laperriere said. "He moves well and he looks very calm out there. When he does stuff with the puck, he looks calm."
Laperriere said he's looking forward to seeing more of Hagg in action in August as part of Sweden's team that will attend USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. The camp is the first audition for players hoping to skate in the 2014 World Junior Championship. After his strong showing as a surprise entrant on last year's team, Hagg is expected to play a major role for host Sweden at this year's tournament in Malmo.
"My goal is to be with that team all year and have a great tournament in December," Hagg told NHL.com.
He'll also attempt to cement a bigger role with Modo after playing 27 games with the senior team last season. It's the final season of his contract with the club, and Hagg said after the 2013-14 season he'll discuss coming to North America.
"I have one more year left on my contract in Modo and after that we'll see what's happening and what the Flyers want," he said. "After the season I'll sit down with my agent and Flyers and discuss what's happening for me."
While Morin and Hagg are at least one season away, Gostisbehere could take a bit more time -- but from an offensive standpoint, he could be worth the wait. After the Flyers selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft (No. 78), he had eight goals and 26 points in 36 games as a sophomore at Union College. He also had two points and a plus-4 rating in six games to help the United States win the gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championship.
"It helped him and it helped us, too," Laperriere said of Gostisbehere's play at the WJC. "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."
At 5-11 and 160 pounds, Gostisbehere knows he needs to continue to develop physically before he's NHL ready, and likely will use his final two years of college hockey to do that.
"I definitely need to get my body bigger," he said. "Not too much because I don't want to lose my speed or agility. … I've got two years left in college, and I'll take advantage of it and keep learning as a player and getting better."
Laperriere already likes what he's seen.
"He's very impressive," he said. "He's got a very calm personality on and off the ice, and you want that. He's not afraid to make plays out there. I really like what I saw last year and the year before. He's just very calm on the ice. He makes plays with a lot of pressure on him. He's a great puck-moving defenseman."
The same could be said for Hagg. Morin is best known for his size and strength, but his offensive game improved as last season went on.
Put together, it gives the Flyers high hopes for a strong future on the blue line.
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor