For years the Flyers farm system has been viewed as one of the more weaker ones in the NHL. Part of the reason for this has been impatience with player development and jettisoning them for a proven veteran who only provides a few years of service versus an entire career. This has left the cupboard dry in recent years and have left many questioning the Flyers future. In goal they have Anthony Stolarz playing for the London Knights. This kid is a stud and as we just found out as a little bit of that Hextall anger in him. He is certainly someone to watch for over the next few years to give Mason a challenge in net as a tandem of goalies. As far as forwards go their best prospects are the talented, but troubled, Nick Cousins currently on the Phantoms enjoying a moderate season for his first year in the AHL. Another top offensive prospect is Scott Laughton who is built very much in the same mold as Brayden Schenn. This raises the question as to whether one of these 2 will become expendable come summertime due to all of the current youth at forward on the Flyers roster.
At the moment the Flyers future is facing many questions on their Blueline with defensive main-stay Kimmo Timmonen most likely set to retire following the 2013-14 campaign. Brayden Coburn has become a more sound defenseman this year, using his great speed to keep opposing forwards to the outside and exerting his body in the middle of the ice. The Luke Schenn trade has been an up and down experiment so far. Berube has sat his young defender early in the season to make a point his conditioning was not where he needed to be. Since then, Schenn has been a very solid defender giving some offensive contributions and doing a much better job in his own end. Nikolas Grossman has had a very good year defending his onw end as well. The additions of Mark Streit and Andy MacDonald have really helped give this group an offensive punch and MacDonald has solidified the top-6 by offering pairing stability.
As we look towards the future the Flyers have a great wealth of defensive prospects coming up the pipeline. These players are currently on the Phantoms or in junior hockey/NCAA's. I am leaving Erik Gustaffson off of this list because I do not view him as a prospect or really part of the Flyers future plans on D. He is a solid puck moving defenseman but has had major issues with earning a spot in the lineup on a more consistent basis, being physical enough in his own end or even staying healthy. I believe Gus's days with the Flyers are numbered and could be moved in the off-season for picks or just let go to create room for other prospects to earn their shot.
Looking at the Phantoms they boast a few future Flyers blueliners in Oliver Lauridson, Brandon Manning, and Robert Haag.
Lauridson is an absolute beast of a man clocking in at nearly 6'8" tall. He has a very long reach, above average speed and solid defensive awareness in his own end. He could end up being a very good 3-4 defenseman in his career and gives the Flyers that 'be afraid to enter the slot' factor.
Manning is a very gifted puck moving defenseman with some size to him as well. He has had some ups and downs so far in his career with the Phantoms but has had a very productive year in ADK and has solidified his all-around game. He has all the tools to become a #2 defenseman in the big league.
Haag, who recently joined the Phantoms, was a 2013 2nd rd. draft pick of the team. Slotted to go in the first round he miraculously fell to the Flyers in the 2nd round. He is a player with amazing vision on the ice and a very talented passer. He will be crucial to the Flyers future success as an offensive threat as well as a sound defensive player. Think Mark Streit but much more defensively responsible. Haag already has pro experience at 18 by playing for MODO Sweden for the past 2 seasons, which offers him a huge advantage over many prospects his age.
At the junior level the Flyers have a coveted prize in Samuel Morin. Morin is a 6'6" bruiser on the backend who has the ability to be a force on the powerplay as well with an absolute bomb from the point. Morin is still young and developing his game, but has made skyrocketing improvements over the last 2 seasons to become a better player. He is of the same mold as Chris Pronger but is nowhere near as offensively gifted. He has that same snarl and meanness that made Pronger feared anywhere in the building. With some development at the junior level and a possible half-season with the Phantoms, Morin brings a very solid future with him to the Flyers organization.
With the Frozen Four in town the Flyers will get a first hand look at one of their two top NCAA prospects. Union College's Shayne 'Ghost' Gostisbehere will be here hoping to secure an NCAA title for his team . Ghost has been one of the more interesting prospects in recent years as he has shown excellence not only at the college level but at the international junior level as well helping Team USA earn Gold in 2012. He may not win the Hobey Baker Award this year but may very well come in 2nd to Calgary Flames propsect Johnny Gudreau. That takes nothing away from Shayne's game as he has been a defensive wizard for Union since walking onto campus. The only knock on him right now is he needs to develop better strength in his game to go along with his amazing footwork and deft passing touch.
Another Flyers prospect who has been in the NCAA is Mark Alt at the University of Minnesota. Alt is a solid player who has had some up and down years in his development. If he can solidify his game and work out some of the mental errors he has been prone to make he will become a very solid top 6 defenseman for the Flyers in years to come.
The future looks bright on the blueline for the Orange and Black, let us hope all of these players reach their full potential and aren't traded away forcing us to inevitably watch them win Stanley Cups with other teams.