Friday, August 10, 2012

One To Watch: Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have one of the best amateur scouting staffs in the NHL but have an aggressive owner and management that means the organization doesn't rely on it as much as other clubs. The cost of making blockbuster trades is often youth and draft picks and Philly has paid that price a lot over the years. That's not a critique, the club has been a contender for the last half a decade because of it, but it is a reality.

Claude Grioux, Lucas Sbisa, Steve Downie and James vanRiemsdyk were all successful 1st round picks but trades have left only one with the organization. In the drafts from 2009-2011 the team used one 1st round pick and zero second rounders. That single pick was Sean Couturier.

What do you do if you don't have draft picks? You sign some CHL or NCAA free agents. Matt Read, Harry Zolnierczyk and Cal Heeter from the college ranks while Zac Rinaldo and Jason Akeson came in from the OHL.    

The status of Philly's prospect depth is currently fairly weak. Earlier in the series I pointed out that San Jose is ranked last by Hockey's Future but a commenter suggested that the Flyers are probably on the bottom right now. I don't know if that's the case but I think it's fair to say they'd be in that conversation but while the NHL team is a contender, thats the price they're happy to pay.

It's way to early to pass judgement on last June's draft but the very early indications are favorable. And yes, my pick as the key guy to watch this coming season does come from the Class of 2012. 

Photo: NAHL

Anthony Stolarz (G)

Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks
6'5, 201 lbs
Drafted 45th Overall in 2012

OK let's be honest. I've just been gushing about how great Philly is at drafting and finding free agents but the one caveat on that has to be goaltending. For all the awesome moves they make on the backend or up front, the Flyers seem to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to goalies. 

Philadelphia hasn't drafted a goalie that has gone on to have even mediocre NHL success since 2000 with Roman Cechmanek. Since then it's been one draft bust after another which makes this year's second round pick extremely interesting. 

Anthony Stolarz is a great story. The kid from New Jersey that this time last year didn't have a team to play for, went to an open tryout and was picked up by the mighty Corpus Christi IceRays of the NAHL. He'd been previously cut from the EJHL teams and had no clubs from the USHL showing any interest either.

Photo: NAHL
An off-season growth spurt meant that he began the 2011-12 season with goal pads that were 3-inches too small.   

At the mid point last year Stolarz was ranked 20th by NHL Central Scouting but they bumped him all the way to 4th just four months later. It was very interesting to try and predict where he would go in the draft and I don't know how many expected the lifelong Martin Brodeur fan, (hence his #29), to be selected as high as he was... and by the arch-rival Flyers!

Admittedly, he's still raw in his skill development and that's why he chose the NCAA route as opposed to exploring his options in the OHL. Nebraska-Omaha is coached by Dean Blais, a highly respected collegiate coach, so Stolarz will be in good hands with the Mavericks. 

Interesting, he'll be a true freshman this year on a team that had two freshmen netminders in 2011-12 so there could be a 3-headed battle for starts. Ryan Massa played the bulk of the games last year for the Mavericks but Dayn Belfour is also there although it's probably reasonable to expect Stolarz to get more than his fair share of action. 

Photo: Nancie Battaglia
There is also a pretty good chance that he'll be playing for team USA at the 2013 WJC in Ufa Russia. The starter's job will go to John Gibson (ANH) but the backup spot is up for grabs. Right now in Lake Placid at camp Stolarz finds himself competing with Jon Gillies (CGY) and Garret Sparks (TOR).   

Because he's still considered to be so raw, I think it's fair to expect Stolarz to play college hockey for at least a couple of years.What makes Stolarz so interesting is how far he came in the second half of last season. It makes you wonder how big of a step he could potentially take this year, or not take... which is the negative side of that coin. 

Add in the Flyers' desperation to solving their goaltending woes and the storyline gets even better.

I'm a sucker for the story and with Stolarz coming from a non-traditional hockey market, off the EJHL scrapheap to Corpus Christi in the lesser known NAHL and finally to the 2nd round of the NHL draft... I'm hooked. Plus, his appearance on TPS last year was a standout as well.

For all of those reasons, I've selected Philly prospect Anthony Stolarz as their "One to Watch" for 2012-13.    

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