The Philadelphia Flyers are no strangers to having prospects play at the collegiate level. Eight total prospects play on college teams this year, four of which play in the highly-competitive National Collegiate Hockey Conference, or NCHC.
Like everything else, the NCHC needed to pump the brakes and readjust their approach due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After countless hours of preparation, the 2020-21 season begins December 1st, in the Pod located in Omaha, Nebraska. Part one of the NCHC season plan encompasses the first three weeks of December and will include ten contests for each team. The critical focus of Pod play will be matchups against teams the furthest distance apart from each other. Then, part two of the season will focus on competition between teams in closer proximity to one another.
Flyers prospects in the NCHC include some intriguing names to keep an eye on. Each of them come with varying skill sets, expectations, and time tables to turn pro.
Bobby Brink is the Flyers’ most intriguing prospect in the NCHC this season. That being said, he will not be in the conference Pod long before he heads to Plymouth, Michigan, to join Team USA. Brink is set to play a much larger role for his home country in this year’s World Junior Championship and will be away from Denver from mid-December until the early stages of January. From a college hockey perspective, Denver will miss Brink’s presence. From a Flyers perspective, Brink’s experience at the WJC is an excellent opportunity to take his game to the next level on the big stage.
Once he returns to the Pioneers, there are two key aspects to Brink’s game that need to be monitored closely. First and foremost is his offensive production. Philadelphia drafted him for his scoring capabilities, and he got off on the right foot in his freshman year. Now is the time to build off of that. Likely a top-line forward on a good team, Brink will be presented with many quality opportunities to produce offense. The second is his skating. After many red flags regarding skating in his draft year, Brink made some serious strides in year-one with Denver. Now it is about building off of those improvements and continuing to strengthen that aspect of his skillset. If Brink can transform his skating into a non-issue, he becomes an even more valuable asset with an even higher ceiling.
Expect Brink to put forth a strong year both at the World Juniors and with Denver. Also, expect conversations surrounding a possible entry-level contract to arise after the fact. The temptation to sign Brink to a deal after his sophomore season will surely be there. However, the Flyers would be wise to allow him one more year of development with Denver, likely in a leadership role.
Heading into his third season with Minnesota-Duluth, Noah Cates looks more and more like a player destined to crack the Flyers lineup at some point. His freshman year highlighted his abilities as a strong two-way forward. His sophomore year assured those closely watching that there is plenty of offensive upside in his game as well. Cates saw his point total climb ten points in year two, and he became one of the more reliable producers on a quality team.
Now, taking on the role of team captain, Cates has the opportunity to turn heads with the Bulldogs this season. Once again, UMD looks like one of the top teams in the NCAA, and Cates could be in for a 40-plus point campaign.
Although Fletcher demonstrated he is not afraid to keep players in college for their senior year, it is likely that this will be Cates’s last go-around with Minnesota-Duluth. His game is ready for the professional level, and he will be better suited to continue his development in the AHL next year.
Offensive numbers will never do North Dakota’s Gavin Hain any favors. Two goals and eight assists in his sophomore season do not necessarily scream future Flyer. At the same time, that is not where his strengths lie. He is a defensively-sound forward that North Dakota called upon to shut down an opponent’s top-line consistently. Along with linemates Mark Senden and Cole Smith, Hain was a part of the most defensively effective college hockey units.
Hain’s game thrives most when he is in defensive situations. That being said, there still is more to be desired on the offensive side. This year will be crucial in determining whether point production is something that Hain can bring to the table for the Flyers or any NHL franchise. Either way, Hain will be a four-year man for North Dakota. There is still plenty of time for Philadelphia to determine whether he is worth an entry-level deal with two more seasons to go.
When Philadelphia selected Ronnie Attard in the third-round of the 2019 draft, he was viewed as a project. Now, heading into his sophomore season with Western Michigan, he is still viewed as such.
Any blueliner that produces 64 points in 48 USHL games is going to turn some heads. At the same time, Attard produced many of those points in unconventional ways that will not translate to the professional level. In his freshman year with the Broncos, WMU’s coaching staff appeared to shelter Attard a bit, placing him in situations where his weaknesses could not be exposed. Although a move like that is beneficial from a team standpoint, it does not necessarily help Attard with his long-term development. If the Flyers want to start feeling like they have got something, he needs to be placed in more opportunities where his defense is on display.
There is still a lot of work to do if Attard wants to crack an NHL roster one day. This season, it is all about proving reliability on defense. The more Western Michigan can count on him defensively, the better his chances are.
Philadelphia prospects in the NCHC will be a lot of fun to watch this season. From a potential star to a reliable future middle-six player to a few wild cards, there is plenty to keep your eye on while we wait for the NHL to return.
(Photo by Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire)