Cam York, Yegor Zamula, and Morgan Frost are names that almost every Flyers fan knows, and for a good reason. York and Frost are both first-round draft picks that will be a key part of the organization’s future. Zamula has continued to impress ever since signing with the organization as a UDFA in 2018. In an era where notoriously impatient Philly fans have become increasingly conscious of the value of prospects and player development, we still overlook some of the players who have either faded from our memories or have never been given the media exposure that guys like Frost and company have seen. With training camp and the AHL season approaching, it’s a good time to talk about those players that don’t come up as often. I decided to look at five.
Philadelphia Flyers Underrated Prospects
David Kaše, RW
David Kase is a guy who I’ve always really liked at every level despite his seemingly lackluster production. Despite being a player who could largely be considered a flier pick, Kase’s game has more depth to it than you’d expect. In just six NHL games last year, Kase tallied a goal and looked okay against high-level competition. He’s an above-average play driver who forechecks with tenacity while reading the game at a solid speed. To complement his plus hockey IQ, Kase has an accurate shot and good passing touch. All of this talent has flashed on occasion in the AHL, but limited minutes and poor linemates have hurt his production.
Kase’s finally begun to get a bit of recognition from fans thanks to his call up last year and current production in the Czech Extraliga. Still, Flyers fans often don’t consider him in the discussion surrounding young players that could be in the bottom six. This is likely due to Kase’s small frame, which is not typical of a player being used in “shutdown” minutes. Still, with his puck possession, discerning decision making, and decent shooting ability, I really like Kase’s potential. He’ll likely be a top member of the taxi squad to start the season. Hopefully, the late-round selection can be part of the big club’s lineup in the coming years.
Wade Allison, RW
We often forget about prospects when they suffer from injuries. It’s difficult to keep a player in the forefront of your mind when they’re not playing hockey for long stretches, and it’s tough when you have exciting players from their same draft class already making an impact in the NHL. Such is the case with Wade “Big Red Train” Allison, a goal-scoring prospect whose name doesn’t come up enough. Allison’s development has been uneven and discouraging at times with his injury history; still, he’s a big winger with 20+ goal, middle-six tools. Allison was impressive in college despite being banged up, and he’s still an excellent prospect that the team is high on.
We all know that power forwards are at higher risk for injury than most players, but Allison’s injuries are worrying even then. Before even hitting the pros, two serious knee injuries aren’t the best outlook when you’re a very physical player. Considering the Western Michigan product wasn’t the best skater before these unfortunate setbacks, there’s a reason for concern here.
Still, Allison already has a pro-ready frame and an excellent shot that’ll put him in consideration for a roster spot. I don’t think he makes the team due to the logjam of depth the Flyers have along with the wings, but I’ll be keeping an eye on him as the AHL season starts up. Allison has all of the ability to be a great AHL scorer in his first year; he needs to stay healthy. Compared to Isaac Ratcliffe or Matt Strome, Allison is a much more complete player ready for the pro game. Keep an eye on the Ginger Ninja in the minors this year. He’ll be a fan favorite with his likable personality.
Linus Högberg, RD
I’ve always watched Högberg and thought, “he’s the ideal bottom-pair NHL defender.” That sounds like a low expectation, but players like Högberg are crucial in making this team a true contender. In the playoffs last year, we saw how key depth defenders could be. I’ll never get over Justin Braun getting repeatedly smoked by speedy wingers in the Canadiens series. Högberg can fix this issue, and that’s important regardless of how small his role is.
When watching Högberg, you get the following: clean decision making, smooth skating, and smart puck movement. His production will never impress, but that’s not the type of game the young Swede tends to play. Coaches trust him because he never forces a play and does a good job of making plays under pressure. He’s doing this all in a professional league, so it’s a pretty impressive resume.
Högberg’s draw is his simple yet effective approach to the game, but that’s also occasionally detrimental. It’s a relatively frequent occurrence to see Högberg pass up on a more aggressive play that he could make with his skating ability in favor of playing it safe and taking a very deliberate approach to puck movement, something that I’m not sure will translate well to a league where he’ll face heavier forechecking from players moving with a skill comparable to his own. Still, Högberg is a steady presence on the back end and a right-handed shot; his pro-ready frame and reliability will probably land him heavy minutes in Lehigh Valley right away when the AHL season begins, so keep an eye on his progress and for any comments about him from the coaching staff.
Tanner Laczynski, C
Now we get to this year’s favorite for my “Nicolas Aube-Kubel Award,” a designation I’ve decided to give to any young Flyers forward prospect that comes into the bottom six and makes an immediate impact. Tanner Laczynski hovered around a point-per-game pace in the NCAA and improved by Byron Bader’s NHLe score every single year in college. Anyone who’s watched Ohio State hockey can tell you that Laczynski’s numbers would be significantly more impressive if he played on a team that didn’t enjoy slow, low-event hockey so much. However, even without that added context, the numbers are still impressive.
Laczynski is everything you want in the modern utility forward. He has an excellent build for the pro game, a pro-caliber toolkit offensively (good shot, passing touch, and skating), all while coming at an extremely cheap price tag. Add in that he can play all three forward positions while providing solid defense and penalty killing, and you have the total package, much like Aube-Kubel displayed this past season.
Laczynski isn’t identical to NAK; he’s not a violent, aggressive forechecking presence, and he certainly doesn’t have as much of a pugnacious element to his game as his French-Canadian contemporary. Still, his steady style of controlling the pace of play and making smart decisions with the tools he has marks him as an ideal bottom-six option for the Flyers heading into this season. I expect the former Ohio State captain to make waves at camp and even potentially bump a more established forward for a roster spot to start the year, but at worst, he’ll be a good player in the AHL.
Noah Cates, LW
Cates is the coach’s dream, plain and simple. Watching Minnesota-Duluth hockey play is already a joy, but even among a group of players that rarely make mistakes, Cates is as clean a player as you’ll ever see. Playing against some of the best competition the NCAA has to offer in a deep lineup, the 21-year-old winger has continually impressed with his blend of high hockey IQ and excellent puck support in all three zones. Hovering around a point-per-game pace over the past two years only helps bolster the profile of a player who I already look at as a solid pro player in the future, be that as a top-six AHL player or a good 4th line player.
Cates still has a few things to work on before he has any real chance of becoming an NHL regular, with the chief concern being his ability to make dynamic, skilled plays at a pro pace. The NCAA too often lends itself to a lackadaisical approach to bringing the puck along in transition, an issue which I sometimes detect watching a player like Cates who’s clearly in the upper echelon among his peers (and therefore isn’t experiencing heavy forechecking pressure that’ll be a problem for him in the AHL). The Flyers brass has frequently praised Cates and brought him up, so he continues to be a player to watch for a few years down the road.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Brink, RW
After a bit of discussion in the Pod Street Slack chat, I decided to bump Brink down to just an honorable mention. However, I still feel I need to include him on this list because I don’t think non-Flyers fans understand just how good he’s been in both college play for the Denver Pioneers and the 2021 WJC for Team USA. The Flyers are clearly in need of a player who can score goals, especially on the powerplay, and I strongly feel that Brink will be an organic solution to that problem a year or two from now.
Brink’s play in the offensive zone is brilliant for a 19-year-old. He drives the net with various moves, takes his time with decision making when he isn’t pressured, rips accurate wrist shots from all areas, and adds an extra scoring dimension with his soft passing touch and ability to produce redirections. This stacks up to build a diverse NHL scoring profile, and Brink’s ability away from the puck only enhances his ability to produce.
Brink has consistently been among the very best in transition, play driving, and puck support of all the Team USA players. His ability to receive crisp passes far surpasses most of the more visible prospects on the roster. The flurry of creative head fake/edgework combos he flashes is really promising when projecting to a league that’s increasingly driven by controlled puck movement. Still, I left him off this list because I feel like he has a decent amount of notoriety among Flyers fans, even if I feel he deserves more recognition from the larger hockey community. Brink will return to Denver after the WJC concludes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the AHL by the end of the year.
Photo by Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire