The Flyers are up next!
Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
Despite playing in only 49 games (due to NHL service time and a 10 game suspension), Laughton set career highs in every offensive category this year. Needless to say, it was a great year. In particular, I was completely impressed with the way he put the Generals on his back in December/January, when the rest of the team's stars were away at the WJC's. He practically never left the ice that month. This year, it was a confidence thing with Laughton. In his draft year, he was inconsistent and at times would leave you wanting more. This year, every shift and every game was played hard. He also was visibly stronger, which made him that much more difficult to contain in the offensive end. His physical game also took a step forward, as he was a brutish force who attacked those with the puck with more consistency this year. Of course, areas of his offensive game, in particular his wrist shot, also improved. He's certainly a terrific and well rounded prospect. Next year he'll have to sit out the first three games of the OHL season because of a lingering 5 game suspension (from the 2013 playoffs). Luckily for him, I don't think he'll ever have to serve it. Based on his progression this year, the 5 game taste he already received with the Flyers, and some of the holes they have in their line up, I think Laughton has played his final OHL game. I see him in the NHL this year playing a 3rd line role and I think he'll perform admirably. I could certainly see him struggling a bit offensively at first, but by the end of the year a 30 point season isn't an unreasonable goal.
Nick Cousins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like Laughton, I thought Nick Cousins also had a fabulous year. He finished 3rd in OHL scoring and really took that next step as an offensive force. I think the biggest difference I noticed in Cousins this year was his improved patience in the offensive end. In previous years, I found him prone to being a tad narrow centric with the puck. Like he'd have a play in mind and was only going to do that play, even if it meant that he'd end up turning the puck over. As a result, at times, he didn't get the best out of his linemates. This year, he let the play come to him and was more confident and patient with the puck. He was more apt at letting the cycle game open up space or an opportunity to strike. He used his linemates better off the rush too. He's always been skilled, so this really opened things up for him. Away from the puck, he still plays hard and is active in puck retrieval and along the boards. Moving forward, I think his skating still needs some work before he gets to the NHL. He could still stand to be more explosive, as it would give him the time and space his size doesn't. This year he'll be in Adirondack of the AHL where I expect he'll have a pretty decent first pro season. I'm not sure his offensive game will translate immediately. I think they'll be an adjustment period, but when everything is said and done, I could see him in that 40 point range, which would certainly not be bad for an AHL rookie.
Derek Mathers - Peterborough Petes
While Mathers did improve upon his offensive numbers, I did expect him to have a better season than he did. Usually guys his size, even if they're not the most skilled in the world, do tend to have a breakout in their final year in the league. I wasn't expecting him to lead the league in scoring, but potting 20 goals wasn't an unreasonable expectation (he hit 10). He was given some opportunities too, like time on the powerplay and on scoring lines. The reality is that Mathers just doesn't have the hands, shot, or instincts to be a scorer at this level, let alone the next. The good news is that he's an exceptionally hard worker who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's more than just an enforcer because he blocks shots, backchecks, fights for loose pucks, forechecks and provides leadership in the dressing room. My only issue is that I don't know if he's good enough to do those things at the NHL level. The league seems to be moving away from the "enforcer." Which means there will be guys who provide the things Mathers does, but who are also quicker and more skilled. But I'm certainly cheering for him. This year in Adirondack, his offensive numbers won't be pretty, but if he's able to find a consistent place in the line-up (and avoid the ECHL), I think that'd be great.
Anthony Stolarz - London Knights
Came to London at midseason (from U of Nebraska/Omaha) and slowly got better and better. He's got tons of potential. He's so athletic for a big guy. Teams have been trying to beat him by getting him moving (traditionally the strategy for a big goalie), but he moves post to post so quickly and is very agile. Because of this he made a lot of "highlight reel" saves. On the downside, he's so big and is still learning his angles which means he can have a lot of holes. This is why he was prone to some really bad games this year, when teams were finding those holes and getting him to over-commit. For as athletic as he is, he's certainly still a work in progress. But as I said, I do like his potential and I think he'll greatly improve this season when he's likely London's starter (at this point I can't see Jake Patterson stealing the gig).
Brandon Alderson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Alderson was a good signing by the Flyers. He possesses a lot of qualities that make him a potential NHL player. He's got great size and is a terrific skater for a big guy. He plays a real solid north/south game and is an effective player off the forecheck because of his speed. He's got enough puck skill to be involved in the transition game, but is most effective around the net and coming off the wall. He's a physical player and someone who backchecks consistently and works hard without the puck. I don't think there's much upside there offensively for the next level, but if he continues to bulk up (without sacrificing his skating abilities), he could be an effective role player at the NHL level. He'll play next year in Adirondack where I'm sure he'll play a checking line role. As such, I wouldn't expect much offense from him, but if he can stay in the AHL all year and gain experience at that level, that'd be great.
*of note, Colin Suellentrop was not signed to a contract and has become a free agent.