On Monday, the Flyers will open their 2011-12 training camp with a week of rookie practices. To see the full schedule and roster, click here.
For obvious reasons, the biggest story lines will be about newly acquired, presumptive third-line center Brayden Schenn and eighth overall draft pick Sean Couturier. But there are plenty of other players to watch next week, a lot of whom will fly under the radar.
Up front, there will be two players with NHL experience - Zac Rinaldo and Eric Wellwood - who are likely to garner their own large share of the attention. Four other forwards are worthy of attention, however.
#42 / Right Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Jun 03, 1990
Acquired: 2011 Free Agency
Signed at the beginning of March, Akeson averaged 1.34 points per game in his three years in Kitchener. He's coming off three straight twenty goal seasons and was named OHL Overager of the Year this past season. While that is high praise, it also comes with the caveat that he was older, stronger, more experienced, and more mature than the majority of the league.
Two years ago he played with Jeff Skinner, showing that Akeson had both skill and fortune in his Juniors career. But this past season, when he scored 108 points in 67 games, he was playing with two undrafted players. His inflated assist rate may be lucky - over 1.25 assists per game is not exactly sustainable - but it's not the result of having two 45-goal guys on his line, as he did in 2009-10.
Keep an eye on Akeson, as he's another low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket the Flyers have been stockpiling lately.
#51 / Left Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
May 03, 1992
Acquired: 7th Round, 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Ranford caught the attention of a lot of Flyers fans back in November after he scored 44 points in 26 games. For a player who had never before finished a season at the point-per-game mark, many wanted to believe he had taken that step and was that rare 7th round pick that defied the odds. But after scoring 9 goals and 42 points in his final 42 games, Ranford fell back to Earth.
Over 114 games surrounding his fast start to this past season, Ranford scored 38 goals and 107 points. A great 26 game stretch is propping Ranford's career up, but he still has worthy numbers for a nineteen year old in the WHL. Ranford needs to take another step in his development, and it will be worth watching next week to see if he's ready to do that this fall. The one thing he has as an advantage over the other players named here is that he's one year younger. He has more time.
#53 / Left Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Jul 09, 1990
Acquired: 4th Round, 2010 NHL Entry Draft
The brother of Sharks forward Jamie McGinn, Tye was slower to develop. He has back-to-back 25 goal, 60 point seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League despite playing fifty games or less. The numbers are impressive, if not often talked about. McGinn averaged 1.52 points per game, which would have placed him just outside the top-5 - right behind Sean Couturier - in QMJHL scoring last year, if he played as many games as the leaders did.
The bad news, obviously, is that McGinn is older than all those he was playing against. Just like Akeson, he was a 20 year old putting up these impressive numbers. Among those players eligible to be drafted in 2008 - as McGinn was, but went undrafted - McGinn would have been the 22nd highest scoring forward in the NHL last year according to Gabe Desjardins' NHL Equivalencies. While two-thirds of those above him were playing professionally already, it does indicate that McGinn has talent and potential. Time to take notice.
#38 / Right Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Feb 01, 1989
Acquired: 2010 Free Agency
Harper is a player I was very excited to see play last season, since he was coming off back-to-back 30 goal seasons in the WHL. Unfortunately, he was unable to find success in the AHL. After scoring just one goal and three points in 20 AHL games, he spent the rest of the season in the ECHL. But while playing top line minutes for Greenville, Harper found his scoring touch again.
In the ECHL, Harper scored 22 goals and 45 points in 48 regular season games before adding 4 goals and 10 points in 11 playoff games. Despite only being there for half the year, Harper was second on his team in goals. Performing at nearly a point per game in the ECHL is impressive, even if it came against much weaker competition. Now Harper has to show he can score in the AHL, as he's done at every other level.
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On defense, most eyes will be on Oliver Lauridsen, someone who received his fair share of press at Rookie Camp, mostly for being six feet, six inches tall. But another player to watch is Brandon Manning.
#50 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Jun 4, 1990
Acquired: 2010 Free Agency
Manning is listed as an invitee on all official Flyers training camp materials, including the rookie camp rosters from July. This was interesting to me then, but the team confirmed he is under contract today, something his Juniors team reported in November of last year.
Manning may be flying under the Flyers' PR department's radar, but after back-to-back 50 point seasons from the blueline, it's time to take notice. The same caveats apply to Manning as to the rest of those listed above - he's found success after becoming one of the senior members of his team - but a 20 goal defenseman who puts up a point per game is worth watching. It's time to see if he can continue being an offensive defenseman.
While most of the attention next week will be centered around Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, there are plenty of other players to watch. Those five players listed above are the ones I'm most interested in, since they are the late bloomers and overagers trying to spark their careers.
Everyone above has both skill and something to prove. Harper is trying to prove he can play in the AHL, let alone NHL. Ranford is trying to prove he's more than an early season hot streak. Akeson is trying to prove he can beat players his own age, without Calder Trophy winners. McGinn is trying to prove he is more than someone's kid brother. Manning is trying to prove he can be a professional defenseman, not just a power play specialist.
If you go, try to watch for these guys. You just might see something.