Which Prospect Will Fill Philadelphia Flyers’ Defensive Hole?

Shayne Gostisbehere

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Yesterday, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson announced that he would not only be departing from the orange and black, but the NHL completely. The 25-year-old made the decision to join the KHL overseas after what was a roller coaster of a stint in Philadelphia.

In 91 career NHL games, all with Philadelphia, Gus tallied six goals and 17 points. He also finished with a rather stellar plus-17 plus/minus rating. He showed plenty of flashes of promise since debuting in the 2010-11 season. When push came to shove, though, underachievement overshadowed any hopes that he would turn out to be the kind of player many wished he would become.

With the sudden exiting of Gustafsson and an uncertain future in Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers are now in an extremely tight position to bring in defense. With little to no money to openly sign a reliable defenseman, Philly is now virtually forced to do one of two things: trade a big contract player to open room for that free agent, or hope that their defensive prospects can have a quicker than usual development process this summer.

With the way things are shaping up defensively and a need for speed at the top line, it looks like option two will be the likely outcome. So let’s take a look at the most reliable prospects.

Sam Morin is a guy who definitely fits the the size the Flyers are looking for. At 6-foot-6, the 18-year-old is a fantastic two-way player. In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, Morin appeared in 54 games and recorded 31 points and 121 penalty minutes. On top of that however, he was also able to post a plus-12 plus/minus rating. Hockeysfuture.com has him ranked as the No. 1 defensive prospect for the Flyers and second overall.

Shayne Gostisbehere is another kid who is expected to make a run at a roster spot when camp opens up. As far as progression, he is the one guy in the Flyers’ prospect pool that is doing it the quickest. Last year, he helped propel Union College to the nation’s fourth ranked defense, giving up only 2.14 goals per game. He also helped Union win its first national championship in school history. Though he is much smaller than Morin, Gostisbehere played in 42 games with Union last season and scored 34 points, good enough for sixth on the team. Even more impressive was the plus/minus category in the ECAC — an astounding plus-33.  Hockeysfuture.com has Gostisbehere ranked as the Flyers’ No. 3 defensive prospect and fourth overall.

Robert Hagg is another favorite to try to make a push, though his development process seems to be running a little slower than the other two guys’. Come opening night next season, do not be the least bit surprised to see either Morin or Gostisbehere on the roster.

If I had to pick one of these two guys, I would go with Morin. His size is more appropriate for what Philadelphia is looking for and he has pretty impressive numbers in one of the world’s more competitive leagues.

One thing is certain: they would never put both these guys on the roster, not to start the season at least. It will be fun watching these two young hopefuls battle it out in camp come the end of the summer.

Steven Smith is a Philadelphia Flyers writer for RantSports.com.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google.

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