As Flyers' season ends, questions remain on Jordan Weal, Anthony Stolarz's future

As Flyers' season ends, questions remain on Jordan Weal, Anthony Stolarz's future

BOX SCORE

The look toward next season for the Flyers officially began Sunday night following their 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

Among those who played in the season finale who will remain high on the radar are goalie Anthony Stolarz and winger Jordan Weal.

Weal is intriguing because he's unsigned for next season and general manager Ron Hextall hasn't indicated whether he will re-up Weal before the expansion draft.

An unknown commodity when he arrived in Philadelphia as part of the Vinny Lecavalier trade over a year ago, Weal now appears fully vested in the Flyers.

Weal never played left wing before and yet he seemed to fit like a glove on Valtteri Filppula's line with Wayne Simmonds.

He picked up one final assist Sunday and finished the season with eight goals and 12 points in 23 games.

"A lot of hockey is the belief you can play at certain levels," Weal said. "I think having some success up here in the last part of the season really gave me that belief I can play here and have an impact and help the team win hockey games.

"I feel like I'm part of the team, for sure. When you get in, it's a great group of guys. For myself, I can take positives out of it."

Weal is a snail-darter-kind-of-player barely standing 5-foot-9 and said he wants to remain a Flyer (see 10 observations).

"I'd love to stay here," Weal said. "This is an organization that gave me a chance to show my stuff. When I came up this year, I was in a position to have success and I'm very thankful and would like to stay here. When you get the players I was able to play with, it's a treat out there."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol threw his support behind Weal.

"He's been a good player for us and it's been a fairly small sample size," Hakstol said. "Training camp probably didn't go as scripted as he would have liked. At the end of camp, we went down to Lehigh Valley and there was no real bump for him."

Weal went down to the minors, proved himself as an AHLer -- again -- and then returned as an NHL player.

"He did a good job for us," Hakstol said. "He was a good player for us playing in a position he hasn't spent a lot of time at -- most of the time playing left wing. I thought Jordan acquitted himself very well and at a tough time of the year."

Stolarz may or may not be the Flyers' long-time goalie. He may or may not even be the backup next season. He sometimes appears a bit awkward in the net and seven games isn't a lot to go on, but there is no rational reason for the Flyers not to give him a long look in training camp.

In retrospect, those 19 games he sat here while Michal Neuvirth was injured could have been better used playing him more than the two starts he actually had, both of which he won. Stolarz went into the season finale with a 1.93 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

What did he learn?

"It's a lot faster than the American League," Stolarz said. "It's a lot of fun being here and I've just gotta keep working hard, working on my game and take everything that I've seen on video and just bring it back to Allentown."

There is one thing Stolarz will bring into training camp next fall that he didn't necessarily have last fall.

"Definitely confidence," Stolarz said. "Obviously coming up here and being able to play at this level and kind of show I can hold my own, kind of makes me want to go out there and just work that much harder and continue to work on my game and just continue working hard so I can try to earn a spot here next year."

There's a decent line of prospects waiting for the crease that includes Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Can Stolarz rise to the Flyers' next No. 1?

"In a few, down the road, I think," Stolarz said. "Of course I need to get some experience. It's not going to just be given to me, so I have to continue to work hard and work on aspects of my game.

"It's obviously a lot different than the American League. I just have to continue to work on little things. Things happen quicker and guys are smarter, so I just have to try to keep up with that."

He didn't earn Hakstol's full trust during Neuvirth's absence, as the Flyers rode Steve Mason night after night.

"There were a couple times where he showed good presence," Hakstol said. "I go back to the game in San Jose coming in after one [in relief] there and he did an excellent job. So I think that showed a little bit about where he was in terms of his mental process.

"He was ready to go, he was confident that night. He went in and he did a good job and his team played hard in front of  him, and I think we've seen a continuation of that every time he's been in that regardless of the situation, whether it was in relief or tonight like he did in a start."

That said, Hakstol wasn't ready to commit on Stolarz. Put it this way, Weal has more of a foothold on a roster spot, whereas Stolarz is going to have to turn his limited experience from this season into a platform to elevate himself above others in training camp.

When asked if he were ready for full-time duty in the NHL, Hakstol gave pause.

"I think it's a small sample size," Hakstol said of Stolarz. "I've seen enough of him to think that he's really making nice progress. In terms of answering your question, I think that's one that needs to be answered over time."

For both of these guys -- and a few others -- it starts in five months.

Ivan the Great
In his final game this season, rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov logged 25:11. Nineteen times this season he was over 24 minutes.

Provorov's season average of 21:58 set a new ice time record for a Flyers rookie regardless of position.

He also became the first Flyers' rookie to appear in all 82 games during a season longer than 80 games. Four other players achieved that during the 80-game schedules of yesteryear: Mel Bridgman (1975-76), Behn Wilson (1978-79), Brian Propp (1979-80), and Jeff Chychrun (1988-89). Chris Therien appeared in all 48 games during the shortened 1994-95 season.
 
In addition to Provorov, Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare each appeared in all 82 games this season. Chris VandeVelde missed his first game of the season as a healthy scratch Sunday.

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

Players on American Hockey League contracts will be eligible to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President and CEO David Andrews confirmed through a league spokesman Wednesday that teams were informed they could loan players on AHL contracts to national teams for the purposes of participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The AHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs saying players could only be loaned for Olympic participation from Feb. 5-26.

The Olympic men's hockey tournament runs from Feb. 9-25. Like the NHL, which is not having its players participate for the first time since 1994, the AHL does not have an Olympic break in its schedule.

The AHL's decision does not affect players assigned to that league on NHL one- or two-way contracts. No final decision has been made about those players.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that the league had told its 31 teams that AHL players could be loaned to play in the Olympics. It was an AHL memo sent at the direction of that league's board of governors.

When the NHL announced in April that it wouldn't be sending players to South Korea after participating in five consecutive Olympics, Andrews said the AHL was prepared for Canada, the United States and other national federations to request players.

"I would guess we're going to lose a fair number of players," Andrews said in April. "Not just to Canada and the U.S., but we're going to lose some players to other teams, as well. But we're used to that. Every team in our league has usually got two or three guys who are on recalls to the NHL, so it's not going to really change our competitive integrity or anything else."

The U.S. and Canada are expected to rely heavily on players in European professional leagues and college and major junior hockey to fill out Olympic rosters without NHL players.

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

VOORHEES, N.J. — At the junior level, scoring was second nature to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, like riding a bike after you figure out the balance aspect.

Goals came in bunches and points piled up — that was his game and it came effortlessly at times, especially over his final two seasons with the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs, posting back-to-back campaigns of 38 markers and 80-plus assists.

"Usually in junior, scoring was always coming naturally to me, having points and goals," he said last week at Flyers development camp.

On the AHL ice last season, it was a whole new ballgame. For Aube-Kubel, Year 1 of pro hockey was a feeling-out process from start to finish. His prolific scoring didn't carry over much at all, as the speedy 5-foot-11 winger finished with nine goals and nine assists in 71 regular-season games for Lehigh Valley.

"Guys are better with the puck," he said of the AHL. "I've always been strong on the ice and skating-wise, too, but translating to the AHL, guys are faster, guys are quicker with the puck and less turnovers."

This was part of toeing the waters in a new surrounding. Not many prospects jump from the junior ranks to the AHL without missing a beat. Aube-Kubel, who turned 21 in May, wanted to fulfill his role and duties first before worrying about scoring. He finished the season as a plus-10, tied for fourth best on the team and tops among Phantoms with 70 or more games played.

"I've always been an offensive player," Aube-Kubel said. "From being my first year in the pros, I was trying more to focus on details and what the coach was telling me. I'm excited for next year and I'll try to step up my game, for sure, and try to do what I was doing in junior."

Following his fourth development camp, Aube-Kubel finds himself heading into an interesting second season with Lehigh Valley. A lot has changed since he was taken by the Flyers in the second round of the 2014 draft. With time, the organization has significantly built up its prospect pool and added depth at forward. 

Aube-Kubel is just fine with that.

"Since I've been drafted, there was depth," he said. "Any way I'm going to play in the NHL, I'm going to make my own spot. No one is going to give it to you. If there are more drafted players, it doesn't change anything."

He's also enjoyed working with the Phantoms' staff, led by head coach Scott Gordon. More development off the ice and a greater workload during games should help moving forward.

"I liked it. They treat you like a pro," he said. "Everyone does their own thing. If you cheat or if you're not serious about it, it's you to pay off. If you're not serious, it's going to be you that gets penalized."

If Aube-Kubel needs any comfort in the quiet start to his pro career, he can look back at his first season of junior play. He tallied just 10 goals and 27 points in 64 regular-season games. Then he jumped to 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 65 games in 2013-14 before scoring at will over his third and fourth seasons with Val-d'Or.

Maybe easing his way in is just part of his hockey DNA.

If so, keep an eye on Aube-Kubel next season.

"This year, I was maybe more focusing on having a role and trying to do what the coach was asking of me," Aube-Kubel said. "Now that it's all set, I'm going to focus on offensive play. I don't want to put pressure on myself, but last year wasn't my best offensive year. It was also my first year. I think I was trying to learn a lot of it and we'll see what happens next year."