The Philadelphia Flyers hold the rights to six players who played NCAA hockey this season. This does not include defenseman Nick Luukko (drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Draft), who signed an American Hockey League contract to finish the 2014-15 season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms after completing his four-year collegiate career at the University of Vermont. Luukko dressed in six AHL games for the Phantoms late in the season.
The Flyers imminently need to make a signing decision on only one of the other six players. Right winger Michael Parks, a fifth-round pick in 2010, recently completed his senior year at the University of North Dakota. As a senior, Parks skated on the top line and produced 12 goals and 32 points in 42 games for a team that reached the Frozen Four.
"Michael had a good senior year and a good college career after getting set back by injuries when he was a sophomore," said Flyers scouting director Chris Pryor. "Our organization is going to evaluate where we're at with Michael and then we'll make a decision."
No organizational decision has been made as of yet whether to offer Parks an entry-level contract (ELC) for 2015-16. There had been rumors before North Dakota made its run to the Frozen Four that the Flyers would offer Parks the same arrangement as Luukko for the tail end of the 2014-15 season after the UND season was finished. That was not the case. North Dakota lost to Boston University in the Frozen Four semifinals on April 9. The Phantoms' season ended on April 19.
If the Flyers do not sign Parks to an ELC for 2015-16, it is still possible that they could extend an AHL contract offer for next season. That way, they could continue to evaluate him without tying up a spot on their reserve list. However, every player would prefer an NHL entry-level deal, which carries a signing bonus they keep on top of the AHL salary on the two-way contract. As such, if the Flyers do not offer Parks an ELC, he may opt to try his luck elsewhere.
At the collegiate level, the righthanded shooting Parks developed into a reliable two-way forward who posted a respectable number of points while playing near the top of the lineup. At the pro level, he would be a role player who would try to adapt to a similar type of role to the one that fellow former North Dakota player Chris VandeVelde performs.
Cornell University defenseman Reece Willcox completed his junior year in 2014-15. The campaign was perhaps a baby step forward or a lateral step from his strong sophomore season. A high ankle sprain physically set back the 21-year-old Wilcox this year but, when healthy, he continued to receive top-end ice time and use in many different situations.
"With those high ankle sprains, you're almost better off breaking it than spraining it because it can linger for quite awhile and actually take a longer time to get back to where you were at before," Pryor noted.
Nevertheless, the Flyers organization is pleased with the progress of the 6-foot-4 righthanded defenseman since the time he was drafted out of the BCHL in the fifth-round of the 2012 NHL Draft to play collegiate hockey as a true freshman. Willcox turned 21 in March.
"Reece's senior year is going to be a very important one for him, obviously," said Pryor. "He's got good size, good poise, skates well, pretty good good defensive stick, good first pass. So the elements are there, and his coach has a lot of confidence in him. We still like him quite a bit."
Willcox occasionally likes to pinch up on the play but he has always been more of a two-way puck mover than a point producer. He's never reached double-digit points at the collegiate level, which is why he sometimes gets overlooked as a pro-level prospect. Likewise, he's more of positional defenseman than a crushing hitter, so he tends not to noticed by casual observers.
When the Flyers first drafted Willcox, he was very skinny (about 180 pounds on a 6-foot-4 body). He's been working the last few years in filling out his frame. Further progress this summer and next year would help his cause in seeking a professional contract. While his junior year was not markedly better than his sophomore year, it was also not a backward step despite the lingering injury.
Willcox's Cornell teammate, senior forward Cole Bardreau, signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers after the season ended for the Big Red. The gritty and hard-working member of the 2013 World Junior Championship gold-medal winning Team USA squad played 15 games in the AHL for the Phantoms late this season.
The highlight clip video below shows Bardreau jockeying the puck with Willcox at the point before an eventual one-timer power play goal by Willcox. It was his lone goal of the 2014-15 season.
Among all the Flyers' collegiate players, the biggest buzz is currently about 2015 third-round pick Mark Friedman. Selected out of the USHL last year, the 19-year-old Friedman (he will turn 20 on December 25) made an immediate two-way impact as a freshman defenseman for the revived Bowling Green University program in 2014-15.
"Mark had a very good first season at Bowling Green, improving in every aspect of his game," Pryor said. "I know that people are going to look at the offense (19 points in 39 games) first but we like his all-around game. He is a very confident young man and he competes, even though he's on the smaller side. Mark is a good skater, has an active stick. He skates well, passes well. He plays in every situation and seems to handle it pretty well. He's on the right track and we think he'll only continue to improve."
Friedman made the WCHA all-rookie team. His 19 points were tied for fifth among all freshmen position players -- forwards as well as defensemen -- in the WCHA. He had six assists on the power play. Defensively, he was a top-unit regular on the number one ranked penalty-kill in the NCAA (89.4 percent). Overall, Bowling Green allowed just 2.36 goals per game this year, tied for 22nd nationally. Friedman was a plus-seven at even strength.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Friedman is a bit undersized for a defenseman. He plays with a lot of sandpaper in his game, however, as witnessed by his 75 penalty minutes in 39 games and the many times this season where opposing forwards carried on running battles throughout games. The Toronto native was not shy about mixing it up with bigger forwards.
Friedman is usually quick on puck retrievals but is not afraid to take a body check to get the puck up to the forwards. He usually protects the puck well and is good at zone clears but will turn over some pucks when he gets a little too aggressive. Defensively, he is good at tying up opponents' sticks and has the hockey sense to know when someone is lurking around the slot.
As a freshman this season, Friedman scored two goals but was a double-digit goal scorer in the USHL the previous year. He is good at finding shooting lanes and getting shots on net and is dangerous when joining the rush.
Friedman, who committed to Bowling Green at age 14, is a third-generation hockey player. He is named for his late grandfather, who coached the Don Mills Flyers program in the Toronto area.
In the latter rounds of the 2013 NHL Draft, the Flyers took three college-bound players: defensemen David Drake and Terrance Amorosa as well as goaltender Merrick Madsen. All three played their collegiate freshman seasons in 2014-15.
Seventh-round pick Drake, who turned 20 in January, dressed in 32 of 36 games for UConn this season. The 6-foot-4 defenseman posted five points (one goal, four assists), 14 penalty minutes and a minus-15 rating for a struggling team. Amorosa, who turned 20 in November, dressed in half of Clarkson's games this season. The defenseman, who had a late-teen growth spurt to go from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1, posted five points (one goal, four assists) and a plus-two at even strength.
"David and Terrance are in a similar situation," said Pryor. "They are working on developing their games and getting stronger physically. They had some good learning experiences this season and we saw some progress this year."
Of the two, Drake is arguably a little bit ahead of Amorosa at the present time; if only because he got the benefit of more regular playing time. However, Amorosa, who enjoyed a strong overall 2013-14 USHL season for the Sioux City Musketeers, could make a more dramatic move in their respective sophomore seasons.
Madsen, a freshman at Harvard University, only played in one game during the 2014-15 season, while backing up workhorse senior Steve Michalek (a Minnesota Wild prospect). He was a split-time starter at the NAHL level (rather than the USHL) the previous year. The goaltender will turn 20 on August 22.
"There's no doubt that Merrick needs to play more," said Pryor. "He needs to face shots in games as well as in practice. Hopefully, he'll play more next season. At the same time, we think there's some good tools to work with for Merrick. He's got a good head on his shoulders; he's smart and mature. He's big [6-foot-4] and he's a good athlete."
Madsen was listed at 177 pounds when the Flyers drafted him two summers ago, has been working on filling out his frame and reportedly has good work habits at practice. With three years of NCAA hockey eligibility remaining, he has plenty of time to continue developing his game and gaining much-needed game experience.