TODAY IS Boxing Day in Canada. For most of us, that means little in the United States. For our neighbors from the north, that means spending the holiday break with the annual tradition of watching the best and brightest hockey prospects under age 20 represent their countries.
It is also an important week for the Flyers. Not only will the Flyers keep tabs on their four prospects skating in the World Junior Championships - making them one of the most well-represented NHL teams - but they also will scout talented players available in the upcoming 2014 and 2015 drafts.
Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor will arrive in Sweden for the tournament on Saturday. He shared his thoughts on the Flyers' prospects playing earlier this week with the Daily News:
Age: 19 (5/30/94)
From: Oakville, Ontario
Drafted: 1st round (20th overall, 2012)
Stats: 24 goals, 26 assists in 29 games (OHL Oshawa)
The skinny: All eyes will be focused on Scott Laughton, who more nights than not, has been the best player on the ice in his OHL games this season. Laughton was named Team Canada's captain by former NHL head coach Brent Sutter - who also coached Canada's junior entry in 2005 when Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn won a gold medal. Laughton has five NHL games under his belt already. The Flyers are impressed with his responsible defensive play, but want to see the offensive touch he has been focusing on after two deep training camp runs with them.
Pryor says : "The fact that he's captain says a lot about Scott. He's going to take on a big role in Sweden. This is a good opportunity for him to show everybody where he's at with his game.
"He's going to be a big piece of that Canadian team. I think he's a Brent Sutter-type of guy. He's good on both sides of the puck, he's competitive, he's good defensively and he's also good offensively. We're excited for him, it's a big stage for him to be on."
Position: Left wing
Age: 19 (2/15/94)
From: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Drafted: 4th round (117th overall, 2012)
Stats: 22 goals, 21 assists in 31 games (WHL Portland)
The skinny: Leier has done nothing but open the eyes of the Flyers' development staff since scout Mark Greig pushed to draft him two summers ago. Leier scored timely goals for Portland last year on the Winterhawks' way to the Memorial Cup tournament and he has been impressive this season. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren described Leier last month as a "kid who will find a way to play in the NHL."
Pryor says : "One thing about Taylor is that he's a little bit like Scott in that he plays a good, all-around game. He's a versatile guy. He carries a big role in Portland. Those players that can move up and move down a lineup, can kill penalties, can play in the last minute of a game, coaches love those type of players.
"Players like him really seem to do well in tournaments like these, just because they can do a lot of things.
We've been really happy with him. The more you see him, the more you like because he does a lot of things well. Any time you can get a kid later in the draft and it looks like he's come along quicker than you might have thought, it is a nice surprise. Mark Greig was
really high on him out West, but this is a great Christmas present for the kid. Hockey Canada recognized him for his hard work and we're really proud of him."
Age: 19 (1/20/94)
From: Jackson, N.J.
Drafted: 2nd round (45th overall, 2012)
Stats: 20-3-1 record, 2.50 GAA, .926 SV% (OHL London)
The skinny: Stolarz will be fighting for playing time with Providence College netminder Jon Gillies as the United States aims for back-to-back gold. Just like at the Olympic level, goaltending seems to be the USA's strongest suit. Stolarz made 19 saves in a warm-up loss to Sweden last Friday and Gillies stopped 38 in a 3-2 warm-up win over Finland on Sunday, making Gillies the likely opening-game starter.
Pryor says : "He's done well for himself, making the big step from college to major junior. He picked up where he left off last year. Now, he's getting that experience at the World Juniors.
"From a development standpoint, goaltenders probably take the longest. Being selected by USA Hockey says a lot about how far he's come in just a few years. Neil Little saw a lot of him a few years ago and Anthony has done a lot of work since then. He's an extremely athletic goaltender. Hopefully he'll get an opportunity to play some games there and see how he does. We're all about patience here, but he's on a good path."
Age: 19 (5/31/94)
Drafted: 7th round (201st overall, 2012)
Stats: 2 assists, minus-4 in 26 games (KHL Moscow Spartak)
The skinny: The Flyers are taking the long road with Vasiliev, who has been making a name for himself playing 13 minutes a night in the second-best league in the world. He has battled injuries over the last two seasons, but the Flyers are hoping he can add speed to his solid, 6-1, 203-pound frame.
Pryor says : "I think he has a real competitive game. He plays a solid, two-way game. He does a lot of little things real well. We drafted him in the late rounds and he's been hurt a little bit. But obviously he's getting a little recognition now playing with that [Russian] team. That will give him a little boost of a confidence because there are some real good players.
"Some of those [Russian] guys just take a little more time to develop.
We're in no hurry with him. [Flyers scout] Kenny Hoodikoff does a lot of our Russian stuff, saw a lot of him and liked him. Valeri played the game hard every night. We're going to give him a few years and see how he develops."