No. 18: Can Laczynski be one of the NCAA’s best?

The Ohio State center was one of the better players in the NCAA this past season. What’s in store for him?

The late rounds of the NHL draft have been pretty tough on the Flyers in recent years. Sure, that’s true of most teams to some extent; the vast majority of picks beyond the second or third round of the draft never really amount to anything meaningful (if anything at all) at the NHL level. But it’s been particularly tough sledding for the Flyers for most of this century.

From the 2001 NHL Draft to now, the only player picked in the fourth round or later by the Flyers who has gone on to play at least 100 games with the organization is Zac Rinaldo, who in an ideal world probably would not have played at least 100 games with the organization. Again, drafting late is hard and every team will fail at it more often than not, but the Flyers have failed at it a lot lately.

Fortunately, there are some signs that the tide may be turning on this front under Ron Hextall. Oskar Lindblom, a fifth-rounder in the 2014 draft who will join us later on in this 25 Under 25 countdown, looks poised to join that 100-game club within the next year or two. And among the other late-round prospects still out there in the system, not many have shown the type of progress since being drafted that 2016 sixth-rounder Tanner Laczynski has shown in the past couple of seasons. After coming on as a relative unknown in that draft, the Ohio State center has moved his way up the rankings and into prominence in the Flyers’ crowded group of prospects, and now he looks like he’s got a decent shot to be another late-round success story.

No. 18: Tanner Laczynski

Position: C
Age: 21 (6/1/1997)
Size: 6’1”, 190 (via)
Acquired Via: 2016 NHL Draft — Round 6, Pick 169
2017-18 League/Team/Statistics: Ohio State (NCAA) – 17 G, 30 G in 41 GP
Nationality: American
Ranking in BSH Winter 2018 25 Under 25: 19

At the time of his selection, Laczynski seemed like a worthwhile gamble for a sixth-round pick. The Chicago-area native was actually in his second year of draft eligibility after getting passed by the first time around in 2015, but he followed up that disappointment with a dominant 2015-16 season in which he was fourth in the USHL in total points and second in points per game among regular skaters. Hextall took a bet on that strong season being the start of something as Laczynski headed off to Columbus to begin his college hockey career.

Right out of the gate, it looked like the Flyers had uncovered a gem: seven games into his college career, Laczynski had already tallied 11 points, including nine in a stretch of four multi-point games. The hot start clearly caught some people’s attentions, including those of the folks at USA Hockey, who named Laczynski to the World Junior team that went on to win the gold medal the following winter. The Flyers couldn’t have asked for a much better start for Laczynski.

Things did cool off a bit for him after that point, though. Laczynski had just 10 points in 19 games upon returning from WJCs, with a seven-game scoreless stretch right in the heart of conference play representing the low point of that swing. Call it a young player hitting the wall, call it the product of tougher opposition right in the heart of conference season — there are a number of possible explanations. Still, while the overall season had to be considered a success — he ended up at just under a point per game in his freshman year — Laczynski entered his sophomore year with something to prove: namely, that he could take a step forward and prove to be one of the best players in college hockey.

That step was, in fact, taken this past season. With the exception of a pair of brief lulls — he began the season with four straight scoreless games, and had a stretch of five in a row without a point in February — Laczynski was a force to be reckoned with for the Buckeyes all year long. He led the Buckeyes in scoring with 17 goals and 30 assists, and was tied for 11th in the entire NCAA in total points. He was Ohio State’s best player, no small achievement for a team that reached the Frozen Four before losing to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth.

His strong year didn’t go without recognition. Laczynski was named as a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award (given yearly to college hockey’s best player) in January, though he was ultimately not named a finalist. He was alsonamed as a second-team West All-American, and was one of three finalists for the Big Ten Player of the Year award, though he (and former Flyers prospect Cooper Marody) lost out on the award to Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris.

At the very least, the Flyers have got a pretty intriguing power forward prospect in Laczynski. He’s at his most dangerous in the offensive zone around the net, where his respectable size and strength complement his skills nicely. Despite his stats skewing more towards the assists side of the ledger, he’s not afraid to put the puck on net — in fact, no one in the Big 10 shot the puck more frequently last year than Laczynski did, and player who’s able to get to dangerous areas on the ice and fire the puck with regularity is going to create scoring chances not only for himself but for his teammates via rebounds. Laczynski also has some positional versatility; he was drafted as a center, but largely played on the right wing this past season alongside fellow Buckeye center Mason Jobst.

So what’s his future looking like? Hextall suggested in season-ending interviews that Laczynski wanted to go back to college for his junior year, and the team appeared to be fine with that. The decision sounds like it boils down to unfinished business for Laczynski, who will come back to an OSU team that returns most of its best players from last season:

So his team goals are pretty well established. His individual ones should be similarly lofty. Of the 10 guys in front of him on the NCAA scoring leaderboard last season, six of them have since moved on to the pro ranks. It’s not unreasonable to say Laczynski, now in his fourth season after first becoming draft-eligible, should be gunning for the Hobey, or at the least should be one of the 10 finalists for it. The expectation here is that he will be one of the very best players in the NCAA next year. Full stop.

If that happens, one has to think that the conversation between him and the Flyers about turning pro will be a bit more serious next summer. His returning to college this year makes sense, they’ve presumably given him some things to work on while there, and with the Flyers already having 47 players under NHL contract for the coming season (48 if Morgan Frost makes the NHL team), they can afford to let him run it back elsewhere for another season. But one has to think the Flyers will try a bit harder to lock him in to an entry-level deal next summer, lest they want to risk Laczynski going back for his senior year without a deal (not too long after, allegedly, having similar concerns about the aforementioned Cooper Marody, who was traded to Edmonton this past March). Until then, though, the Flyers have one of the best and well-rounded players in college hockey to keep an eye on. All for just a sixth-round pick.


Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2018 Top 25 Under 25:

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