With the Flyers season just under 7 weeks away and the roster (for the most part) looking set, it’s now time to see how the Flyers will utilize all their newly-acquired talent. With a good mix of up-and-coming prospects and proven veterans, there will be some tough decisions made as the season inches closer as it’s almost certain that a couple of players deserving of a spot may find themselves as a healthy scratch or in the minors.
Let’s look at how the Flyers’ roster is shaping up and which players may be battling for a spot In the starting lineup.
Locks (9): Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, Cam Atkinson, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, Joel Farabee
As they’re currently, the Flyers top-nine forwards seem to be locked in. Though it remains to be seen how Alain Vigneault constructs his lines, it’s fairly certain that these nine players will make up the top three lines.
At center, the Flyers will ice a strong trio of Couturier, Hayes, and Laughton who are all strong two-way players who have shown that they can play with anyone and can be utilized on special teams and with Claude Giroux sliding in from the wing for faceoffs, the Flyers will no doubt be among the league’s best in that category once again.
On the wing, the Flyers swapped out Jake Voracek for more of a two-way player in Cam Atkinson whose fit as a shoot-first player should help a team that struggled to get pucks on net at times last season. Outside of Atkinson, the Flyers’ top-nine wingers should look almost exactly the same if healthy.
Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Joel Farabee are all still growing at the NHL level and have earned top-nine minutes. The Flyers will need more than they got from Travis Konecny last year where he too often became visibly frustrated during goalless droughts. Meanwhile, Oskar Lindblom is another year removed from his battle with cancer and hopefully can continue to return to the player he was before his diagnosis and Joel Farabee was one of the few bright spots for the Flyers last season, netting 20 goals in 55 games.
The only questionable player in this list is James van Riemsdyk. With his hefty contract, it would be a hard pill to swallow to not have him in the Flyers’ starting lineup even if he isn’t a great fit at 5v5. But he ultimately put together a fine statistical season last year with 43 points in 55 games and was by far the team’s leading powerplay scorer with 10 goals, so he’ll have a spot in the Flyers’ top-nine.
On the Bubble (6): Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Morgan Frost, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson, Tanner Laczysnki, Wade Allison
Where the coaches will have decisions to make is in regards to the fourth line. They have some returning young talent in Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Tanner Laczysnki, and Wade Allison. Aube-Kubel took a big step back last season as he struggled with penalties and mental mistakes after a great 2019-20 season. The Flyers also got small, but intriguing sample sizes from Allison who showed off some goal-scoring ability with four goals in 14 games, and Laczsnyki who provided energy and played hard despite not registering a point in his 5 game stint.
To compete for a roster spot, the Flyers brought in two veteran centers on cheap deals in Nate Thompson and Derick Brassard. Thompson is back for his second stint with the Flyers and brings good faceoff numbers (52% in his career) and a physical presence on the fourth line but lacks when it comes to offense (5 points in 44 GP last season with Winnipeg). Brassard brings much of the same but is more capable on the offensive end, tallying 52 points in 112 points over the past two seasons which he spent with the Islanders and Coyotes. It seems likely that we see these two in some kind of rotation depending on the matchup.
Then there is the case of Morgan Frost. There’s no doubt that Frost is talented and we saw a small glimpse of that during a stretch in 2019 where he was playing with Claude Giroux and posted 7 points in 20 games but a shoulder injury last season limited Frost to just two games last season and even if he is fully recovered, he may not be the type of player Vigneault wants playing on the fourth line with his lack of size. He is still just 22 years old so another year in Lehigh Valley may not be such a bad idea.
Locks (5): Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle
After a woeful season defensively in 2020-21, Chuck Fletcher made it a point of emphasis to rebuild the defense and he certainly followed through. With the addition of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle, the Flyers added a proven top-pairing defenseman to play with Ivan Provorov, a massive physical presence, and an offensively-minded veteran who can help out the powerplay in Yandle. We’ll still have to see how they are utilized, but it seems like there is a good chance the Flyers will be a stronger group on the back end.
But to return to the great defensive team they were in 2019-20, they must get strong bounce-back seasons from Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim who had their fair share of struggles last season.
For Provorov, he’s been relied on to be a workhorse and will continue to play upwards of 25 minutes a night, but it was easy to see that he was not his best last season playing next to a revolving door of partners. Hopefully, Ellis can help him get back to being the Provorov we saw with Matt Niskanen two seasons ago.
As for Sanheim, much like Provorov, he struggled to find his groove as he was paired up with many defensive partners after the Sanheim-Myers pairing that was so strong in 2019-20 struggled mightily to carry over their success. He made too many mental errors and was not the same offensive force he was in seasons prior. We’ll have to see who he is paired up with but a confident and effective Sanheim is a must-have for the Flyers’ second defensive pairing.
On the Bubble (2): Justin Braun, Cam York
I would be very surprised if Justin Braun did not earn a spot on the Flyers defense but the prospect that is the caliber of Cam York has to at least raise the possibility that Braun could see some time in the press box.
With the signing of Yandle and his long iron-man streak, it’s unlikely he signed here to be the seventh defenseman, so that leaves Justin Braun as a potential candidate to be replaced by a budding prospect like York if he impresses in training camp. But ultimately, Braun seems to be a better fit to play with an offensive player like Yandle which makes me believe that York will at least begin the season in Lehigh Valley.
Locks (2): Carter Hart, Martin Jones
Another area where the Flyers will need much better play is between the pipes. Carter Hart, with his new contract under his belt, will have a lot of pressure on him to bounce back after, quite honestly, a brutal season for him. Though the team in front of him was very poor defensively, we did not see the Carter Hart that we saw in 2019-20 and in the NHL playoff bubble where he outdueled Carey Price.
Hart may be the most important piece to this upcoming Flyers season as a 22-year-old goaltender but they will need him to be the backbone of the team if they are going to make any noise this season.
Backing Hart up will be the newly-signed Martin Jones who is coming off some tough seasons in San Jose where he’s posted an .896 save percentage in 137 games across the past three seasons. He will be reunited with his former goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh who will try to fix Jones and help him somewhat return to the player he was when he helped the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup in 2016.
On The Bubble: None
The Flyers will certainly go with a tandem of Hart and Jones barring any injury. If one of the two does go down, it would likely be 2015 third-round pick Felix Sandstrom as the next man up.
Photo Credit: Asscoiated Press All Stats Courtesy of Hockey Reference
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