Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-2018, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers are insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around till the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-2018 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on the Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-2018 Philadelphia Flyers.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-2018 Philadelphia Flyers
The 2016-17 season for the Flyers featured a lot of ups and downs. The Flyers finished with 88 points, good for sixth in the division, seven points behind the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The team has made the playoffs just twice out of the last five years. Under second year coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers were sunk by inconsistencies around their lineup.
On the positive side, Wayne Simmonds continued to prove his worth on the team. With 31 goals and 23 assists, he was able to reach the 30-goal mark for the second year in a row. His 54 point season earned him a trip to the All Star Game where he would capture the MVP award.
The youth movement also saw a boost as Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny impressed in their rookie seasons. Provorov would post 30 points in 82 games while showing he could handle heavy minutes. Konecny, despite dealing with injury issues, was able to post 28 points in 70 games. His 11 goals added a boost for a team that has had scoring issues.
Despite the good, there was plenty of bad that followed. Both Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere had slow starts due to off-season surgery. Giroux finished with 58 points, his lowest point total since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Gostisbehere took a step back from his impressive rookie showing, finishing with 39 points.
A 10-game win streak from November 25th to December 17th couldn’t carry the Flyers as they became the first team to post a 10-game streak and miss the playoffs.
The Flyers off-season started out with a bang as the team was projected to pick 13th overall in the draft. Thanks to the lottery, the Flyers jumped to the number two pick. They had a 4.6% chance of that happening. With the draft considered to have two potential number one picks, all the Flyers had to do was draft the player that the New Jersey Devils did not. And that is how they ended up with Nolan Patrick.
There was another big move on draft night as the Flyers would send Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues in return for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick, and a future first rounder. With the pick, the Flyers took Morgan Frost.
While that was the only big trade the Flyers made, there were a couple of other moves that Ron Hextall made. A minor trade sent Nick Cousins and Merrick Madsen to the Arizona Coyotes in return for Brendan Warren and a 2018 5th round pick.
The Flyers would also add Brian Elliott to help sure up their goaltending after losing Steve Mason to free agency. Gostisbehere was also inked to a six-year, $27 million extension while the team lost Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the expansion draft.
2017-18 Predicted Line Combinations
Predicting line combinations can be tricky when thinking about Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol. Things are always subject to change in their system. One thing is for sure, Giroux is the number one center. Putting young players like Lindblom and Konecny may take some pressure off him to perform. It also gives him two skilled players who can make plays.
Depending on how ready the team sees Patrick, the second and third lines could be flipped. Simmonds and Weal have spent time with Patrick during camp and have looked good together. With Simmonds big body and Weal’s speed, it gives Patrick two players who can create space on each side.
This could make Couturier the third line center. Voracek isn’t going on the fourth line so he slots in on the right wing. Weise seems to have a leg up on the depth chart so he’ll fit in on the left side.
That leaves the fourth line. It’s hard to imagine Laughton isn’t in the lineup as the team proved they still have faith in him. He was protected in the expansion draft and given a two-year contract. Raffl is coming off injuries and Read is trying to prove he still has some worth.
That leaves Lehtera and Filppula on the outside looking in at the moment. It’s been said that Lehtera may be moving to wing, which could get him into the lineup sooner. With Giroux, Couturier, and Patrick seemingly ahead of Filppula, it’s tough to have him at center as well. Those two will get playing time, but it may not start on opening night.
Shayne Gostisbehere – Sam Morin
The defense is going to look a bit different after letting Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz walk in free agency. The youth infusion will be heavy on the blue line as two rookies will be making their appearance on the depth chart. It’s hard not to imagine it will be Morin and Hagg.
Provorov proved last season that he is capable of being a number one defenseman. It’s time for him to show what he can do without MacDonald on his side. Gudas is a big-bodied stay at home defenseman and should work well with Provorov’s offensive side.
Gostisbehere is going into his third season in the NHL. While he’s still young, he can be considered a veteran presence on the back end. This pairing with Morin would be another example of an offensive guy with a defensive player. These two also saw time together in Lehigh Valley and seemed to work well together.
The Flyers seem to pair MacDonald with a rookie for veteran leadership so it would be no surprise to see Hagg end up there. The team did this with Provorov last season. Hagg has overcome a lot on his journey to the NHL so starting him out on the third pairing would be a good way to ease him into the league.
That leaves Manning as the rotating seventh defensemen. This is no different than the role he saw last season. There is no reason to believe that he won’t get chance this year. The team values him as he was protected from the expansion draft and re-signed.
The Flyers will be performing in a goalie tandem this season. That was the reason that Elliott was brought in after Mason’s departure. Elliott is familiar with a tandem role and has thrived in those situations. It’s possible him or Neuvirth take control, though it’s likely both get a fair amount of starts. They’ll ride the hot hand when necessary, but it’ll most likely be a 1A and 1B situation for Hakstol.
Players to Watch
Giroux is coming off a very disappointing season and has shown signs of declining. He has also had injury troubles the last few seasons. Coming into camp healthy and maintaining that throughout the season will be key to a bounce-back campaign. If Giroux can do that, it would be no surprise to see him perform at the high level fans are used to seeing. Add two skilled wingers to his line and he could bounce back in a big way.
It’s not time to write off the Flyers number one center just yet.
This one is too easy. Drafted number two overall, all eyes will be on Patrick this season. Despite surgery that limited his season to 33 games last year, he posted 20 goals and 26 assists. Following a second surgery in the off-season, Patrick came in to camp completely healthy and feeling no pain. And he hasn’t looked out of place during the first bit of Flyers training camp. He’s shown no fatigue at the NHL level.
At the moment, it’s hard to imagine Patrick won’t be the team’s second line center. It will all depend on how he performs in the preseason. But there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll shine.
Players on the Rise
The youth movement will be kicked into gear this upcoming season, but Konecny was one part of it’s beginning last year. While he was in Hakstol’s doghouse at times, Konecny showed flashes of the high scoring forward he was in juniors. He missed some time due to injury as well, but managed 11 goals and 17 assists in 70 games.
With the trade of Schenn, it’s expected that Konecny will have a bigger role on the team this season. He saw time with Giroux on the top line before so he should have the opportunity to get time up there again.
The second half of last year’s youth movement saw a rough start to his season. But it was over as quickly as it happened. There were times during the season where it was hard to believe that Provorov was in his first season in the NHL. This would culminate for him in a game where he scored two goals against the Chicago Blackhawks, the same team he struggled against earlier in the season.
Playing on a pairing with MacDonald, Provorov was able to chip in offensively as he registered six goals and 24 assists in all 82 games. There’s nowhere to go but up for the young defenseman. He will also be expected to hold a bigger role on the team. And he showed last year that he’s up for the challenge.
Players on the Decline
It’s fair to say that Read has been on the decline the last few seasons. It’s been a long time since fans saw the rookie that broke into the league with 24 goals and 23 assists in 2011-12. While Read hit the 10-goal mark last season, he finished with only 19 points in 63 games. Those were the lowest totals in his career.
The point totals have steadily dropped for Read during the last four seasons. From 40 points in 2013-14 to the 19 he finished with last season, things are declining at rapid speed. At 31 years old, it’s possible that age is catching up to him in a quick way. Read has also only played a full season one time in his career, 42 games during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13.
On the last year of his contract, it’s expected to also be his last in Philadelphia. With youth knocking at the door, it is almost too easy to assume that Read will be pushed out of favor.
Weise has never been a high scoring guy during his career. His highest point total was 29 with the Montreal Canadiens in 2014-15. But despite that, this past season was certainly not one he will remember fondly. Posting eight goals and seven assists is not the type of season he wanted in his first year in Philadelphia. It’s also not what the Flyers wanted after signing him to a four-year contract.
Weise underwent a surgical procedure in the off-season to remove bone spurs from his elbow. It’s possible that it was something he dealt with during the season. He did finish on a high note with 10 points in his last 14 games. But it was too late by then to pad his stat sheet to a respectable level.
The hope will be that Weise will be able to turn things around and provide some scoring depth on a team that desperately needs it. Because as of right now, the signing of Weise does not look like a great one of Hextall’s part.
2017-18 Season Prediction
Adding Patrick and Lindblom up top along with Morin and Hagg on the back end, there’s optimism that the young guys will add a spark to the lineup. And with Konecny and Provorov expected to take bigger roles, the youth on this team is ready to shine.
If guys like Giroux and Voracek can find a way to be more consistent, and the depth forwards can step up, scoring shouldn’t be as much of a problem as it was last season. Time is running out on the core to perform. But don’t expect a long playoff run this season.
The team will likely be fighting for a wild card spot again this season. There are too many teams in front of them that will have greater chances at division spots. The Flyers could sneak into the playoffs, but they aren’t expected to contend this season.