With Robert Hagg becoming the last RFA to sign, the Philadelphia Flyers roster appears to be set for the season. Barring any late off-season signings or training camp surprises, the Flyers likely have the team they will go into the season with. How the Flyers roster shakes out from there is yet to be determined, however.
It’ll be the smaller battles at training camp that will be the most interesting to keep an eye on. This includes the bottom six forward group and who will capture the third line center role. A look at how the defensive pairings shake out will be something to watch, as well.
An Early Philadelphia Flyers Roster Breakdown
At the forward level, there are a few things that are likely already set for the season. While there have been brief discussions on moving Claude Giroux back to centre, keeping him on the wing is the best option the team can go with. Giroux had his best season playing left wing, passing the 100 point mark for the first time in his career.
As the number one centre, Sean Couturier flourished in the role. He captured career highs in all categories, as well as, finishing second in Selke Trophy voting. Moving Giroux back to centre would send the wrong message to Couturier after the season he had.
As for the right wing spot, the best option for the team to move forward with would be to keep Travis Konecny in that spot. He played some of his best hockey after being promoted to the top line near the end of December.
Keeping these three together gives the Flyers a dynamic first line that easily developed chemistry playing together.
After the Flyers signed James van Riemsdyk in the offseason, it solidified what their top-six could look like. Van Riemsdyk almost certainly slides in as the left winger on the second line. He is coming off a 36-goal, 18-assist season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a career high in goals for the 29-year-old winger. He only reached the 20-goal mark once with the Flyers.
Van Riemsdyk’s ability to continue trending upward in scoring will be an important factor in what he brings to the Flyers. Staying healthy is also a key as he has played 82 and 81 games respectively during the last two seasons. Van Riemsdyk’s durability and scoring touch could fit well on the team’s second line.
Keeping Giroux as a winger also allows Nolan Patrick to keep control of the team’s second line centre position. It was a tale of two halves for the now second-year forward. An injury sidelined him early on in the year, but things changed for the better when the calendar year changed. Patrick finished the season with 13 goals and 17 assists in 73 games.
A healthy off-season will also be a major factor for Patrick as he hasn’t had one in years. His play during the second half of the season showed what he is capable of when healthy. The numbers were significantly better once January hit. Patrick’s performance, as well as the team’s, looked a lot better in 2018.
Sliding in on the right wing is expected to be Jakub Voracek. Both Patrick and Voracek spent time together during the season. And it is safe to say Patrick began to breakout once the two were put together.
So one can expect the two will stay together as the season is just around the corner. It was a much better season for Voracek than his previous. While the goal total stayed at 20 for a second straight year, Voracek jumped up to 65 assists. That was 24 more assists than he had last season.
The 85 points Voracek amassed were the most of his career, four more than the 81 he captured in 2014-15. Since 2011, Voracek is fifth in the NHL among wingers in points. Names ahead of him include Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler. That is elite company for Voracek to be included in.
Battle For The Third Line Center
This is where things start to get interesting for the Flyers. While their top-six is almost set in stone, the bottom-six has a lot of question marks associated with it. The number one question, though, is about who the team’s number three center will be.
Eyes will be on Weal as Ron Hextall has gone to bat for the 26-year-old on multiple occasions. Dating back to the last off-season, Hextall spoke on his confidence in Weal. That hasn’t changed. He again mentioned Weal as a candidate to earn the third-line center spot this off-season.
For Weal to earn the position, he will have to prove that he can play both ends of the ice well. He has the playmaking ability that could give the Flyers the secondary scoring they so desperately need. His speed along the ice is also another point in his favour. Weal will also have to prove he has what it takes to stick in the NHL. Weal has appeared in 92 total games the last two seasons.
Laughton will also be looking to make his case to earn the spot. A 20-point season, such as his last, won’t open a lot of eyes. But his ability to drive play and hold possession could be key. Along with Michael Raffl and Taylor Leier, the trio formed one of the best puck possession lines the team has seen in years.
But staying at the NHL level hasn’t always been easy for Laughton. He only appeared in two NHL games during the 2016-17 season. But after a much improved year in Lehigh Valley, the reigns were loosed a bit as Laughton appeared in all but one games this past season. After a career-high 10 goals, Laughton will be looking to keep proving to management that he is up for the task.
What is most likely certain about the third line is Oskar Lindblom and Wayne Simmonds are all but expected to be the wingers. Lindblom will continue to show that his game can compete at the NHL level. For Simmonds, he will have to show that he still can compete as he will be entering the last season of his contract.
The fourth line will almost certainly feature one of Weal or Laughton. That leaves the battle of the last two winger spots up to a few candidates. Raffl, Leier, Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera are the frontrunners. It is possible, however, that a young player like Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Danick Martel or even a surprise center such as Mikhail Vorobyov or Mike Vecchione can steal a spot.
We know for certain that if one of the young players makes the team, they will be in the lineup. Hextall is not known to keep a young player on the team if he won’t get playing time.
On the back-end, most, if not all, of the pairings can be assumed. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are expected to remain the team’s top-pairing. The two gelled well together after Gostisbehere’s move to the top in late December. The two showed they are more than capable of handling top minutes. Provorov averaged 24:09 ice time per game, while Gostisbehere finished with 21:27 ice time per game. It was a career high for both.
Travis Sanheim would have most certainly preferred his rookie season to go a bit differently. Making the team out of camp last season, there were times where he played well and others where he saw himself scratched. His best hockey did come when he was paired with Radko Gudas.
Looking further down the lineup, we know that Hagg will remain in the organization for the next two seasons after agreeing to a deal. We also know that Andrew MacDonald is still playing out his five-year contract. Neither of the two plays an aggressively offensive style of hockey. For this pairing to work, however, limiting both of their minutes will be essential.
The Flyers brought in Christian Folin to be the team’s seventh defenseman so his role is set. Samuel Morin would almost certainly have earned a promotion, however, he tore the ACL in his right knee during the AHL playoffs. Expected to be out until February, the jury is still out on what he brings to the Flyers.
That leaves Philippe Myers as a potential wild-card to make the team. Progressing well in his first pro season, it is not out of the question that he plays well enough to earn a spot during camp. If this is the case, Gudas may be the odd man out. Sanheim and Myers were almost a perfect pairing in Lehigh Valley.
Goaltending Likely To Remain The Same
Don’t expect a change in goal for the Flyers next season, barring any crazy moves at the last minute. The team is likely to play out the final year of both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth‘s contract. Elliott will assume the starting role, as the team hopes he bounces back from abdominal surgery. Neuvirth, also coming off of hip surgery, may be looking at one of his last chances to show he’s not just an injury prone goaltender.
For Neuvirth, he will hope that a change in his off-season program is the key to staying healthy. He showed that he has the skill to be at least a solid backup in the NHL.
That leaves Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz, and Carter Hart as the three remaining goaltenders. Hextall has not ruled out carrying three goaltenders on the Phantoms. However, that may complicate things even further. Hart will be in his first professional season with the Phantoms. While Lyon may likely hold the reigns in Lehigh Valley, Hart will need valuable time in the crease as well.
Both Stolarz and Lyon cannot be sent to the ECHL, other than for a rehab appearance. Carrying three goaltenders at the AHL level will be a tricky situation for the team to balance. There is a chance Lyon can steal the backup spot in the NHL, but it is a low possibility.
Philadelphia Flyers Roster Prediction
Looking at the lines and defensive pairings together, a lineup such as this may shake out after training camp.
A lot can happen, however, as training camp is a little over a month away. Expect there to be tough battles as not everything at the NHL level is set in stone. The Philadelphia Flyers roster could shake out a lot different than predicted above. One thing is for certain, the battles at training camp will be fun to watch.
Main Photo: PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 13: (l-r) Claude Giroux #28, Jakub Voracek #93 and Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate Simmond’s game tying goal at 10:10 of the third period against the Boston Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center on January 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Bruins 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)