Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Flyers fans of all ages, we are just a few short days away from seeing our boys in orange and black back on the ice. It feels like it’s been a decade since we’ve seen meaningful Flyers hockey, and I could not be more excited. Obviously, things didn’t end the way we wanted last year, with a 4-0 thumping in a Game 7 loss to the Islanders. But this team is healthy and virtually the same team as last year, so I think it’s reasonable to assume a similar type season. I’ll get into it more in a second, but first, I want to go over what happened in the offseason.
Probably the most notable change is the retirement of Matt Niskanen. His departure leaves a hole on the first pair alongside Ivan Provorov. The signing of Erik Gustafsson helps a little, but the Flyers are very left-hand heavy on the blue line. Other than Niskanen, the only main departures were depth forwards Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson, and Derek Grant. While those don’t seem like big names leaving, they always seemed to step up when the other players were having an off day. Only time will tell if their absence will really have that big of an impact, but we’ll just have to hope the AHL call ups make up for it. Chuck Fletcher was big on not making a big splash, so without further ado, let’s review the Flyers by position.
Starting with the forwards, the player that garners the most attention is Nolan Patrick. The 2017 2nd overall pick missed the entirety of the 2019-20 season with migraine problems, and is looking to make a big comeback. According to Jakub Voracek, the kid looks solid and ready to go, so hopes are high. It would be perfect if he could find his game and fit perfectly into that third line center role. That would give the Flyers a very solid center lineup of Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Patrick, and most likely Scott Laughton. Laughton could potentially move to a wing spot if Morgan Frost makes the team out of camp, but again, only time will tell.
Per the Flyers Twitter, it looks like the line of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny has reunited. That line was without question the Flyers best line before Linblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in December, so the hope is they can rekindle the magic of 2019 and contribute significantly to the offense. That leaves some interesting line combinations to be figured out. I like the idea of putting Giroux on Hayes’ left wing, and leaving the right side to be figured out between Jake Voracek and Joel Farabee. Farabee has reportedly put on some size in the offseason and improved his game. If he can play the way he did at BU on the Flyers second line, then Giroux-Hayes-Farabee will be lethal. If Farabee gets the second line RW spot, I would imagine JVR and Voracek fill out the wing spots next to Nolan Patrick. If Morgan Frost makes the roster out of camp, that leaves Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Nic Aube-Kubel, and Frost to make up the fourth line. In my opinion, I’d prefer to rotate Raffl and NAK on the wing next to Frost and Laughton. That combo will play some shut down minutes while also getting Frost some much needed NHL time.
One last little note on forwards, I’m curious to see how Samuel Morin plays as a left wing. Look, I get how a change of position can have a positive impact on a player’s career, but I think this is a grasping at straws move. I really don’t see it working out but hey, I’ve been wrong before.
Now we move to the defense. Like I said earlier, there’s a big question mark on the right side of the first pair next to Provorov. If you really need to have a right shot next to him, then the only option is to put Phil Myers next to him. However, Travis Sanheim and Myers had such good chemistry on the second pair last year that it’s tough to imagine breaking them up. It’ll really all come down to what kind of player Alain Vigneault wants next to Provy, but I imagine Sanheim and Myers aren’t broken up. I think it’s pretty apparent AV is a big chemistry guy with this team. That basically leaves Gustafsson, Shayne Gostisbehere, Justin Braun, and Robert Hagg to fight for the top pair spot.
Ghost has unfortunately declined since he burst into the league in 2015-16 when he registered 46 points in 64 games. Last year, he battled injuries, but was healthy scratched at times throughout the season. Ghost does say he feels 100% healthy, so perhaps he can at least get close to his 2015-16 form and fit in with Provorov on the top pair. If not, I imagine it’ll be Gustafsson, because Robert Hagg just isn’t cut out to be a top pair defenseman.
When it comes to the defensive corps, I’m incredibly nervous. Not only because it’s not the most formidable, but also because it lacks depth. God forbid one of these guys gets a significant injury, because outside of the seven defensemen I just mentioned, I really don’t think any of the other defensemen at camp can contribute that much. We just really need to pray for health with this team.
Goalie is simple. Carter Hart is a stud. Elliott backs up and mentors him. NEXT!
On to my prediction for the 2021 Flyers. Let’s be honest, they SHOULD make the playoffs, as they are a very good team. The only issue when it comes to making the playoffs is the fact that the division the Flyers are in is arguably the best in the league. Only four teams out of the division make the playoffs, and the Flyers have to compete with the Bruins, Caps, Islanders, and Penguins. That doesn’t even account for the fact that both the Sabres and Rangers got better in the offseason. The Flyers should make the playoffs, but it won’t be easy.
My prediction is the Flyers make the playoffs as the third best team in division. I expect the Bruins and Caps to get one and two in the division, and we’ll see how the seeding shakes out. The Flyers can definitely make a playoff push if only a few guys take a step forward. I could honestly see an appearance in the conference final. That’s a ways away, though, so let’s all sit back, relax, and enjoy some Flyers hockey.