With free agency wrapped up and only a handful of trades that are supposedly still possible, but held up, it’s fair to say that the Philadelphia Flyers’ organizational depth is close to set in stone for the 2018-19 season.
Last season, that depth earned the Flyers a playoff spot, but just a six-game postseason trip. Since then, the team’s biggest addition has come in the offensive ranks with the return of James van Riemsdyk. With that in mind, here’s how Philly’s depth among the forwards look in the dog days of summer.
Left Wing: Top Heavy with Potential
Unlike John Boruk, I’m going to assume the Flyers keep Claude Giroux at left wing. Moving a 30 year old, who just had a career year, back to the center position would not be a team’s best move.
Last year, Giroux scored 102 points and made the Second All-Star team, implying that voters saw him as the second-best left winger in the league. Mirroring that production will be tough, but the captain looked better than he has in years.
What really puts Philadelphia over the top is the return of van Riemsdyk. The former Maple Leaf scored 36 goals last year while averaging less than 15 minutes a game. JvR should see more minutes with better linemates and remain a focal point on either the first or second power play unit. Repeating a 30-plus goal season isn’t out of the question.
With both of those players in the fold, the Flyers could possess the best 1-2 left wing punch in the league.
From there, things understandably begin to plunge, but it’s not all bad.
Oskar Lindblom has played 27 games in the NHL, but is the first in line for the left wing spot on the third trio. His point totals in the big league suggests just a moderate scorer, but if you watched his games, you know he could be in store for much more than the two goals he scored last year.
The Swede was easily the most unlucky player on the Flyers and should have finished with a couple more goals. In a small sample size, that would have made Lindblom’s season look much better.
The fourth line should also have a reliable player. Michael Raffl is projected there, but Jordan Weal could also step in depending on how the other spots fill. Either way, that’s a dependable play-driving winger or one with a slight scoring punch.
Center: Lacking But with X-Factors
Of the Flyers’ five or six center options, there’s really only one player that can guarantee that he’ll play at the level that’s expected of him. That’s Sean Couturier.
Couturier scored 76 points last year, 31 of them goals, and silenced any critics that wondered if he wasn’t even a second-line center. Like Giroux, there’s definitely a possibility of regression, but Couturier will always be one of the best shutdown centers in the league.
Some will get angry that I didn’t include Patrick as a sure-bet, but as a young player there’s always a chance of disappointment. There’s a reason why the term “sophomore slump” is popular in most sports.
But there’s also plenty of positives. Patrick had a stronger finish than start to his rookie year, which should imply that he’ll continue to improve into next year. With van Riemsdyk as a winger, the 19 year old will have a new weapon to work with.
After Patrick, things get foggy. There’s plenty of options on the third line that range from Scott Laughton to prospect Morgan Frost to veteran Jori Lehtera.
The safe assumption is that Laughton earns the spot giving the Flyers a defensively responsible center with slight scoring ability. Not perfect, but not the worst option.
Frost won’t be the fourth-line center and if we’re going with safe bets, Lehtera is probably the one for the bottom line — because of coach Dave Hakstol’s favorability toward him. That hurts the depth since Lehtera shouldn’t be in the league anymore.
If Frost mans the third line (with Laughton shifting to the fourth) or one of Mike Vecchione, Mikhail Vorobyev or Weal centers the fourth line over Lehtera, the team will be better off for it.
Right Wing: One of the Deepest in the League
The Flyers should have three top-six right wingers in their forward corps, which will put them at the top of the league. Travis Konecny should reform the top trio with Giroux and Couturier, Jake Voracek will be the play-driver on the second and Wayne Simmonds will settle for the third.
Konecny scored 47 points last year and if he plays a full year with Giroux and Couturier, should score even more. He improved mightily over his freshman and sophomore seasons and the same should be expected.
Voracek had a career year last season and like Patrick, will benefit from having van Riemsdyk in the fold.
Simmonds, though, is the wild card. He had maybe his worst season in the orange and black last year while dealing with multiple injuries. Still, he scored 24 goals and if he’s healthy, that’s manageable. Simmonds’ biggest hit will come on the man advantage where he’s likely to see fewer minutes.
Like every other position, the bottom line is a toss-up right now. Dale Weise, Weal, Lehtera and Raffl are the veteran options, but Nicolas Aube-Kubel also figures to be a prospect fighting for the spot. Anyone of those will be a hard drop off from Simmonds, but most are capable fourth-liners.
Next week, I’ll look at the depth of the defense, goaltending and special teams.