Dissecting the Forward Line Combinations

Updated: September 3, 2018 at 4:49 pm by Brandon Murphy

September has finally arrived and it’s time to start getting excited for a new season of hockey.

The Flyers are coming into this year looking to take a step forward and building off their 98 point campaign. To do so, they are going to need the same type of production they saw last year. The Flyers scored 249 goals, in large part thanks to dominant seasons from Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere and others.

This off-season, they managed to bring in the second biggest name on the UFA market, James van Riemsdyk, who tallied a career-high 36 goals last year. With this addition, what are the line combinations going to look like?

First Line: Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny

This is a no-brainer. The Giroux-Couturier duo on its own was dominant all of last season. At the age of 30, Giroux had his best campaign, scoring 102 points and 34 goals. After being criticized heavily the year before, he came in healthy and motivated and finished second in points. He likely won’t hit the 100-point mark in 2018-19, but another point-per-game season is very likely.

Couturier was an offensive catalyst for Drummondville in the QMJHL and he finally had the breakout season that people were waiting on. He crushed his previous career highs by notching 31 goals and 45 assists. He was finally recognized as a legitimate Selke candidate, ironically because he scored more points, but eventually lost to Anze Kopitar.

They played the entire season on the same line and had numerous wingers slot in with them.

Travis Konecny was the best fit down the stretch. His speed and creativity opened up the play for Giroux and Couturier and it led to him scoring 24 goals, a 13-goal bump from his rookie season, and 47 points. Konecny should take another big leap and could hit the 50-point mark.

There is no reason for this line to be separated, their production was through the roof and they boasted a 54.71 CF% and a 58.61 xGF%. They were also relied upon heavily in the defensive zone, starting in their own end between 54-56% of the time.

Look for this trio to do more damage this season.

Second Line: James van Riemsdyk – Nolan Patrick – Jakub Voracek

The success of this unit will rely heavily on the development of Nolan Patrick. For the fans who watched the majority of the Flyers games last season, it was easy to notice that Patrick was one of their best players in the final 25 games, during which he scored 17 points. His speed was coming back slowly and it helped generate a lot more offense. He was arguably their best performer in the playoffs and got better every single game, which led to him seeing some time on the first power play unit.

Patrick is finally going to have a healthy summer to train and is going to build off the latter half of his rookie campaign. He is going to be slotted with two elite players and he could potentially have a massive breakout season.

Voracek is quietly coming off an impressive year during which he surpassed his career highs in assists (65) and points (85). It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do with Patrick and JvR, since the latter is one of the best net-front presences in the NHL and Voracek has no problem threading the needle to find the open man for a tap-in.

Since his breakout season in 2014-15, he is sixth in the NHL in assists with 248. He should have a similar season in 2018-19, playing with better talent and getting his usual first power play time.

van Riemsdyk is going to be the most interesting case. In an NHL era that keeps getting faster, he is still able to be a consistent goal scorer from within 10 feet of the net. He’s coming off a career-high 36 goals, but also had a career-best 14.5% shooting percentage.

As it stands, it looks like he will not be on the first power play unit, how will that affect his production? In 2017-18, JvR also started in the offensive zone 62.7% of the time. There are some question marks with van Riemsdyk, but he’s been a consistent goal-scorer since leaving Philadelphia in 2012 and should continue to be.

Third Line: Oskar Lindblom – Jordan Weal – Wayne Simmonds

As Ron Hextall previously stated, Jordan Weal is a candidate for the third line center role, which is interesting since a lot of people view him as a winger. But Hextall believes he would be a good fit.

He’s played center. He’s a good centerman. He’s good on faceoffs. He’s good defensively. He makes plays. I suspect Jordan’s going to bounce back.

As of now, it’s going to be a battle between him and Scott Laughton. Weal had 21 points in 69 games last season but wasn’t always consistent with his play. He could have a solid year.

Wayne Simmonds is coming in after scoring his lowest goal total in a full season since 2010-11. It was reported that he played the entire year with a torn pelvis. He played through a myriad of injuries that included torn ligaments in his thumb, a broken ankle and a pulled groin. He still scored 24 goals.

Coming in healthy and playing for a new contract are only a few reasons why we are going to see a big season from the fan-favorite.

Lindblom, another youngster in this system, is ready to take a step forward. He got a taste of the NHL last season, playing in 23 games, scoring 6 points. He’s a very strong player, he makes his living on the boards, winning battles and getting to the dirty areas. But he is also a great playmaker, he has vision and can make nifty plays to create scoring opportunities.

Much like Simmonds, Lindblom provides some skill and grit in the lineup. He was also a huge part of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms success and was the SHL Forward of the Year in 2016-17.  The talent is there, now it just needs to translate to the NHL.

Fourth Line: Michael Raffl – Scott Laughton – Taylor Leier/Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Raffl and Laughton have their spots cemented in the Flyers lineup. It gets a bit dicey on the right wing. Ideally, you want more youth and speed on the fourth line so they can wear down the opposing team. On the other hand, Hextall doesn’t want $7M sitting in the press box, which leads to believe that Dale Weise or Jori Lehtera will get a spot on the fourth line and will likely be overused by Dave Hakstol.

If we see a trio of Raffl-Laughton-Leier/Aube-Kubel out of camp, it is a decent upgrade from last year. They won’t dazzle with skill, but they are gritty and relentless on the forecheck. Raffl is a perfect bottom-six winger, has solid possession metrics, is very strong on the puck and will probably get his 10-15 goals.

This will be Laughton’s second full season in the NHL. He might not have every opportunity to succeed offensively, but he’s proven to be a good player in his own end and is a fast skater. With Filppula out of the picture, maybe Laughton can be turned to more often in penalty killing situations.

This season should be a fun one for the Flyers, they have one of the better top-6’s and their depth is slowly getting better. They should take a step forward with the additions (and subtractions) they’ve made.

 

 

 

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