With training camp just over a month away, fans attention and curiosity can finally start coming out in full bloom. For the Philadelphia Flyers, the biggest topics are who will center the third line and what’s going to happen with the log jam in net.
But there are other questions throughout the organization that need to be answered in training camp or could arise early in the season.
What if Nolan Patrick slumps or gets injured?
By now, most people have agreed that Claude Giroux will continue to play left wing, and considering the 30 year old stayed there for all of last season, coach Dave Hakstol is probably one of those people.
That would leave Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick as the team’s top two centers. On paper, that’s a good 1-2 two-way punch, but what if on-ice, Patrick struggles or is injured?
Although, “sophomore slumps” seem to be slowly dying away as players are prepared more and more for the NHL, it’s something that still occurs. And all you have to do is look back at Patrick’s scouting reports before the draft to understand the injury concerns.
It’s likely that the third line will be centered by Scott Laughton or Jordan Weal. That position alone, would be an upgrade from last season for both. Forcing either to play in the top six seems like a recipe for disaster.
In a scenario like this, the best course of action may require moving Giroux back to the middle of the ice. That’d be a shame after the captain’s production last year and would have a domino effect on the left wing depth (James van Riemsdyk and Oskar Lindblom would then be the top two left wingers).
Ron Hextall’s decision to promote Laughton or Weal to third-line center isn’t an issue, but any injuries or slumps will show how much the team may have needed an upgrade in center depth.
Will the Assistant Coaches switch roles (ie. penalty kill)?
For five years, assistant coach Ian Laperriere has run the Flyers’ penalty kill. In each of those five years, the unit has struggled worse than the previous season. However, Hextall didn’t make a change behind Philadelphia’s bench in the offseason.
But at his end-of-year press conference, Hextall did mention that the roles the assistants are in charge of, could change:
Hexy said all assistant coaches will be back. May evaluate roles to some degree. But all will be back.
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) April 26, 2018
Since then, there’s been no mention of switches, but there also hasn’t been any on-ice activities with the main club. Does that change at training camp?
It certainly could, but the silence and the roles already in place aren’t hinting it. Kris Knoblauch runs the power play and did a good job last year. Gord Murphy handles the defense and that seems like a big enough role in itself.
If the roles are “switching”, Laperriere isn’t trading with one of those. That’s why firing Laperriere and finding a penalty kill replacement always seemed like the easiest path.
Either way, the Flyers are stuck with assistant coaches that are already behind the bench. Maybe Murphy or Knoblauch pick up the penalty kill or maybe it becomes more of a group effort. Either way, something in the passive, block-the-lanes system has to change.
What happens to Taylor Leier?
Last season, Leier started the year on a fast, but unproductive fourth line with Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl. By the end of January, the rookie was sitting regularly and never played again after March 4.
Despite that, Leier was offered a qualifying offer by the Flyers so they retained his rights, which he signed. Yet, his playing time in the NHL doesn’t seem any more guaranteed.
Matt Read, who slotted into the fourth line in February, and Valtteri Filppula are gone, but James van Riemsdyk was brought in and Dale Weise got into two playoff games over Leier.
Of course, a strong offseason and preseason can change all that, but Leier never showed much beyond an NHL/AHL tweener last season.
Philly has 14 NHL forwards, which isn’t including prospects on the brink like Morgan Frost and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Something has to give and Leier may be one of the easier casualties.
Losing Weise and/or Jori Lehtera in a trade or through waivers, is more appealing, but it’s unlikely either would look valuable to another team. On a one-year deal with a $720,000 cap hit, Leier is a player that’s much easier for any team to absorb.
From the looks of things, the Flyers will at least give Leier a shot in training camp. If he doesn’t impress, don’t be surprised to see him on the September waiver lists or in a trade.
Where does German Rubtsov play?
Despite being a first round pick and older than a handful of Flyers prospects, German Rubtsov is one of the least talked about prospects in the pipeline. Just hitting a point-per-game pace in juniors will do that.
While Morgan Frost compiled 112 points and Isaac Ratcliffe scored 41 goals, Rubtsov put up 32 points in 38 games last season in Canadian juniors.
At 20 years old and two years removed from his draft year, Rubtsov should be a shoe-in for a large role in the AHL or even one in the NHL. Instead, he’s hardly even an afterthought for the third-line opening in Philadelphia.
The Russian could be returned to juniors, but it’s unlikely the Flyers take that route. However, the question of where Rubtsov plays in the Phantoms’ lineup is still an interesting one.
The team could have Mike Vecchione, Mikhail Vorobyev, Corban Knight and Greg Carey lining up at center – and that’s just veterans alone. Some players will need to be shifted around, and Rubtsov could be one of them.
But whether it’s center or wing, he’s not likely to be put in a scoring role. That’s not a huge issue. Rubtsov figures to be a defensive specialist in the NHL and prospects like Leier, Scott Laughton and Nic-Aube Kubel were put in defensive roles before offensive ones in the AHL.
One thing’s for sure though, and that’s that Rubtsov needs to start showing the flashes that made him a first-round pick sooner than later.
When does Ivan Provorov get an extension?
The question is not if Provorov gets an extension — just when.
At this point, one before the season starts seems unlikely and HockeyBuzz’s Bill Meltzer pointed out how tough the negotiations may be Monday. Meltzer pointed out Ekblad as a comparable contract, but it will also be interesting to see who signs first: Provorov or the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Zach Werenski.
The pair were drafted one after another (Provorov going first at 7th) in 2015, broke into the league together and have become top-pairing blueliners for their respective teams. Werenski can boast his point totals, especially from his rookie year, but Provorov outmatched him last season without as much power play time and playing two more minutes per game.
In the grand scheme of things, the other’s salary shouldn’t matter much — nobody should bat an eye if both make over $8 million a season — but it’s a fun game within a game.
Ron Hextall and the Flyers would probably like a deal done sooner rather than later. A Provorov extension has to be the biggest task for the next calendar year, but the defenseman and his agent probably have no problem waiting things out and continuing to prove the Russian’s value.
A deal’s going to get done, but it would certainly ease the team and fans’ minds if it was done in the next few months.