Now that it’s September, training camp is just a couple weeks away. Just like every other team in the league, the Philadelphia Flyers have a number of training camp battles for roster spots going on in the final weeks of this month.
Here’s a look at those battles, the players involved in them and the likely winners.
Third Line Center
Front-Runners: Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton
Longshots: Morgan Frost, Mike Vecchione, Jori Lehtera, Mikhail Vorobyev
We start off with the most-talked about open position and the one that’s going to have the most repercussions for the team.
The third-line center will likely line up with Oskar Lindblom and Wayne Simmonds, hinting that the pivot should also be able to contribute offensively. A couple years ago, Weal would have been a shoe-in, but last season’s disappointment has knocked him down a couple pegs.
Laughton had a promising year last year, scoring 10 goals and 10 assists, but most would like to see more from a top-nine forward. Playing with better linemates could help.
Frost is probably the player fans have talked about most this summer after the 19 year old scored 112 points last season in the OHL. However, Hextall has repeatedly said the prospect needs to get stronger and another season in juniors could be best for him.
Vorobyev is older than Frost, but last season was just his first on North American ice. He also missed a good chunk of the season due to injuries. Vecchione, an older prospect at 25, manned the first line for the Phantoms last season and scored 40 points in 65 games. He’ll need a strong camp to play in the Flyers’ top nine, but could be more in the running for a spot on the fourth line.
Finally, that leaves us with the veteran Lehtera — mainly because of Hakstol’s reliance on veterans. Still, I don’t think he sees the former Blue as an option on the third line.
Winner: Jordan Weal. The former King will come to camp hungry after a disappointing 2017-18 and will win the job with his offensive instincts.
1B / Backup Goalie
Front-Runners: Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon
Longshots: Anthony Stolarz, Carter Hart
In net, Brian Elliott seems like the only true lock. Of course, the 33 year old managed just 43 games last season, so he can’t be trusted as a full-time starter. That means whoever is the second netminder will have to play a good amount.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, they don’t have anyone that’s seems ready for that kind of responsibility.
Neuvirth could have handled the load a few years ago, but he’s one of the most injury-prone goalies in the league. The Czech native played 22 games last season, making Elliott’s half-year look herculean.
Lyon was the third-string goalie last season, even after Petr Mrazek was acquired, and played in 11 games. The Yale product showed some flashes but there would undoubtedly be some concerns over a full season.
Stolarz would have been in the Lyon role last season if he didn’t suffer a couple knee injuries between April and September of 2017. After two surgeries, Stolarz didn’t return to the ice until March. He played three games with the Reading Royals in the ECHL and one for the Phantoms.
But Stolarz was somewhat a goalie of the future for the Flyers at one point. If he looks ready in training camp, there’s a chance he could jump a couple guys. However, it’s even more likely he’s loaned out or traded to another organization.
That leaves us with Hart, the definitive goalie of the future. It will take a lot for him to make the Flyers, but he had an incredible career with the Everett SIlvertips, winning WHL Goaltender of the Year three times. That being said, goalies jumping from juniors to the NHL typically struggle, something Hextall won’t look past.
Winner: Michal Neuvirth. When the former Capital is healthy, he’s a decent backup. However, Lyon can probably safely hold his breath for a recall.
Fourth Line Right Wing
Front-Runners: Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, Taylor Leier, Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Longshots: Mike Vecchione, Danick Martel, Cole Bardreau
As one of the depth spots on the roster, there are plenty of Phantoms that could be in the running for the job and regular NHLers that lose out on other positions.
For the latter, Weal and Vecchione seem to be a good candidates if they don’t end up centering the third or fourth lines. Although unlisted, Laughton, Lehtera and Michael Raffl could fall in that category too.
Dale Weise finished last season in this spot, but played less than eight minutes in Games 5 and 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The former Canadien is also one of the few veterans that Hakstol doesn’t seem completely enamored with.
Although the opposite of Weise in both age and speed, Leier wasn’t a Hakstol favorite either. What the two had in common, though, is that neither made much of an impact. Leier’s fast but doesn’t bring much offense.
The rest of the field is made up of Phantoms with Aube-Kubel likely in the lead. The 22 year old is a natural right-winger and scored 46 points last season with no power-play time.
Martel earned a four-game stint with the Flyers in November after starting the season with 14 goals in 17 games with the Phantoms. He slowed down after a demotion, scoring just nine more times in 42 games. The 23 year old usually plays left wing, but could still be in the running.
As recently as last summer, Bardreau was an under-the-radar prospect that was frequently brought up in interviews by Hextall. Typically, that’d be a good thing for any player, but Bardreau has never played a game with the Flyers. This is likely to be Bardreau’s last chance at a roster spot before other prospects pass him.
Winner: Nicolas Aube-Kubel. With my projection of Weal centering the third line, Aube-Kubel gives the Flyers the most talent of the players available and continues the transition to a younger roster.
Filling Out the Defense
Front-Runners: Radko Gudas
Longshots: Philippe Myers, Christian Folin
I left this “position” as open as possible because whoever wins the spot could be on any of the pairings. Things figure to be pretty open right now before training camp starts.
But it’s easy to assume Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg and Andrew MacDonald will be locks on the roster. Some feel Travis Sanheim isn’t, but he should be close enough to be counted as one.
Injuries, struggles and simple shuffling will lead to changes regularly in the lineup, but the sixth, daily defenseman is up for grabs — though with Radko Gudas firmly in the lead.
Despite a rough year last season, Gudas was not moved over the summer. Despite the strruggles, he was on the team’s second pairing throughout 2017-18 and in his three years in Philly, has been a blueliner that Hakstol regularly relies on.
The only way that Gudas doesn’t end up on the roster is if rookie Philippe Myers pushes himself into a starting role and forces Hextall to trade the former Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s not entirely likely, but shouldn’t be counted out either.
Myers would give the Flyers a fourth puck-mover in the defense corps and help the team have more balanced pairings. His first year in the AHL can be marked up as a success, scoring 21 points in 50 games and held a 52 percent Corsi For per Phancystats.com.
But it’s those 50 games that’s going to hold Myers back. Hextall never likes to rush a prospect and fellow blueliners Hagg and Sanheim played 202 and 98 games, respectively, with the Phantoms. Only Gostisbehere and Provorov, a seventh overall selection, played less than 50 games in the AHL.
But like Gostisbehere in 2016, a mid-season injury — or just pure skill and success in the AHL — could offer a prime opening for Myers with the big club. It just isn’t likely to happen in training camp.
Winner: Radko Gudas. Folin will be the seventh, but Gudas will have to play at a level higher than last season. Myers will be breathing down his neck in Allentown.