In theory, one of the brightest upsides for the 2018-19 Philadelphia Flyers was the depth at forward. Returning winger James Van Riemsdyk was supposed to ignite the offense while Couturier’s was supposed to expand on his breakout season from the year previous. While everyone finished with decent numbers, how they got there wasn’t pretty. Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny put up almost identical numbers from last season, JVR only scored five goals by the time Christmas rolled around, and the defensemen which the Flyers rely on to siphon offense through, didn’t show up.
The team finally showed some life after Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol were fired mid-season and, once all said and done, most players finished with respectable numbers. With a fresh season on the horizon and a couple new additions on-ice and a brand new coaching staff, what should we expect from the Flyers heading into the 2019-20 season?
One of the Flyers bright spots throughout their lineup is youth. After five years of waiting for prospects to develop, most are finally here and are looking to establish themselves at the NHL level. When speaking about the forwards, three names rise to the top, Tavis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, and Oskar Lindblom. Konecny has spent a majority of the last two seasons of his career playing on the wing of Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, the two best players on the roster. TK has put up consecutive 24-goal seasons, and with the addition of the grit in his game, has made himself flexible to be played anywhere in the lineup. Ideally, he will slot on the first line right wing to start the season, and whether or not he stays there will determine just how high his ceiling is. If he hangs around at 1RW, there should be no excuses that he couldn’t hit 24 for a third season. Konecny still has yet to break the 50-point plateau, but if he has a true breakout season and plays with Giroux and Couturier rather than along side them, a career year could be in the making for Konecny.
Nolan Patrick is a curious case. His first two seasons at the NHL level were virtually identical. Early season injuries followed by a slump and eventually ending his season with a hot streak the gives us hope for the future. Patrick put up consecutive 13-goal seasons and had 31 points last season and 30 the season before, not exactly inspiring numbers from the former second overall pick. With the addition of Kevin Hayes in the Summer, Patrick will probably fall to the third line center role, which doesn’t necessarily mean doom. Right now his linemates will probably be Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton, two fellow good hockey players, but not great scorers. Laughton spent the majority of last season snakebitten, despite putting up a career best 12 goals. Lindblom was projected to be a scorer at the NHL level, but much like Laughton, has excelled as a two-way forward instead. he scored 17 goals and 33 points last season, which isn’t terrible given how good his overall game is. So the third line will probably be composed of three players who have underachieved in the point category, but have become solid players overall. Patrick’s point totals will probably be determined how much time he sees on the powerplay. If Patrick can stay healthy and play a full season, despite who his linemates are, there should be no issues hitting a new career high of 35-40 points.
Lindblom and Laughton who are also coming off personal career bests of 33 and 32 points respectively, will probably see similar numbers, but if the three scoring rejects find some chemistry together, it could end up being one of the top third lines in the league.
By season’s end, most of the veteran players ended with their expected point totals. Claude Giroux finished with 85 points, Couturier with 76, Voracek with 66, and Van Riemsdyk with 48. Couturier tied his career high in points, while the other three dipped just slightly from the season before. As with the young players in the last listing, the vets were not immune to a slow start.
At this point, it is safe to say both Giroux and Couturier will hover around the 80 point mark. JVR was supposed to be a key member of the offense last season, while that eventually happened, it was a painful process getting there. JVR only had 11 points at Christmas time, and partner that with an injury that cost him the opening month of the season plus a lack of chemistry with almost everyone he lined up with, he was disappointing for much of the season. Once the calendar struck 2019, he re-found his game, scoring two hat tricks and two, two goal games, he finished the year with 27 goals and 48 points. Quite a dip from the high-50 to 60 point season most were expecting.
The Flyers biggest addition of the summer was Kevin Hayes, a solid two-way forward coming off a career year in points split between the Rangers and Jets. Hayes’ numbers have been relatively consistent throughout his career, typically finishing in the mid-to-high 40 point range, though his goals and assists have been wildly inconsistent. Hayes is slotted to start the season centering the second line, probably composed of James Van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek. Both of those players are quite streaky, but when they’re on their game, they’re on. This could lead to another career year for Hayes as well as a rebound year for JVR.
Jake Voracek is preparing for his ninth season in orange and black, and is looking to record his fourth straight 20-goal campaign. He has hit or passed the 20-goal mark during six of his Flyers seasons, so it is safe to assume he will finish around that mark again this year. It’s his assists that are unpredictable. He has finished with anywhere from 40 to 60 assists over the past few years, thus his point totals have ranged from 60 to 80. Thinking positively, Voracek will mesh well with Kevin Hayes and whoever ends up on the left wing. Voracek can be counted on for an average of 20 goals and 70 points a season anyway, and if there is some magic with his linemates and on the powerplay, there is no reason to think he can’t finish in the 80+ point range once again.
Best of the Rest
The Flyers depth isn’t known for their goal scoring, but it is important to note that Scott Laughton had the greatest season of his career, posting 12 goals and 32 assists, and that would’ve been an even higher total if he wasn’t snakebitten for most of the year. It depends where he ends up playing, but if he can produce another 30 point season from the bottom six, it will be a successful season.
Michael Raffl has seen less and less time in the top six over the past few seasons and his offensive numbers have dwindled because of it. It is safe to say he will finish around the 20 point mark, around his career average.
Newcomer Tyler Pitlick has never been an offensive threat. Expect less than 10 goals and around 15 points.
All in all, there is plenty of reasons to believe this group of forwards will find success. Though, after last seasons sputter with essentially the same group of guys, it’s cautious optimism. With a new batch of coaches, as well as the addition of Kevin Hayes and potentially on of the Flyers top prospects filling the third right wing spot, hopefully this core can get it done and bring the Flyers back into the playoffs.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: NHL.com