As the NHL continues to finally charge toward a return to play start date, the league is busy hammering out the details of what the rosters will look like for the 2021 season. The early word is that there will be a 23-man roster with a 4-6 player “taxi squad” that will be available for the main roster if necessary. So which players will the Flyers players call upon if the situation arises?
First, let’s predict the 23-man roster. In no particular order, the opening night lineup should look something like-
Giroux – Couturier – Konencny
Lindblom – Hayes – Voracek
JVR – Frost – Farabee
Raffl – Laughton – Aube-Kubel
Provorov – Myers
Braun – Sanheim
Hagg – Gostisbehere
From there, that leaves three bench spots, which will probably go to Nolan Patrick, Connor Bunnaman, and Erik Gustafsson. Obviously the lineup is subject to change, but that is probably a good bet as to who the 23-man roster will consist of, in some form or another.
So, for argument’s sake let’s say there’s a five-man taxi squad made up of two forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender.
The forwards can spark an interesting debate. I’m giving both Frost and Patrick the benefit of the doubt that they’ll both be ready to go on opening night and will be apart of the roster somehow. That leaves some shallow, albeit interesting, options up front. They could bring a more experienced duo that have already been their go-to recalls last season in Carsen Twarynski and Andy Andreoff. Twarynski made his NHL debut last season and dressed in 15 NHL games throughout the season where he scored one goal. He’s entering his third professional season and already has 105 AHL games under his belt with 18 goals and 38 points. Andreoff played 14 games with the Flyers last season with just a single assist, and 39 AHL games with 11 goals and 18 points. He’s entering his ninth professional season.
While that may be the most likely route they travel down, they could also look to keep their untested rookies on speed dial. Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison both make their pro turn this season with much anticipation after successful college careers. Normally they would get their feet wet at the AHL level first, but with the minor league season still in limbo, if they attend the Flyers training camp and look good doing so, the Flyers could potentially look to keep them close.
The defense is a little more cut-an-dry. From a depth chart perspective, the next two men up would be Mark Friedman and Samuel Morin. Friedman, who signed a two-year contract extension during the offseason, got pushed down the depth chart with the arrival of Erik Gustafsson and the retention of Robert Hagg and Justin Braun. Morin is returning from a torn ACL and has been in Philly getting ready for the season. Fletcher alluded to the fact the Morin needs time in the minors to get his legs back under him before he gets another shot in the NHL, but considering that may or may not be an option, letting him practice on the taxi squad may be the best possible option for Morin’s return.
Another option they could look at is Yegor Zamula. He made his unofficial official NHL debut during the Flyers’ exhibition game during the playoffs, though is otherwise completely untested at the professional level. In a normal year, he’d get some reps in with the Phantoms, but with that option unavailable but that option is not available out of the gate.
The goaltending is the easiest part. Alex Lyon remains the swing with Sandstrom and Ustimenko still on loan. Lyon has played 16 NHL games under his belt over the past three seasons, though his 3.16 goals against average and .893 save percentage are less-than-stellar. Not only are Sandstrom and Ustimenko still on loan, both are entering their sophomore professional seasons after only a combined seven AHL games between them, clearly not enough experience to get thrown into the NHL spotlight just yet.
Time will tell which players the Flyers end up calling up, but their realistic options are rather limited. The reality is, a vast majority of the players that have bright NHL futures need more seasoning before they are thrown into the deep end. Much like we saw in the playoffs, you can carry young guys on the roster, but in a 56-game season in a deep division, there won’t be much time for a learning curve for players like Allison or Zamula. So, while it may not be the popular opinion to carry guys like Andreoff, it may be the best move from a here-and-now perspective, and then just cross your fingers there is an AHL season for the Phantoms to play in and let the young players develop the way they were intended to.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com / pressofatlanticcity.com