As the Philadelphia Flyers 2021 season breaks on the horizon, it’s time to take stock of a situation that is growing increasingly more interesting as training camp nears. The Flyers bottom six has been a hotly debated topic throughout the offseason. Who should or shouldn’t be there, what kind of players they need to succeed, and they systematic approach they’re taking.
The battle for a roster spot got even more intense when it was announced defenseman Samuel Morin will transfer to forward for the 2021 season. GM Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault approached the 25-year-old about making the jump to not only utilize the returning player, but to add some much needed toughness to the roster. While it’s a whacky concept that just may end up working out in their favor, it does add speculation as to the direction the front office wants to take the bottom six.
Off the bat, it’s safe to say that Scott Laughton, James Van Riemsdyk, Michael Raffl, Nicholas Aube-Kubel, and Joel Farabee will be in the mix with Morin for a full-time roster spot, though where they end up slotting in will be the big question.
Scott Laughton has continued to age like a fine wine. He had his best season yet during 2019-20 where he potted 13 goals in 49 games. His best performances came when he was on the second line partnered with Kevin Hayes and Jake Voracek, a role that may be hard for him to recapture with Oskar Lindblom returning to action. That would mean he probably slots in at 3C, a role he hasn’t really excelled at over the years, which may mean he gets dropped the the fourth line.
James Van Riemsdyk has been in a tailspin for much of the past two seasons as his offensive output is starting to sputter out. Without that offensive touch, he really isn’t that useful a player and has taken up residency on either the third or fourth line because of it. If he can’t get his game back on track, AV has shown he’s not afraid to bench the aging forward for better options. Time will tell if he came to play this season or not.
Michael Raffl and Nicholas Aube-Kubel are great depth players. Raffl has been a backbone depth piece for years now and NAK was a force to be reckoned with last season. They will both more than likely secure spots on the Flyers fourth line.
That leaves Joel Farabee. He was deployed as a jack-of-all-trades forward last season. Seeing time on the second line but also on occasion taking up the role of enforcer with eight minutes a night of ice time on the fourth line. With the top six a little crowded at the moment, Farabee may have no choice but to start the season on the third line left wing, at least until the Flyers can determine how Giroux and Lindblom are playing to see if changes are needed.
So with those names, the Flyers bottom six could look like-
JVR – Laughton – Farabee
Morin – Raffl – NAK
But what about the players not on the roster?
Nolan Patrick is gearing up for his return to the NHL after 21 months on the shelf with a migraine issue. Morgan Frost is looking to make his full-time leap to the NHL after yo-yoing back and fourth from the AHL last season. As well as a handful of prospects either making their professional debut, or looking to continue their career growth from last season.
The latter would be Connor Bunnaman who was a semi-constant staple in the Flyers plans during his rookie NHL season. He played 21 regular season games with one goal and two points, but he was impressive enough on the fourth line to get multiple looks, even dressing in four playoff games. He’ll be looking to sneak in and steal a roster spot during training camp.
Nolan Patrick will get the word whether he is officially cleared or not early next week, but for the sake of writing this, we’ll hope for the best and imagine he’s ready to go on opening night. That would be a welcome sight for the Flyers, who really need an extra hand down the middle. While Patrick may not have been the best player when he was here, his two-way play and flashes of offensive brilliance were enough to earn the benefit of the doubt that there could still be some magic to unlock. The question obviously is “can he stay healthy” and if he can then the question becomes “can he hit the ground running” which will be the far more difficult aspect for Patrick. It may reasonably take him a few weeks or even months to get his legs back under him and get used to the speed of the game again, but once that happens, he may become a mainstay in the Flyers lineup again, but will that happen this season or not?
Frost is a curious case as well. His hands are great and scoring shouldn’t be a problem if he’s utilized properly, but he isn’t exactly built for the grinding demands of a third or fourth line role. Yet, at the same time, they can’t continue to not play him. If the AHL season doesn’t end up happening and the Flyers sit him in the box on favor of someone else, he’ll never get better. Until an AHL season is either confirmed or denied (The most recent news as of this writing is that they are aiming for a February 5 start, but they haven’t voted on it yet) Frost may have to make the roster by default.
The two unknown factors are Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison, both making the professional jump from their college careers. While their potential seems high, with so much talent in front of them, it’s hard to see where they fit in off the bat. In a normal year, they’d probably start the season with the Phantoms and be recalled if they show signs of early success, but that won’t happen this year, at least not right away. The best way to keep them within arms reach but not be forced to play them would be your backup forwards on the taxi squad.
So what if some of those players get sprinkled in as well? Then it is reasonable to assume something like this happens-
Frost – Patrick – Farabee
Raffl – Laughton – NAK
with your extra forwards being Morin, JVR
There’s quite a few players trying to claim six spots which may end up being a good thing for the team. There’s plenty of competition to earn a spot, and plenty of options for AV to build his lineup each night as he sees fit depending on the matchup. If they’re looking for grit against a tough matchup with the Islanders, they can throw in Morin. If they are looking for a touch of offense they can throw in Frost and Aube-Kubel, if they’re looking for just solid player who won’t make many mistakes, they can throw in Laughton and Raffl.
As the Flyers training camp gets going we should have a much clearer picture as to who ends up shaking out where. But it is already clear that it’ll be a dog fight for each player to earn a spot. The depth the Flyers can flaunt is at a level we haven’t seen in Philadelphia in many years, and with so many options, the coaching staff can craft and tinker with lines until perfection happens. Until then, we can all sit back and enjoy the battle we are about to watch.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: eliteprospects.com nbcsports.com inquirer.com