Now that the whirlwind that was the Philadelphia Flyers offseason has come to an end and we’ve all had time to take stock of the final results, general manager Chuck Fletcher seemed to address most holes that plagued the Flyers last season, except one. The third line center role doesn’t seem to have an answer as to who will be holding down the fort when the season starts. There will be plenty of internal competition to fill the hole, but the question of whether anybody will truly be able to remains to be seen.
Maybe leaving 3C open wasn’t an oversight, but a challenge to, and eventual coronation of top prospect Morgan Frost. Frost, now 22, missed most of the 2021 season thanks to a shoulder injury sustained just four periods into his attempt to crack the roster after opening the season on the taxi squad. He hasn’t had the easiest time adjusting to the NHL and the hype-to-result ratio has been way off. That being said, he is still a player to be excited about once he locks down a roster spot. His playmaking abilities are off the chart and his speed will be a breath of fresh air on a fairly slow Flyers roster. His size could be a hinderance the further down the lineup he plays, but if he is given talented wingers, which, considering the depth on either side should be no problem, he may have a fair shot of succeeding in the NHL this time around. Though with such limited playing time since March of 2020, there may be a good chance Frost is sent to the AHL at the start of the season to get some legs under him before he returns to the show.
Claude Giroux playing center at this point in his career probably isn’t ideal, but plopping him on the third line may be a useful way of limiting his minutes and starting his transition to a defensive-minded forward to extend the longevity of his career. He did have some success in the role last season when he was paired with Oskar Lindblom and one of Nicholas Aube-Kubel or Travis Konency. A similar trio could be deployed again. It’d immediately become a high-end shutdown line that could also handle themselves in the offensive zone. It may not be the go-to option to start the season, but expect Giroux to wind up down there sooner or later.
Laughton getting reps at the 3C role is nothing new. He’s seen time there off and on pretty much since he made the NHL on a full-time basis in 2017, though his success has been fairly limited. When Laughton is called upon to ascend the lineup, he is typically moved to wing in the middle-six because he lacks the dynamic aspects of his game that is asked of a top-nine center. That being said, he could be an acceptable plug-in guy short term if indeed Morgan Frost starts the season in the AHL, or Giroux is still on the top line left wing for the time being. Though to give Laughton credit, his game has continued to improve over the years and he has surprised us more than once with his abilities, so don’t count him out just yet to snag the 3C role.
Laczynski didn’t get to put on much of a show for the Flyers before a hip injury ended his season prematurely. He suited up for 14 games in the AHL, recording 10 points before his recall to the big club where he went pointless in five games. He was mainly used as a depth forward who excelled in the faceoff circle, where he won 11 of 16 draws he took. Whether or not he’ll be given a bigger role out of the gate, or make the Flyers’ roster at all, has yet to be seen, but if he starts the season hot in a minimal role, maybe he’ll get a look at the third line center position at some point during the year. He should have all the skill to handle the role on paper, but it’ll be up to him to decide whether or not he can hang at the NHL level.
I know we all just had 2020 playoffs PTSD thinking about this, but he was signed for a reason. If all options listed above fail, Frost isn’t NHL ready, Giroux is still on the top line left wing, Laczynski and Laughton are manning the fourth line, maybe Thompson will have to be a temporary solution to start the year. Thompson is a guy who has proven himself to be a reliable option on the fourth line, but falters when given heavier minutes. The Flyers got first hand experience with this during the 2020 playoffs when he moved to 3C becuase Derek Grant somehow looked worse than he did. Thompson certainly isn’t the ideal option, but may be the most realistic in the short term.
Things are pretty tight for the Flyers financially right now. Carter Hart just signed his extension with a $3.9 million cap hit and the leaves the Flyers with a shade over $4 million left with Travis Sanheim still due a contract. Once he signs, they’ll have a better idea as to who they can still possibly afford. There are still a few interesting options on the free agent market when it comes to depth centers. Players like Tyler Bozak, Eric Staal, Derick Brassard, Casey Cizikas, among others are still looking for a new home, and would more than likely be an improvement over many in-house options. The question becomes whether or not the Flyers will have enough cap space to even offer a league minimum deal to one of them, a question they may not know the answer to until Sanheim’s arbitration hearing on August 26.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com