After years and years of patiently waiting for internal options to show up on the scene and fix the defense, Chuck Fletcher finally had to waive the white flag and admit that outside players are the only way to give the group a fighting chance. He spent the offseason building a new blue line to try and insulate the players he kept around with players that fit specific roles he was looking for. With three new faces on the team and some solid current Flyers left standing, the defense looks like it may finally be ready to be competitive on a night-to-night basis.
Provorov’s dip in production during the 2021 season led some fans to question the role he plays on the team. Questioning his ability as a true number one defenseman seems like much ado about nothing, it’s a classic case of recency bias swinging in the wrong direction. He’s still the guy on the Flyers’ blue line and, with new partner Ryan Ellis, should be a much better version of Ivan Provorov than we’ve seen in the past. He’ll will still be the team’s number one defenseman and relied upon in every scenario. He’s not the biggest scorer, but is typically good for around ten goals and at least 30 points a season, of course, depending on how much time he sees on the powerplay, where he’s score 26 of his 62 points over the last two years.
Prediction: 15 goals, 37 points
Sanheim struggled immensely during the 2021 season but is back with a shiny new contract in tow for the 21-22 campaign. He will be back on the second pair with new partner Rasmus Ristolainen and, individually, the duo will have quite a bit to prove. For Sanheim, he has to keep his fingers crossed that Ristolainen can become a reliable defensive defenseman and allow him to finally live up to the potential of a highly rated offensive defenseman. He’s never been a big scorer, with only 22 goals and 85 points in 255 games, but he is expected to be an above-average puck mover. If he can get out of his own way and manage to develop some chemistry with Ristolainen, we may finally see all Sanheim as to offer.
Prediction: 6 goals, 21 points
Ryan Ellis enters Philadelphia with a pretty heavy cross to bear before he even steps foot on the ice. He is the long-awaited top pair right handed defenseman to play next to Ivan Provorov long term. The Flyers got a taste of what Provorov could be with a proper linemate in 2019-20 when Matt Niskanen was acquired and helped stabilize Provorov’s game. When he retired before the 2020-21 season, the Flyers opted to not directly address the hole he left and struggled mightily because of it. Not only will he be tasked with elevating Provorov’s game, he will have to make sure his own stays up to snuff. Ellis, who will turn 31 midway through the season, is a ten-year NHL veteran and does have a minor injury history in his past. It’s nothing major, but something to keep an eye on as he continues to age. Based on his past numbers, it looks like he’ll be good for at least a handful of goals and will more than likely break the 30-point plateau.
Prediction: 7 goals, 34 points
The Philadelphia Flyers are not shy about having a polarizing figure on their defense. Andrew MacDonald passed the torch to Robert Hagg, who now passes it to Rasmus Ristolainen, the new guy the Flyers acquired from Buffalo during the offseason. Regardless of your personal opinion of the man, a player with Ristolainen’s skillset is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. They really needed a big, physical defenseman who can make some noise in his own end. He was more or less a jack of all trades in Buffalo as their top guy, and the idea being that he’ll be able to have more success in Philly with a decreased role.
Prediction: 6 goals, 24 points
Yandle joins the Philadelphia Flyers and his best friend Kevin Hayes for his 16th NHL season. He rides into town with a 922-game ironman streak, which should just about guarantee he is on the opening night roster. That streak will take him to mid-January. His overall game has struggled over the last few seasons, but he is still a solid offensive defenseman who excels on the powerplay. Yandle will see limited, favorable minutes on the third pair with Justin Braun, who should provide a solid parter defensively.
Prediction: 2 goals, 19 points
Braun was the unsung hero of the Flyers’ defense during the 2021 season. He was the calming presence on the team and was regularly deployed to help buoy Ivan Provorov or Travis Sanheim. While he was a solid player, he was also playing over his head for his advanced age. This year, thanks to the additions of Ristolainen and Ellis, he can take up residency on the third pair, where he can be deployed in much more favorable minutes. Right now, he will either form a veteran tandem with Keith Yandle, or serve in a teaching role for youngster Cam York, if or when he makes the NHL roster at some point during the season. He’s a responsible player and will no-doubt be useful when called upon, even if his contributions don’t show up on the scoreboard.
Prediction: 2 goals, 10 points
One of the lone bright spots and feel good moments from the 2021 campaign was the return of Samuel Morin, who finally saw regular minutes in the NHL. He scored his first NHL goal on March 27 and, if only for a moment, gave everyone a reason to smile. Thanks to his overall decent play and bubbly personality, he was re-signed for one more year. It looks like he’ll be relied upon as the seventh defenseman who gets the call when extra physicality is needed. He won’t get many chances to show up on the scoreboard, but he’s well aware of the role he’s expected to play and will handle his business as he always does- with his fists.
Prediction: 0 goals, 2 points
Cam York is really the wildcard entering the 2021-22 season. On paper, he seems boxed out of a roster spot for opening night, but he possesses enough skill where he could be one injury or bad stretch of play from one of the players above him away from earning a roster spot. Given then uncertainty, it’s hard to assume he’ll make a ton of noise this year, but that isn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Having an extra few months to marinate in the AHL won’t hurt him, especially considering he only has 11 professional games under his belt so far. Though when he finally does show up on the Flyers’ roster on a full time basis, expect him to see quite a bit of ice time and eventually snag one of the powerplay QB spots. The world is his oyster, it’s just a matter of when he sits down at the table.
Prediction: 2 goals, six points
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: fr24news.com / NHL.com / prohockeyrumors.com