Of all the things that are underwhelming about the impending 2022-23 Philadelphia Flyers season, the forward depth, or lack thereof, is pretty high on the list. Chuck Fletcher opted against adding South Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau, or any forward of substance for that matter, meaning they are putting plenty of eggs in the baskets of the younger kids to step up and earn their seat at the NHL table and hoping the returning vets can carry their weight and then some.
Couturier returns from back surgery with a new $62 million contract in tow and the pressure’s on to keep his play at a high level for as long as he can. He turns 30 in December and has played some heavy minutes throughout his career and the impending dip in his play is on the horizon. Not to mention he no longer has Claude Giroux, his partner in crime over the last few seasons, a big reason why his offensive totals bloated to the levels they were. It feels odd that at 30 years old he needs to have a prove-it season, but the future of the Flyers will depend on whether or not Couturier has enough in the tank to carry the team.
After a season from hell both on and off the ice, 30-year-old Kevin Hayes will look to bounce back to full strength during the 2022-23 campaign. The 2019-20 version of Hayes was awesome, a solid two-way player that carried the penalty kill. A myriad of injuries and personal problems derailed much of the last two seasons for Hayes. He’s entering the 2022-23 season fully healthy, though replicating a career year isn’t going to be easy. Hayes is one of the guys on the team who seems to find chemistry with everybody, with guys like Scott Laughton, Cam Atkinson and Travis Konecny all playing some of their best hockey when lined up with him, so his return to full health will go a long way to stabilizing the team as a whole, especially with some of the injuries effecting the top-six wingers.
Atkinson quietly had a very good season last year, finishing second on the team in both goals and points with 23 and 50 respectively. A late season injury cost him the last nine games of the season, which let JVR and Konecny pass him for the team lead in stats. He is now the eldest forward on the team and will be looked upon to not only produce offense, but to mentor the younger players as well. Atkinson may have a bit of an edge going into this season as the only player that has previously played under new head coach John Tortorella. So add liaison between coach and roster to his list of duties as well. 20 goals and 50 points seems to be right around the numbers to expect production wise anything else should be considered gravy for the 33-year-old.
Farabee is an interesting piece for the Flyers. He seems like a player with a high ceiling and has shown flashes of stardom in the past, but injuries and lackluster linemates has really limited his potential in the NHL. He’ll be starting the season on IR after undergoing neck surgery, which will once again set him back. Though Farabee is only 22 years old and the best is clearly yet to come. If he can return to the NHL lineup later in the season and look relatively normal in doing so, that injection could help push the Flyers in the right direction for a late season rise up the standings. Hopefully his play isn’t hindered by his surgery too much, but it may just be better to write off this season as lost for Farabee if he doesn’t look like a star upon his return.
Travis Konecny is entering his third consecutive “make or break” season, which in of itself is an impressive feat, but the Flyers are going to need production out of Teeks if they actually want to have a successful season. He did technically finish atop the Flyers in points last year with 52, but it was still an overall miserable season for the 25-year-old. After teasing a breakout campaign in 2019-20, he just hasn’t been the same player since his zero-goal playoff showing in 2020. Things will already be harder for TK as he no longer has Claude Giroux to carry his production. The lack of star power up front is really going to hurt Konecny, maybe more than any other forward, so it will be up to him to rise to the occasion and be the conduit of offense the team needs.
Laughton is now a decade into his career yet somehow just keeps getting better. He’s the embodiment of the term “jack of all trades” and can do it all on the ice. Top six winger, fourth line center, defensive stalwart, offensive contributor and locker room leader are just some of the hats Laughton has worn during his career. He was one the best offensive pace of his career during 2021-22, posting 11 goals and 30 points in 67 games, totals that would’ve been easily smashed if a late season concussion didn’t force him out of the lineup for a month. Expect him to once again be a key member of the middle-six.
The Flyers season could very well hinge on the potential success of the development of Owen Tippett. Much like Morgan Frost, Tippett was a first round pick in 2017 that just hasn’t been able to lock down an NHL spot yet. He was acquired in the Claude Giroux trade and flashed a bit of offensive promise late in the season, albeit not converting on his abundance of offensive chances. Supposedly, he has spent the offseason working on the elusiveness of his shot, so if there were palpable improvements to his game that were made, it could go a long way into making him an effective player. Considering the crowing on right wing yet all with relatively similar ceilings, if Tippett can come out of the gate strong, he could very easily establish himself as a top six winger with the Flyers sooner rather than later.
James Van Riemsdyk
He’s baaaaack. Chuck Fletcher couldn’t clear the last year of JVR’s $7 million cap hit and now the 33-year-old will be back for yet another season in orange and black. Van Riemsdyk is a very predictable player. He’ll rack up 20-25 goals and 40-50 points while standing in front of the net with most of those points coming in absolutely meaningless scenarios.
Considering he’ll probably have a roster spot out of the gate thanks to various injuries on the wing, the real interest will be wether or not he gets scratched when Farabee and Bobby Brink return to the lineup. They could just cut their losses and ride out the remainder of the season, or claim to play him for his veteran presence and theoretically boost his non-existent value at the trade deadline. Either way, it’s hard to get excited for another season of James Van Riemsdyk in Philly.
The Flyers 2017 fifth round pick Noah Cates made the jump to the NHL late in the 2021-22 season after his college career at Minnesota Duluth came to an end. He was one of the very few bright spots the dying days of the season produced as he scored five goals and nine points in 16 games with a strong two-way presence as well. He found success with Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett during his NHL audition, which means they could very well form the third line on opening night, but with the left wing depth looking rather shallow, if his play continues to stay strong and he sees an uptick in ice time, the Flyers may have themselves a real diamond in the rough.
It’s time for Frost to put up or shut up. He may be the most disappointing player to emerge from the Hextall era and, after signing a one-year contract extension, has walked into the ultimate prove-it situation as he tries once again to find his place in the NHL lineup. He’ll more than likely be the 3C on opening night, probably flanked by Noah Cates and Owen Tippett, a pair he had a little bit of chemistry with to finish last season. Finding at least one partner that he works well with will be crucial for him to have any success this season. He hasn’t cracked 20 points in the NHL yet, so that feels like a bare minimum benchmark, but 20 points is also incredibly underwhelming for a player who once had so much promise.
In terms of intrigue, there are very few players in the entire system that raise an eyebrow like 21-year-old Bobby Brink. He’ll start the season on IR after undergoing offseason hip surgery, but the former second round pick is coming off a very successful college career at the University of Denver. Not only was he good at producing offense, scoring 14 goals and 57 points in 41 games, but he was often praised for playing the right way even when he wasn’t showing up on the score sheet. Brink racked up four assists during his 10-game NHL sample size and appeared to play as advertised. Hopefully he can pick right back up when he returns during the 2022-23 campaign.
The Flyers big offseason addition was… well… slightly underwhelming. Chuck Fletcher has valued his solid depth forward role players since showing up in Philly, so this signing should come as no real surprise. He’s a fourth liner who is going to punch people and can occasionally show up on the score sheet. Given his linemates to start the season could very well be Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison, he may get carried to one of the better offensive seasons of his career, which isn’t much of a challenge considering his previous high is just 15 points.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nbcsports.com