Making Sense of the Flyers’ Final Roster

The Philadelphia Flyers have put the finishing touches on the roster for the upcoming 2016-17 season.  Training camp saw standouts like Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov finally make the NHL roster. Ron Hextall said on Monday that the two youngsters were here to stay. While the performance of the young defenseman and forward are encouraging signs for the team, training camp also saw the roster become depleted in various ways. The Flyers will have to start the season far from full strength. The newly acquired depth will be tested early.

Let’s start by looking at who the Flyers will be missing. Both defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Scott Laughton will need time because of lower body injuries sustained in camp (Del Zotto is expected to miss 4-5 weeks while Laughton’s injury will sideline him for 3-4 weeks.) Defenseman Brandon Manning was also injured, but he returned to practice on Monday and is expected to be ready when the Flyers start their season on Friday in Los Angeles.

The team will also be without forward Brayden Schenn, who will serve a three game suspension to begin the year for his hit on T.J. Oshie in last year’s playoff series. While the Flyers knew that Schenn would miss three games, the suspension of Radko Gudas further complicates their wishes for a strong start. In the team’s final preseason game on Saturday, Gudas hit Bruin’s forward Austin Czarnik up high along the boards. As a result, Gudas was suspended for the first six games of the regular season, the league announced Monday. He was suspended three games last season for an illegal hit as well. Gudas is a repeat offender, meaning that if he crosses the line again this season, a lengthy absence is assured.

Clearly the Flyers will be a weaker team to begin this season than they would prefer. With that being said, let’s examine who is available for Friday night in L.A.

Forwards: Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Dale Weise, Michael Raffl, Chris VandeVelde, Matt Read, Roman Lyubimov and Boyd Gordon. (Laughton and Schenn will be scratches)

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, Ivan Provorov, Nick Schultz (Gudas, Del Zotto, and Mark Alt will be scratches)

Goalies: Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth

Some notes about this roster:

  • There are 15 forwards there, obviously more than the team would need. When Laughton and Schenn return, I would imagine that Chris VandeVelde would be waived or sent down to the Phantoms. Other than that, it’s hard to say who the team would scratch with everyone available. Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon were both free agent signings meant to fill certain roles in the bottom six. Konecny and Raffl seem to be safe in middle or top six forward roles. Newcomer Roman Lyubimov seems to have adjusted well to North American ice, and being just 24 years old you would expect his game to grow as he settles into a role. Matt Read could be a candidate to sit in the press box (or to be traded) if he doesn’t pick up his offense from last year.  Nick Cousins had a strong finish to last season, but spent much of camp in a battle with Jordan Weal. If he is unable to replicate that success this year, he is another possible scratch.
  • To me it would seem that there are four defenseman that the Flyers would like to play every night: Gostisbehere, Streit, Provorov, and MacDonald (Del Zotto and Gudas fall under that category as well, but I’m focusing more on the start of the season which these two defensemen will miss for different reasons). Brandon Manning and Nick Schultz are serviceable, but largely replaceable bottom-pairing defensemen. Unless they are extremely impressive in the absence of Gudas and Del Zotto, look for them to sit in the press box. MacDonald has not been particularly impressive during his tenure in Philadelphia and there is evidence that his play bogs down the advanced metrics of his teammates. But MacDonald seems to be determined to improve his play, and head coach Dave Hakstol took notice during training camp.
    • “Mac has had a really good camp,” Hakstol said last week. “Whether he has been on right side or left side or whatever partner he was with, I think he has had an excellent camp…he’s been versatile, which is a key strength of our team.”
  • Goaltending doesn’t have anywhere near as much turmoil as the other positions do. Steve Mason has looked sharp in the preseason and recently became a father. If ‘Dad Strength’ really is a thing, Mason could be better than ever. Look for another strong year from Mase. Neuvirth also looks sharp. He played for the Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey, and while the team wasn’t successful, Neuvirth showed his usual flashes of brilliance that lend confidence heading into the year. The combination of Mason and Neuvirth should once again be a strength for Philadelphia.

So now, let’s try to project the possible line combinations.

Forward lines

Michael Raffl – Claude Giroux – Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny – Sean Couturier – Jake Voracek

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Nick Cousins – Dale Weise

Roman Lyubimov – Body Gordon – Matt Read

(Scratches: Laughton, Schenn, VandeVelde)

Defense pairings

Ivan Provorov – Mark Streit

Nick Schultz – Shayne Gostisbehere

Andrew MacDonald – Brandon Manning

(Scratches: Del Zotto, Gudas, Alt)

Golatenders

Steve Mason

Michal Neuvirth

The Flyers have taken to separating Giroux and Voracek at even strength – at least this preseason.  Simmonds is a physical presence that can bury passes from Giroux and surprise you at times with his skill set. Raffl has played on the left of Giroux before, so he can be a stop-gap for Schenn’s three game absence. Looking forward, Schenn/Giroux/Simmonds is a skilled and versatile first line.

Voracek and Konecny are easily the two most skilled wingers with whom Sean Couturier has ever played. Konecny had a team leading six points in the preseason and didn’t look out of place in the slightest amongst NHL competition. He’s young, but skilled enough to keep up and possibly even elevate the play of the second line.

Bellemare was impressive for team Europe at the World Cup last month, and I’d expect the team to try to get more offense out of him this year. Alongside Cousins and Weise, the third line is responsible in every zone and should be able to provide a modest improvement in depth scoring from a year ago. Bellemare might drop a line when Laughton returns, but for the time being he can play here.

Boyd Gordon was brought in for this exact role. He’ll be a defensively responsible fourth line center that can win face-offs and allow the Flyers to deploy Sean Couturier more in the neutral and offensive zones. Read could move up in the lines if his offense returns, but for now he’s best suited in a checking role. VandeVelde doesn’t have a place above the fourth line and will likely be scratched when Schenn returns. When Scott Laughton returns, he may simply take the place of the least productive forward. It could be Read, Lyubimov, or even Nick Cousins. But for now, it’s hard to definitely say.

As for the defense, things become a little harder to predict. We’ve seen Provorov paired with a lot of players this preseason, but his play with Mark Streit has been steady and appears to have stuck. Streit is 38, so having a young pair of legs who can move the puck well gives the Flyers a versatile and responsible first pairing.

Gostisbehere is the best puck mover on the team, so while he is on the second pairing here, expect a lot of ice time for last year’s Calder trophy finalist. Pairing him with Schultz or MacDonald will likely be temporary until Gudas returns. Ghost has even seen time with Provorov in the preseason. He is versatile enough to play with anyone, so we probably won’t see a definitive pairing be established until the rest of the team is at full strength.

MacDonald, Schultz, and Manning are all serviceable, but only one will stay in the lineup once Gudas and Del Zotto return. The early part of the season will be a competition among the three for earning playing time for the rest of the year.

Steve Mason is the starting goalie until proven otherwise. Staying healthy has always been a problem for Michal Neuvirth, so he’s comfortable as a backup (albeit one of the best in hockey).

Training camp was an up and down time for the Flyers. Through injuries and suspensions, they enter the season with a different roster than expected, but one that is still talented enough to build on past success and return to the playoffs. The infusion of young talent gives fans reason for excitement and could potentially elevate them past last year’s first round playoff exit. This year is off to a bumpy start, but hockey is finally back. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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