With word breaking that Radko Gudas injured himself during offseason training and will miss the World Cup of Hockey. The Flyers may need to work on replacing him for the upcoming season should the injury nag on through training camp and into the regular season.
Of course, there will instantly be many shouts for Ivan Provorov to make the team, but is that really the wisest move?
With nearly 6 weeks until the October 14 season opener, it’s not likely that Gudas will miss any extended regular season time, and being a body short in the preseason means that the Flyers will have more time to evaluate Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov.
Let’s assume that Gudas needs 7 weeks from today to recover and be cleared to play in an NHL game. This would put his recovery date as October 23, with five games having passed in the NHL season. As such, the Flyers would need to fill Gudas’s spot for those games. This piece is also assuming that the Flyers were planning on using the same defense pairs that were discussed earlier this summer.
As such, it’s likely that Andrew MacDonald would just play five games in order to get him closer to the 40 games needed for exposure in the 2017 Las Vegas Expansion Draft. However, if the Flyers do decide to go another route, what options do they have with Radko Gudas injured?
Option 1: Ivan Provorov.
The Case For: Ivan Provorov is the Flyers top defensive prospect now that Shayne Gostisbehere has graduated from prospect to NHL regular with his Calder Runner Up finish this past season. He’s a smooth skating, ultra talented defender with major potential.
The Case Against: Provorov has two options thanks to the CBA. The WHL or the NHL. Talent-wise, Provorov would likely be best served playing in the AHL this season but since the CBA precludes that, the Flyers would need to make a decision, to keep him up or send him back and GM Ron Hextall has preached and shown patience which means it’s far more likely that Provorov finds himself in the WHL.
The Verdict: If Gudas is missing less than nine games, use Provorov. He can play up to 9 games before sliding back to the WHL so bringing him up and giving him a look before sending back isn’t a bad option. It’s nine games of learning for the top prospect and a good chance to see what he has. It’s the same reasoning used to argue that Travis Konecny can replace Brayden Schenn while Schenn serves his suspension from the playoffs last season.
Option 2: Sam Morin
The Case For: Sam Morin is basically a left handed Radko Gudas. A hulking, hard-hitting, big-bodied monster defender who gets physical and plays the stay at home defender role quite well, Morin would match the style, role and type of player that Gudas is when replacing him. Also, as a waiver exempt player, he can be sent back to the AHL when Gudas returns. If he’s good and shows he can stick at the NHL level, the Flyers could explore trading Nick Schultz just as they did with Luke Schenn last season after Gostisbehere made his strong debut.
The Case Against: Sam Morin is likely not as talented as Provorov or Sanheim. Playing more minutes in all situations in the AHL is likely better for him than a cup of coffee in the NHL. Morin is a call up candidate, but maybe not to start the season.
The Verdict: To start the season, Provorov makes more sense, because he can go back to Junior and slide. Morin seems more of midseason callup or late season callup after developing a bit more.
Option 3: Travis Sanheim
The Case For: Like Sam Morin, the first year pro is AHL eligible and waiver exempt. He could come and go as he pleases. His offensive game is far better than Morin, and he’d add another weapon for the second powerplay unit.
The Case Against: Sanheim is probably better served in the role Mark Streit, he’s an offensive scoring weapon and probably not the penalty killer that Gudas is. While he’d be fun to watch, Sanheim is likely being groomed to take over Streit’s spot in 2017-18. Also, he’s a first year pro and could use the time to develop in the AHL.
The Verdict: Travis Sanheim should stay in the AHL, a five game cup of coffee for a first year pro to start a season for a player with a different role isn’t really an option. If Mark Streit is traded or injured or Michael Del Zotto or Shayne Gostisbehere needs time to recover from their respective injuries, then Sanheim makes total sense. But given Gudas is the player who needs replacing right now, leave Sanheim in the AHL to play in all situations.
Option 4: TJ Brennan
The Case For: Brennan’s a known commodity who won’t be stunted by playing small minutes or only in certain situations. If the Flyers use Andrew MacDonald on the ice, having Brennan sit in the pressbox isn’t going to hurt any prospect development.
The Case Against: He’s also got the wrong skillset. Brennan’s another offensive scoring defender who won’t be useful in Gudas’s PK based role. If the Flyers use Andrew MacDonald on the ice, having Brennan sit in the pressbox isn’t going to help the Flyers chance of winning hockey games.
The Verdict: If you need a player to sit in the pressbox while MacDonald eats up the 40 games he needs to play for expansion draft requirements, Brennan makes the most sense.
Notes on the Rest: Mark Alt, Robert Hagg, Phil Myers, Reece Wilcox
Alt’s had known concussion issues and Hagg had an up and down season in the AHL last year. It’s likely they’ve fallen behind the four players listed above in terms of depth. Both need strong showings in the AHL this season to show they deserve a shot in the NHL. Alt’s getting older, turning 25 in mid October, meaning that he’s not likely to improve much, so if he’s called up to sit, it’s not much of an issue. Alt is a right handed shot, like Gudas and if the Flyers decide that handedness matters more than raw talent, you may see Alt if he’s healthy. Reece Wilcox is another right shot, but given his pedigree, he seems more of an ECHL-AHL swingman than NHL-AHL player. Of course, Wilcox had 3 points in 6 AHL games to end last season after leaving Cornell, so if he keeps posting offensive numbers in the AHL, he could find himself playing in the NHL. Phil Myers is essentially in the same boat as Provorov, but without the draft pedigree. He’s stuck in the QMJHL or the NHL and given his lack of publicity, he’s probably finding himself going back to the Q. He’s also a right shot, but he’s got time to develop and would hopefully find himself in the NHL lineup in 2018-19.
With Radko Gudas injured, the Flyers have options, many options and that is a direct result of Ron Hextall’s smart drafting and solid prospect development on the blue line.