Despite off-season change, Flyers still relying on young talent to take next step
If you didn’t know already, Chuck Fletcher has been a very busy man this offseason. He saw the Philadelphia Flyers go from a well oiled machine before the COVID-19 stoppage when they were the number one seed in the East heading into the playoffs, to finishing sixth in the East last year with a record of 25-33-8. Personally, it was one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. The Hakstol and Berube years were a whole different animal and we never really had high expectations. Sure, we convinced ourselves those rosters could compete but deep down, we all knew that wasn’t the case. This past year was different. We had playoff aspirations from the jump but in the end, we were left with a season that was down right unacceptable and extremely disappointing from a fans perspective.
But still, Chuck Fletcher was never really given the opportunity to put his fingerprints on the Flyers’ roster. That has changed this offseason. Here’s a quick rundown of the moves that have been made to date.
The only player in that group that isn’t 30 years old or older is Rasmus Ristolainen, who has 8 seasons in the NHL already, despite only being 26 years old. Rasmus will most likely play in a reduced role with the Flyers, slotting into that #2 RD spot next to Travis Sanheim (who is scheduled for arbitration).
Here’s what I’m projecting as the Top 4 defensive unit:
Ivan Provorov – Ryan Ellis
Travis Sanheim – Rasmus Ristolainen
Ryan Ellis will most likely slot in right next to Provorov. Ellis missed some time last season with an injury, only scoring 5G-13A-18P in 35 games. After he returned on April 10th vs Tampa, Ellis scored 9 of those 18 points in the last 14 games of the season. Then in the playoffs, he had 5 points (1G-4A) in 6 games vs the Carolina Hurricanes. Ellis confirmed in his media availability when he was acquired, that the rumored “shoulder injury” wasn’t true. He added that his injury was a knuckle issue that didn’t require surgery and that he’s 100% healthy and ready to go. We saw Provorov have a really solid year (13G-23A-36P in 69 games) back in 19-20′ with Matt Niskanen as his partner. Niskanen’s defensive presence in the backend really allowed Provorov to expand his game and take more offensive chances. Ellis hopes to be that same kind of presence, on and off the ice. Can’t wait to watch 9 – 94 patrol the blue-line. I think the flurry of moves made by Chuck Fletcher, in the quick span of time it happened, helped kind of over-shadow a bit how big of an acquisition Ryan Ellis really was. It’s a huge move and easily my favorite of the off-season.
Travis Sanheim (25 years old) hasn’t signed his extension yet. The club filed for arbitration on Monday, August 2nd. The hearing date is August 26th, so hopefully the two sides can come to an agreement before then. Sanheim is currently at the end of his 2 year, $6.5 million dollar bridge contract that paid him $3.25 a season. You have to think Sanheim is due for a bit of a raise but I don’t see it being anything drastic. The Flyers currently have $4.031 million in cap space left to sign Sanheim after locking up their 22 year old franchise goalie, Carter Hart, to a 3 year extension with a AAV of $3.979. Really interested to see if Chuck is done after he locks up Sanheim because we all know Chuck likes his cap space for transactions throughout the season. After Sanheim signs, depending on the number, Chuck won’t have much room. Stay tuned.
Cam Atkinson for Jake Voracek straight up is another huge move Chuck made this off-season. He brings in a shoot-first winger that is stoked to be here and is a couple seasons removed from a 41 goal campaign. I would love to see Giroux on a line with Atkinson at some point this season. G finally gets his shoot first winger and Cam gets one of the best passers in the league feeding him. Seeing the way Cam has embraced the team in his media availability and twitter presence has been so fun to see. You hear the narrative sometimes that players “don’t want to come to Philadelphia”, so it’s cool to see Cam be so excited to join the team and be apart of the city.
Martin Jones signed with the Flyers on a 1 year deal worth $2.0 AAV. Jones did not have a very good season with the Sharks, posting a .896 SV% with a 3.28 GAA (15-13-4). The Sharks obviously haven’t been very good team the last few seasons and that’s due to a number of different reasons, so you take those stats with a grain of salt. Pretty hard to put up good numbers when you’re on a team that just isn’t good to begin with. Jones isn’t a young player (31), but he’s definitely a player Chuck is putting stock into having a bounce back year. Jones and Rasmus Ristolainens situations are kind of similar in my opinion. They’re both players that have been really solid at times. Jones has a .917 SV% and six shutouts in his playoff career (62 games). He was a key piece in the Sharks finals run in 2016 vs Pittsburgh, on a good team. Rasmus has four 40+ point seasons on a really, really bad Buffalo Sabres team, despite being thrown into the fire as a teenager and told to run a top pair in the NHL. Chuck is taking risks, no doubt, but risks are necessary and I like the fact that Chuck isn’t afraid to take them.
Keith Yandle signed on a 1 year deal worth $900,000 which includes a full NMC, so Keith isn’t going anywhere this year. With that signing this is how I figure the defensive units to look:
Ivan Provorov – Ryan Ellis
Travis Sanhem – Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle – Justin Braun
I’ve seen some reactions to the Yandle signing saying, “Well, now they’re just blocking Cam York, this makes no sense”. York filling that #3 LD role on the third-pairing with a veteran next to him, on a ELC contract, was an option that had a ton of a value attached to it. Chuck Fletcher has clearly shown he’s not willing to go into another season depending on a young defenseman to fill a certain role, even if that role is a sheltered, third-pairing role.
We saw what Cam York did in his sophomore campaign:
- Captained Team USA to gold
- Won Big Ten Defenseman of the Year
- Nominated for Big Ten Player of the Year
- Signed ELC with Flyers on March 31st
- Scored 2G-3A-5P in 8 games with Phantoms
- Played in final 3 games with Flyers
It’s no secret Cam blew the doors off the expectations me and I’m sure the organization had for him. While there’s a chance he can come in to camp and show he simply belongs, I like the approach Chuck is taking with his first ever pick as Flyers GM. It’s basically all up to Cam York to where he starts this season. This regime has shown time and time again they won’t shy away from promoting a young player if that player is deserving of it. I can definitely see a scenario where we’re sitting here towards the end of training camp asking ourselves “How does York not suit up October 15th?”
We shall see.
James van Riemsdyk – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom – Kevin Hayes – Joel Farabee
Claude Giroux – Morgan Frost – Cam Atkinson
Scott Laughton – Nate Thompson – Wade Allison
Tanner Laczynski, Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov – Ryan Ellis
Travis Sanheim – Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle – Justin Braun
Obviously there will be guys in camp that’ll be pushing for spots, but I don’t see them beating out any of the guys above.
Linus Sandin – Linus struggled in the beginning of his first professional season in NA with the Phantoms but finished strong and showed off that scoring touch that he had in the SHL. Sandin scored 4G-1A-5P in the final 10 games of the season.
Yegor Zamula: Zamula played in 2 games for the Flyers this season, April 27th and 29th vs NJD. He also played 25 games with the Phantoms and steadily got better as the year went along. At 6’3, Zamula doesn’t have a lot of weight to him, only weighing 177 pounds, but he’s an extremely smooth skater with an active stick. He needs to learn how use his big frame more to his advantage, but he’s only 21 years old so he has time to develop and add some more weight. Excited to see him in rookie camp & training camp.
Tanner Laczynski: I really enjoyed Tanner with the Phantoms and Flyers this year. He only was able to play in 5 games in the NHL before he got hurt (0 points). Didn’t cash in but I loved his sound two-way game and ability to make the simple, but necessary play. He’s another young prospect that I think will just get better as he gets more playing time under his belt.
The biggest question mark heading into the season currently is that 3C position. You have a lot of in-house options like, Morgan Frost, Tanner Laczynski and Scott Laughton (although 3C is not my preferred spot for him). We saw Morgan Frost win a spot out of camp last season as the 13th forward. Sean Couturier got injured early on in the season vs Pittsburgh which opened up a spot for Frost. Morgan was only able to play in one full game as he got injured in his second game of the season in a weird collision behind the net. Frost was reportedly skating around May with Gostisbehere when he was hurt. Frost was lost for the season and Chuck wasn’t able to see what his top prospect would’ve done with an extended look. This is a big training camp for Frost, he’s been skating since last May, has had a full off-season of training, excited to see what Frost does in camp. Scott Laughton is an option for 3C but I’d rather him be on the wing and if he has to play center, it be 4C. Jackson Cates played 4 games for the Flyers after playing in the NCAA tournament with Minnesota Duluth, but he’s not a realistic option for 3C.
The Flyers added a great mix of older talent that have been assistants on some of their previous teams, 5 to be exact.
- Cam Atkinson
- Nate Thompson
- Ryan Ellis
- Rasmus Ristolainen
- Keith Yandle
Chuck has moved on from the younger prospects that he, despite thinking they can develop into something, wasn’t willing to wait for it to happen here. He’s added veteran leadership and talent without giving up any high-end prospect. Cam York, Morgan Frost, Tyson Foerster, Bobby Brink, Zayde Wisdom and Egor Zamula are all still here. He added the necessary pieces he thought needed to be made. He’s mentioned how the team needs to defend better from top to bottom and how they need to just be “tougher” to play against. Adding Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle to your backend is a pretty good start. Atkinson is 5’8 but plays like he’s 6’2. A feisty player that will not shy away from contact, Atkinson loves going to the dirty areas. Flyers fans should be very excited for #89. Nate Thompson might not be the most skilled player in the world but he’s another big bodied veteran who will not take any shit from anyone and can contribute on the PK.
Now, adding in the necessary pieces was one thing but Chuck has also left spots for younger players on ELC contracts to take a make an impact with.
Wade Allison (23) is on a ELC contract and will be looked at during camp for a spot. Allison had 4G-3A-7P in 14 games with the Flyers this season and gave the team a jolt of energy they desperately needed. Although he was extremely fun to watch at times last season with his tenacious forecheck and absolute dot of a wrist shot, I want to hold back the expectations for a kid that has 14 NHL games under his belt. He’s another prospect I’m excited to watch improve as he gets more comfortable in the NHL.
Morgan Frost (22) missed all of last year due to that weird injury behind the net in his second game of the season. He’ll have a ton of eyes on him in training camp. I’m excited to watch him play hockey again.
Travis Konecny (24) had the lowest goal total (11) of his career since his rookie season when he scored 11 goals in 70 games. It’s crazy to even have him on this list of young players Chuck is relying on to develop further, but here he is. Crazy to think he’s only 24 despite have five NHL seasons under his belt along with three 20+ goal seasons.
Travis Sanheim (25) saw himself play some of his best hockey last year when he was paired with Justin Braun. Braun is a solid, defensive defenseman that lets Sanheim step up in the play and use his skating and offensive abilities more often. Braun (34 years old) isn’t a bad defenseman now by any means, but Chuck was looking to add a younger, bigger, more physical defenseman for Sanheim. I’m looking forward to seeing if the combination of Sanheim – Ristolainen can work
Joel Farabee (21) led the team in goals (20) despite being one of the youngest player on the team. Farabee enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign putting up 20G-18A-38P in 55 games. Year 3 Joel Farabee should be fun.
Ivan Provorov (24) is one of the most important young pieces on this roster and getting him the necessary partner he needed was on the top of the off-season list. The addition of Ryan Ellis will hopefully allow us to see 19-20′ Provorov. A defenseman that is comfortable in jumping into the play while knowing all hell won’t break loose the other way. Sort of the same situation with Provorov & Sanheim.
Carter Hart (22) has to have the biggest smile on his face watching this off-season go down. He gets Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle on his blue-line and receives a nice 3 year deal worth $3.979. Hart is the biggest key to this season. All these moves mean jack if Hart isn’t able to have a bounce back year. He’s the franchise.
I love what Chuck has done. He’s made the necessary big changes that this club has desperately needed. Trading Voracek for Atkinson, finally moving on from Gostisbehere and getting that cap space, adding one of the best right-handed defenseman in league in Ellis. He’s added the “snarl” he’s talked about being missing with the addition of Ristolainen, something that was definitely missing from the team. No more watching Oskar Lindblom drop the gloves or players getting flipped on their heads without an answer from the team.
A good mix of veteran talent with the young talent looking to take the next step in their delvelopment. We asked for change and we got it.
This is officially Chuck Fletcher’s team.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports, capfriendly.com