(Photo: Kevin Durso/Sports Talk Philly)
The Philadelphia Flyers are one week into their annual preseason training camp and it would appear that they are well on their way to formalizing their roster from forwards to defense.
There has never been much doubt about who would comprise the top-six forward positions.
The lines may juggle, but the names are probably set, barring GM Ron Hextall being dazzled by the play of top forward prospect Travis Konecny.
The Flyers potential weak link is on the left wing with Michael Raffl. That is not Konecny’s strong side. He mostly plays right wing and some center, so even if he dazzles Hextall some shuffling may be required.
It is still a long shot that Konecny will make the roster out of camp, but it is possible. Getting injured at practice last weekend and not playing in the first two games on Monday and Tuesday did not help Konecny’s case. It may not really end up hurting him either depending on how he plays in the remaining preseason games.
Konecny got his first look against the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night and he did not disappoint. He dominated in the game, especially the second period, where he scored his first preseason goal and added an assist. He set up Raffl on a mesmerizing play that began with him battling along the boards, taking control of the puck, skating to the point and dishing a perfect pass to Raffl for an easy tap in.
He also nearly scored another goal, on the same shift as his first goal, but his backhand shot glanced off the crossbar.
Hextall is not big on giving prospects a nine-game tryout, which could hurt Konecny’s chances at making the team. In Konecny’s case, assuming he continues to play as he did in Allentown on Wednesday, Hextall might have make an exception.
Claude Giroux and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are still not back from the World Cup of Hockey, so Konecny will continue to get some extra attention in camp. If Konecny does not make the cut, the top two lines will be made up of Brayden Schenn, Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Raffl.
Last season, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol seemed to like the chemistry of having Schenn on Giroux’s left wing and Simmonds on the right. That combination figures to be the top line once again this year. The second line would be Raffl on the left, Voracek on the right with the line centered by Couturier.
Right from the start of camp, a possible third line has developed comprised of Scott Laughton on left wing, centered by Nick Cousins with Dale Weise on the right. They have practiced and played together in exhibition games, displaying some real chemistry as a trio. Weise adds some scoring punch and physical play to go with the speed, tenacity and finesse of Laughton and Cousins.
That combination also appears to be defensively sound and has the ability to be a solid puck possession line. If they are together on opening night, Matt Read would become the extra forward, or possibly trade bait. Read has two years left on his contract at $3.63M which Hextall would likely be open to moving off the team’s salary cap.
Players fighting for bottom six roles, including Boyd Gordon, Roman Lyubimov and Chris VandeVelde, will also get more time to fight for roster slots. Bellemare is a lock for the fourth line, as is Gordon, so the battle is for the last remaining slot as the fourth line left wing. While VandeVelde has the faith of Hakstol, Lyubimov’s play has been strong and he may have the edge for the remaining roster slot.
Lyubimov has 20 pounds on VandeVelde and is five years younger. He uses his size well, is a solid penalty killer and is a strong skater who also has the ability to chip offensively.
The defensive corps came into training camp mostly established with the thinking being that only blue-chip prospect Ivan Provorov had any realistic chance of the opening night roster. The Flyers currently have seven defensemen under contract: Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald. Of those seven, only Gostisbehere is truly untouchable.
Hextall would love to move MacDonald, but nobody is going to take on his burdensome contract. Streit has been a player Hextall has been open to moving if he can find someone willing to take the veteran blue liner. Schultz is someone who could be moved by the trade deadline, but he will not be in big demand. The rest are not likely going anywhere.
Assuming the Flyers do not want to carry eight defensemen on the roster, given Provorov makes the cut; at least one will have to be moved. There is also the expansion draft to consider in how Hextall utilizes his defense and who will be exposed.
Many Flyers fans believe Provorov is NHL ready as camp continues to progress. To this point, his play in every aspect of the game has been sharp. There does not appear much reason to return him to his junior team. He played over 28 minutes on Monday to lead all skaters. Tuesday night, he had the second highest time on ice, only trailing Philippe Myers.
There are no guarantees, but Provorov has started strong and consistency through the rest of camp may be enough to land him a roster spot.
Myers has been the surprise of training camp. Nobody thought he was going to make a big splash even though he had a tremendous junior season and lead his team to the Memorial Cup. Now it seems he may have jumped to the second slot in the defensive prospect pool only behind Provorov. He logged heavy minutes in back-to-back games and never lost his composure or skill on the ice.
He logged nearly 25 minutes on Tuesday night, going plus-3 while adding an assist. He has a complete game, playing solid hockey on both ends of the ice. He can pass or carry the puck up ice and if not for Provorov he would be garnering serious discussion as the top defensive prospect for the Flyers.
Saturday night, against the Boston Bruins, Hakstol is icing his young defense corps. In addition to Provorov, who did not play on Wednesday night, Myers, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Gostisbehere, making his preseason debut, could all be on the ice. That would be a Team North America, World Cup-type roster for this game.