(Photo: Kate Frese)
The start of a new season always brings on new storylines. That is true in some ways for the Flyers.
There are certainly new storylines, but there are a lot of familiar ones as well. No matter how you look at it, there’s a lot to keep an eye on during this upcoming Flyers season.
Here are 10 storylines you should be watching:
- Goaltending - It’s always a storyline, but it’s as interesting as it’s ever been. Take a look at the rundown of goalies in the organization at the professional level right now and their status entering the 2018-19 season.
Brian Elliott: Starting the season off recovery from offseason hip surgery
Michal Neuvirth: Injured during preseason
Alex Lyon: Injured during preseason
Anthony Stolarz: Coming off a full-year recovery, played only four professional games last season
Calvin Pickard: Waiver claim, played just one NHL game last season
Carter Hart: 20-year-old entering first professional season
There’s not a good one in the bunch. Carter Hart may turn out to be something great in the future, but the Flyers were in no way prepared to hand him the reigns now. That left the first four, and with two injuries and Stolarz sitting as the backup, they didn’t feel confident enough that they had to claim a goalie who has played just one NHL game since the end of the 2016-17 season.
So, yeah, that’s where things are.
- Carter Hart - Hart is certainly a storyline of his own because you never know when things will break and the time will come for him to get the call. The Flyers would love to get Neuvirth back healthy and use Elliott and Neuvirth all season. That’s already not going to be the case. Neuvirth’s out to start the season.
The key here is Pickard, because that may just bury Hart in the minors for the entire season, probably what the team desired. That said, stranger things have happened, and if enough goalies fall victim to injury and Hart is out-performing the rest, his time will come.
- Penalty Kill - The other area of concern for the Flyers is if they should ever be shorthanded. The Flyers didn’t really find a way to address this area externally, and that means addressing it internally involves the addition of rookie players who may need time to adjust to the PK system.
The Flyers need this area to be modestly successful to really make the playoff push they should. There are two ways they can do this, either be an effective penalty-killing team or stay out of the box as much as possible.
- Sean Couturier - He’s fresh off a career year and a lengthy recovery from a knee injury. That said, Couturier has firmly solidified his role as the top-line center.
With the career year of 31 goals and 76 points now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to see how Couturier follows it up. He was on the map as a Selke Trophy finalist. He was the team’s leading goal scorer until April. What’s the next step? Time to find out.
- Another New Role for Laughton - Scott Laughton has been bounced around the lineup quite a bit in his career and this season is no different. New year, new linemates, new role.
The Flyers really like him on the wing and he was an energetic and involved player during training camp and really needs to take a step this season to hold down a roster spot for the long-term. A new role presents a new opportunity and Laughton can turn the Flyers fourth line into a very effective depth line.
- More Fourth Line Production - Laughton isn’t the only one who is adding to the depth of the fourth line. Jori Lehtera was there a year ago. Jordan Weal and Michael Raffl are now part of that group with new additions to the top nine. Corban Knight could be too when he returns from injury.
To have five options to fill out the fourth line can provide great depth. You saw a little of that in the final preseason game where Raffl scored two goals. Imagine getting a solid forecheck and a few goals to boot from the fourth line? It’s been an area where the Flyers were lacking in the past.
- JVR’s Return - The Flyers added James van Riemsdyk to bolster the top six and take it to another level. It also gives the Flyers two very dangerous power play units.
JVR is here to score goals, simple as that. As the newcomer that is supposed to take the Flyers offense to another level, he’s a storyline of his own as Ron Hextall’s first big free-agent splash.
- Mikhail Vorobyev - Everyone is certainly watching Carter Hart and Phil Myers in the minors, but Mikhail Vorobyev is the only rookie to make the final roster for now.
As the only rookie, he falls into the third-line center role, earned from a consistent camp. How he performs during the regular season will be the real test.
- The Sophomores - Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim are all entering their second NHL seasons and for these three it is about taking steps forward.
Patrick started his career after a shortened summer recovery from injury and had to battle through that through the first half of last season. Now that he’s fully healthy, it’s time to see his full potential start to come out.
Lindblom looked like a greatly improved player during camp and after a solid season with the Phantoms and a brief stint with the Flyers last season, he can also take a huge step getting regular playing time.
Sanheim figures to be a big part of the defense. He’s got the offensive chops and can move the puck well, but this could be a big year for him to bring his defensive game to a new level and be a valuable asset in his own zone at even strength and possibly on the penalty kill.
The thing to watch here is the sophomore slump. It certainly didn't seem to plague Ivan Provorov or Travis Konecny, but it did hit Shayne Gostisbehere hard two seasons ago. Will it do the same one of these three or will they all continue to hit their stride.
- Dave Hakstol - The Flyers enter their fourth season under Dave Hakstol and while two of those seasons have ended with playoff appearances, the Flyers still have not advanced in the playoffs since 2012. It’s become an old act and Hakstol is certainly at the center of it.
This is about putting the best lineup on the ice to have success. This is about getting into the playoffs comfortably after needing the final game or final weekend to do it the previous two times. This is about winning a playoff series.
He probably doesn’t have a short leash, but the GM went out, added a big name and left spots for kids to step up. This is a nearly completed blueprint of the contending roster Hextall wanted to assemble. It’s time to show it’s working and take it to the next level with more than just a single playoff series or being a bubble team for the playoffs.