By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
As the calendar flips to April, 15 games remain on the schedule for the Flyers in the 2021-22 season. Yes, there is still a large portion of the schedule still to go, and on the surface, it was all rendered even more meaningless by the formal elimination from playoff contention for the Flyers with their final game of March.
But these are hardly meaningless games for the Flyers. These final 15 games will serve as a chance to evaluate. They will provide a look at some new faces entering the lineup in the last couple of weeks and maybe even a new face or two to come down the road. It is a way to take inventory going into the offseason – what does the team already have and what does it need even more of on the roster moving forward?
To be clear, one month of solid play from a few young prospects getting their feet wet at the NHL level isn’t going to suddenly make the Flyers change course on their offseason plan to “aggressively retool.” It’s also not going to have any implications on the vast amount of work needed to be done for the franchise to right the ship and start turning back to contender status at some point in the future. A contender is not built overnight, and after two straight seasons of this, not only no playoffs but being virtually eliminated with months to go, this process will take time.
But for people who may feel like there is nothing worth watching on this team at this moment, think again. There are new faces on the way. It has already happened multiple times over the last couple of weeks and there are sure to be more to come.
Among the new faces on the Flyers roster just recently, you have players that were already long in the organization that are finally getting regular looks in the lineup. Morgan Frost and Cam York fall into this category.
In just the last two weeks, multiple players have debuted. Owen Tippett, acquired in the Claude Giroux trade, played less than 24 hours after the deal’s completion on March 20. Four days later in St. Louis, Hayden Hodgson made his NHL debut. Noah Cates made his NHL debut on Tuesday, just two days after being signed to his entry-level deal. Ronnie Attard was also signed to an entry-level deal on Tuesday and will make his NHL debut on Saturday, when the Flyers begin the final 15 games in the month of April against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There are also a few names that could be coming soon. Bobby Brink was just named one of the Hobey Hat Trick finalists on Thursday. He could certainly have an eventful month, with the University of Denver in the Frozen Four – their next game is on Thursday, April 7 – and the Hobey Baker Award being presented on Friday, April 8. Brink could play for a national championship if Denver wins on April 7 – the championship game would be held on April 9 – and then is widely expected to sign with the Flyers once his NCAA season concludes. He could be on the ice in the Orange and Black as soon as the team’s game on April 12 in Washington.
That’s not the only college player still active that the Flyers could have interest in. Another of the Hobey Hat Trick finalists, Ben Meyers, is an undrafted free agent playing for Minnesota. He is drawing interest from several teams, including the Flyers, according to reports from Anthony SanFilippo of Crossing Broad and Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. The Flyers could look to add him before the season ends.
Regardless of whether Meyers lands with the Flyers or not, the addition of Brink would give them a long list of forwards to evaluate – among them Frost, Tippett, Hodgson, Cates, and perhaps an additional call-up like Wade Allison or Tanner Laczynski. Defensively, York and Attard figure to play a majority of the final games.
Even without an additional call-up from the minors – the Flyers have one post-deadline recall left – that would give the Flyers seven players that are all being evaluated for the future. Hodgson, Cates, Attard, and Brink would each be getting their first taste of the NHL. Frost has 62 career NHL games. Tippett has 100 NHL games. York has 27 NHL games.
This group doesn’t include players that have already established their futures in Philadelphia. Carter Hart is the goaltender that will man the net for seasons to come. Joel Farabee is going to be a staple at forward. Kevin Hayes, Cam Atkinson, and the injured Sean Couturier all have secure spots on the roster. On the blue line, the extension of Rasmus Ristolainen and his partnership with Travis Sanheim seem to make them a safe duo. The injured Ryan Ellis also has multiple years remaining on his contract.
Even with those players in the conversation, the focus needs to be on young and new faces. York should quarterback the power play. Attard should get some time there as well. Frost and Tippett should be headlining a power play unit. Brink can expect some time there as well. Cates and Hodgson can be included on penalty kill units.
Give these players a look on more significant line assignments. Let Frost center Farabee and Atkinson. Let York continue to play a significant role with Ivan Provorov.
There will be plenty of holes to fill and many decisions to make in the offseason, some that could go well beyond the roster. But this is an opportunity for the Flyers to take stock in what they have. It could at least show that there is a future for some players in the organization, one step closer to building the eventual contender the team wants to be.