Could Provorov or Konecny Force Hextall’s Hand?


(Photo: Kevin Durso/Sports Talk Philly)

By Kevin Fortier, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

This is what Philadelphia Flyers fans have been waiting for all summer. Training camp officially begins on Friday.

The rookies have been on the ice since Tuesday and played the Islanders rookies on Wednesday night in an all rookie game, defeating them, 4-0. Recent free-agent goalie Alex Lyon and 2016 second-round draft pick Carter Hart combined for the 28-save shutout. 

2015 first-rounder Travis Konecny tallied an assist and was flying the whole game. Konecny, who can play all forward roles, has been mostly playing wing of late and has added about 10 more pounds to his frame. He weighed in at about 185 pounds Tuesday. He appears intent on maximizing his opportunity at camp and making GM Ron Hextall’s roster decisions as difficult as possible when it comes to opening a roster spot for Konecny or returning him to his junior team.

Another top prospect, defenseman Ivan Provorov, is also intent on making it as difficult as possible. His goal for this camp is making management have no choice but to keep him when they are establishing the defense corps for the season. Like Konecny, Provorov can not play for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL. His age, 19, means he either plays for the Flyers or is returned to his WHL team for another year of junior hockey. 

Provorov appears to be in a slightly better position than Konecny to make the roster. The sheer number of forwards competing for the few open slots makes Konecny’s effort to make the cut more difficult and most people believe Provorov is NHL ready.

After a brief weekend training camp, the Flyers will open the preseason with split-squad games on Monday night against the Devils and the Islanders. They play the Islanders again on Tuesday and the Devils on Wednesday from Allentown. The fact that several roster players are currently at the World Cup of Hockey tournament allows more opportunity for some of the borderline roster players to showcase their skills.

With several players elsewhere for the start of the preseason, this allows Provorov, Konecny and other top prospects an opportunity to have more focus and playing time. Their hope is to influence the coaches and Hextall and make it more difficult when it comes to final roster selection decisions.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has said that he sees improving the penalty kill as a key goal for this training camp and the season.  The Flyers finished 20th last year on the penalty kill. This was a slight improvement from the prior season when they finished 27th. 

The main reason Boyd Gordon was signed this offseason was to be a penalty killing specialist and faceoff specialist.  This would reduce Flyers captain Claude Giroux’s time killing penalties so he could focus on 5-on-5 situations. Gordon, who only tallied four points last season, is a top notch face-off guy, winning 58 percent of his face-off chances last season and is over 50 percent lifetime on the face-off circle. 

Winning more defensive zone face-offs should boost the Flyers on the penalty kill, allowing them to get possession and clear the puck out of their zone.

Gordon is replacing Ryan White as the fourth-line center. The right wing position on the fourth line would seem to be Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's to lose. Chris VandeVelde could be pushed on the left wing by Russian free agent signing Roman Lyubimov. The 24-year-old Russian forward was brought in to add size and skill to that position. He stands 6'2" and 207 pounds and is not afraid to use his size on the ice. He is also a solid penalty killer and tallied four goals and four assists for Team Russia over 10 games in last winter’s WJC tournament. 

Hakstol has a soft spot for VandeVelde, but Lyubimov could really push him for that spot on the roster.

The top six forwards seem set, barring someone really making a showing and possibly knocking Michael Raffl down to the third line and taking the second-line left wing slot. Konecny would seem to be the only player with a shot of causing a shift in the top 6, but that would appear to be a long shot.

The third line will most likely be made up of Matt Read, Dale Weise and either Nick Cousins or Scott Laughton in the middle. Again, it is possible that someone could push Read for his spot. That would require Hextall to make a move to trade Read or waive him to the Phantoms. Read has 2 years left on his contract at $3.63 million per year. Read has certainly lost a good deal of his offensive prowess, but is a solid penalty killer and good possession driver.

It will be interesting to watch how camp progresses and how much the younger players push the veterans for possible roster positions. If Provorov and Konecny really outperform, it will push Hextall to make some tough decisions and possibly moving a veteran or two from the roster.

Go to top button