Flyers season preview: Stabilizing defensemen, improving power play key

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Philadelphia Flyers, who will play in the East Division.

Coach: Alain Vigneault (second season) 

Last season: 41-21-7 (.645 points percentage); fourth place in Eastern Conference, lost to New York Islanders in Eastern Conference Second Round

 

3 KEYS

1. Sorting out defenseman group

The Flyers have seven defensemen who played at least 40 NHL games last season, including Erik Gustafsson, who signed a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 12. Gustafsson or Philippe Myers, who was tied for second among NHL rookie defensemen last season with a plus-17 rating, likely will play on the right side on the top pair with Ivan Provorov, with the other playing next to Travis Sanheim on the second pair. Robert Hagg, Justin Braun and Shayne Gostisbehere will compete for the third pair, with rookies Mark Friedman and Egor Zamula pushing for roster spots.

 

2. Determining bottom six forwards

The Flyers will have a mix of experience and emerging young players competing for spots on the third and fourth lines. Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, could be the center on the third line after he missed last season because of a migraine disorder. The fourth line could be a battle between Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and rookies Connor Bunnaman and Tanner Laczynski. Laughton and Raffl can play center or on the wing, and they’ll compete for playing time with Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, as well as rookies Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, and Linus Sandin.

Video: 31 in 31: Philadelphia Flyers 2020-21 season preview

 

3. Improving on power play

The Flyers were 14th on the power play during the regular season (20.8 percent) but were 23rd of the 24 teams in the postseason (7.7 percent), including 0-for-13 in seven games against the Islanders. More from forward James van Riemsdyk could help those numbers. His 66 power-play goals since 2009-10 are tied for 28th among NHL forwards in that span, but he scored four goals on the power play last season, his fewest since scoring two in 2011-12.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut 

The Flyers believe Patrick still can become an impact player, and they remain confident that he’ll be back in the lineup when the season starts. He hasn’t played since the final game of the 2018-19 season; if he’s unavailable or struggles getting back up to speed, they do have options. Frost, the No. 27 pick of the 2017 draft, scored seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 NHL games last season and earned a spot on the postseason roster. Laughton and Raffl have earned the trust of the coaching staff, and Bunnaman started last season with the Flyers and scored two points (one goal, one assist) in 21 games. Laczynski, a sixth-round pick (No. 169) in the 2016 NHL Draft, scored 143 points (48 goals, 95 assists) in 138 games during four seasons at Ohio State.

 

Most intriguing addition 

Gustafsson will play a top-four role and see time on the power play after playing last season for the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames. The Flyers are hoping to get more of the player who was fifth among NHL defensemen in 2018-19 with 60 points (17 goals, 43 assists) in 79 games for Chicago. He is a left-handed shot but has played mostly on the right side; the Flyers need depth on the right side following the retirement of Matt Niskanen on Oct. 5.

 

Biggest potential surprise  

Allison said he feels healthy after tearing the ACL in his knee during the 2017-18 season, his second at Western Michigan University. The 23-year-old will begin his professional career this season, and his size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), skill and strength could give him a chance to earn a spot as a bottom-six forward and a contributor on the second power play.

 

Ready to break through 

Frost (5-10, 170) has the skill to play in the NHL but needs to get stronger to be able to display it. The Flyers were pleased with what they saw last season, including 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 41 games with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League. If he shows he was able to get stronger during the offseason, he could steal an NHL roster spot this season.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Center Kevin Hayes (average draft position: 180.2) led the Flyers with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 16 postseason games. Hayes is a lock to skate on the second line at even-strength with potential exposure to wings Travis Konecny and either Oskar Lindblom or Farabee, who are each worth drafting in most fantasy leagues, and should be among the better options at center in late rounds. Hayes ranked second on the Flyers in goals (23) last regular season behind Konecny (24), his frequent linemate. — Rob Reese

Video: Top 5 Kevin Hayes plays from 2019-20

 

Projected lineup 

Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek

Oskar Lindblom — Kevin Hayes — Travis Konecny

James van Riemsdyk — Nolan Patrick — Joel Farabee

Michael Raffl — Scott Laughton — Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan Provorov — Philippe Myers

Travis Sanheim — Erik Gustafsson

Robert Hagg — Justin Braun

Carter Hart

Brian Elliott

 

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