As the Phillies season ends, and the beginning of the Carson Wentz era begins, you could easily look over the fact that Flyers preseason action begins next Monday, September 26th. It is hard to believe but it is true: the Flyers are back.
Ron Hextall and the front office did not make many moves during the offseason, due to the fact that they still have their backs to the wall regarding the salary cap situation. The major moves, if you want to call them that, were letting Ryan White and Sam Gagner walk, signing UFAs Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon, and extending Brayden Schenn. Although it doesn’t seem the Flyers were made any worse by these moves, it doesn’t seem they got much better either. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol could fill Ryan White’s vacancy on the fourth line with Dale Weise in a like for like scenario. Weise seems to bring more upside, size, and possible scoring ability than White (Weise scored 14 goals last year to White’s 11). Something to keep an eye out during preseason is if some of the Flyers good young prospects like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim make the team.
Ron Hextall’s way of being a GM preaches patience, especially with the young prospects. This could halt some of the fans’ wishes and expectations that these young studs should make the team. For them to make the team, they will have to really make their mark during preseason and force the Flyers’ staff to keep them. There is also a logjam on defense that could prevent Provorov and Sanheim from cracking the roster. There is no doubt, these young guys have loads of talent, and are better than some of the guys that are currently on the roster, but it will be hard for them to make the team.
The one with the highest chance of making the team is Ivan Provorov, but as the current roster stands (7 defensemen on current NHL roster) it will be hard-pressed. Provorov has nothing left to prove in the WHL. In 62 games last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Provorov scored 21 goals and had 52 assists for 73 points and won the Defenseman Player of the Year Award. The option to send him back to juniors may be enticing for Hextall to do. If he waits a year to bring Provorov over, the contracts of Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, and Nick Schultz will have concluded, freeing up space for him to have a bigger impact.
Travis Sanheim also left a very big impression last year in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen. The 6’4” defenseman scored 15 goals and added 53 assists for 68 points in 52 games. He also made his pro debut with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and played 4 games tallying 3 points (1 goal). Due to the same circumstances that are facing Provorov, and the fact that Provorov is a more advanced prospect, Sanheim is ticketed to start the season in the AHL with the Phantoms.
One thing is certain about Travis Konecny, he can put the puck in the back of the net. In 60 games last year with both the Ottawa 67’s and the Sarnia Sting, Konecny had 101 points (30 goals, 71 assists). Now that is production. Konecny brings energy and even toughness in his smaller 5’10” frame, and could bring something to the Flyers that they are sorely lacking: a creative, smart offensive player who can both set up goals and score them himself. There are questions if he is physically ready for the NHL, which could force him back to juniors for one more year. Also, there are a bunch of forwards signed to the NHL roster, and there may just not be space for him, which is a theme for all of the prospects.
One way each one of these guys can make the team is to absolutely play lights out in the preseason. Another way would be if somehow the Flyers ridded themselves of say a Matt Read or a Mark Streit, which would clear spots for possibly Konecny or Provorov. However, if the roster is the same as it currently stands when the season begins (barring injuries), it will be hard to fit Provorov, Konecny or Sanheim onto the roster. Something important to think about is that Hextall and Hakstol will want to put the young guys in a situation to be successful and not impede their progression. They do not want to make the same mistake as they made with Scott Laughton, and put them in fourth line/3rd D-pairings and stunt their growth as players. Those are not the roles they fill.
It should be an interesting preseason, especially if one or two of the prospects play extremely well. Maybe the Flyers will make a trade and clear a spot, or bury a guy like they did with Andrew MacDonald last year. No doubt, the Flyers management may have some hard decisions to make in the next few weeks.
Keep an eye out for 24 year-old Roman Lyubimov. He’s a 6’2” forward who played in the KHL last year with CSKA Moscow. He was signed to a 1-year contract in the offseason. The Flyers have had recent success signing international players to 1-year contracts including Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Michael Raffl. Lyubimov is hoping to have a similar career path.
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