Welcome back Flyers fans to another exciting year of hockey! It’s that time of the year to get Flyer’d up and break out those orange and white sweaters to get ready for the 2016-2017 regular season. Admittedly, they have had some growing pains in recent years (Voracek’s 11 goals last season, Craig Berube getting fired, injury prone MDZ and Couturier, and the lack of an elite-level defenseman) however it all seems like it’s finally coming together! The Flyers youth movement is almost at maturity, and fans can’t wait to see what the young guns can do.
2016 Calder Trophy runner-up Shayne Gostisbehere is ready to show what he can do with an 82 game season in his sophomore year. After putting up 17G 29A (46pts) in 64 games last year, fans are eager to see what is in store for a full 82 game season. Overly optimistic fans need to be realistic with what to expect from Gostisbehere for this upcoming season. A safe expectation is for Ghost to rack up between 40 and 50 points this season with 10+ goals. Ghost’s offensive abilities and playmaking give Flyers fans hope for the future, however it should be no surprise if point production slows with Dave Hakstol and his coaching staff working to improve his game defensively.
What Ghost brings to the table is true innate playmaking talent. With the exception of Claude Giroux, Gostisbehere is the player with the best vision and hockey sense on the roster. They have goal scorers on the team. It’s smart playmaking that will make those goal scorers produce. With Simmonds finally taking elite form after earning a team high 32 goals last season, and a rejuvenated Jakub Voracek showing strong World Cup performance and preseason play, the Flyers should not have as much difficulty as last season finding the back of the net.
Think Gostisbehere’s young? Take a look at 19 year old’s and 2015 first round draft picks Travis Konecny (24th overall) and Ivan Provorov (7th overall). These fresh faces are the youngest players to make the opening night roster since Sean Couturier in 2011.
Ron Hextall gave Ivan Provorov one goal to accomplish last year; to be the best defensemen in his league. He smashed it out of the park by earning the title of top defenseman of the WHL with scoring 21G, 52A (73pts) in 62 games with a + 64 rating last year with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He is just too good for juniors. In 2016 preseason, he logged over 28 minutes of ice time in his first NHL contest. At six-foot-one and 200 pounds, he is ready for the jump into the NHL. Rumor has it that he is already a favorite to take home this year’s Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Keep your eyes peeled for this guy on the ice. You will not want to miss him.
Konecny has had a stellar preseason playing alongside Sean Couturier, and guess what? He’s a natural right winger! Not an extra center playing out of position. Much like Provorov, Konecny is just too good to return to his junior OHL team. Last year with the Sarnia Sting he picked up 30G 71A (101pts) with a plus 33 rating in only 60 games.
Junior success does not directly translate to NHL success, and many viewers thought that Konecny would need time in Lehigh Valley in order to develop into an NHL ready player. Ron Hextall made it clear that Provorov and Konecny have earned their keep by making the roster based solely on merit, not due to injuries and suspensions. Hextall further commented by stating “If they didn’t deserve to be here, they wouldn’t be here”. Not only do they produce offensively themselves, but they elevate the level of play for their teammates. Ghost, Konecny, Provorov will be a solid core for years to come. In the LHV Phantoms, Jordan Weal has cleared waivers and will be playing with a glut of other talent in Allentown. Here are a few other on-the-cusp players to keep an eye out for during the 2016-2017 season.
Defenseman Sam Morin (11th overall 2013 draft) has made splashes with the Phantoms in his debut AHL season last year, earning 4G 15A (19pts) 118PIM in 76GP. If Gudas can’t stop blind-siding first year players, don’t be surprised to see this young future star step up his game and make the line up in order to bring some Philadelphia grit to the ice. Having high pressure experience on the international stage (Gold Medals in 2013 U18 World Championship and 2015 U20 World Championship) will hopefully translate to a successful NHL career in Philadelphia.
Defenseman and 2014 first round pick Travis Sanheim (17th overall) has made the Phantoms roster for 2016-2017 season after thriving in juniors posting 15G 53A (68pts) in 52 games for the Calgary Hitmen last year. He made a guest appearance for the Phantoms at the very end of the season 2016, scoring 1G 2A in 4 games. Don’t expect Sanheim to crack the NHL this year, as Hextall is known for his patience, and to let his players develop. Sanheim, like Gostisbehere, brings a sensational offensive upside to his game as a defenseman, so expect him to earn PP minutes when he does make the lineup.
Defenseman Robert Hagg (2013 draft second round, 41st overall) has yet to make the Flyers Roster, after completing two full seasons with the LHV Phantoms. With all of the other talent in the pipeline it is uncertain if he will see any NHL playing time this season. He finished first in points (20) and assists (17) among all Phantoms defensemen in 2014-2015, but the injury bug stung hard in 2015-2016 resulting only with 5 goals, 11 points and 42 PIMs in 65 games for LHV.
With contracts expiring for Mark Streit and Nick Schultz at the end of this upcoming season, Hextall may try to move one or both of the veteran players in order to give younger players like Hagg a shot at making the roster.
After being recalled by the Flyers on five occasions during the 2015-2016 season, it seems like Stolie the Goalie should have already made his NHL debut. Alas, it looks like he will spend another year in Lehigh Valley short of injury to Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth. Chosen 45th overall in 2012, Stolarz is making a name for himself in the AHL, being named to the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic and breaking a Phantoms franchise record for most saves in a single game (51 saves in 3-2 Shootout win at Syracuse 3/2/2016).
With the expansion draft at the end of this season, and Mason and Neuvirth being in the final year of their respective contracts, it seems that Stolarz will be most likely called up for the beginning of the 2017-2018 campaign. With a surplus of well decorated goaltenders expected to get new homes by the end of the 2017 season (Ben Bishop TBL and Marc-Andre Fleury PIT), it is unlikely that Hextall moves either of his current goaltenders to make room for Stolarz.
Again, Hextall is known for his patience when bringing up his younger players to the NHL level, and it is starting to pay off with the likes of Ghost, Provorov, and Konecny making the opening night roster this year. Considering that Flyers fans are expecting this to be yet another rebuilding/transitional year, fans expect them to make it back to the playoffs this year.
Author: Dick Smith
Image Courtesy: WallPaperFolder