The lockers in the Wells Fargo Center have been cleared out, the beards have been shaved, and Philadelphia players have conducted their exit interviews for the season. The first round playoff loss to the Penguins was disheartening, but can also help the team improve. The Penguins were clearly the better team in the series, so how can the Flyers get better? Just like the team they share a home arena with, the Flyers must trust the process.
Like the Sixers, a big part of the Flyers plan for sustained success includes young talent. Hockey players typically take a longer time to develop than basketball players, so the process will take time. Since being named GM in 2014, Ron Hextall has preached patience with his players. He has chosen to sign middle of the pack free agents to serve as bridge players while prospects grow through the minor ranks.
Cultivating as much young talent as possible is the key component to this plan. This season, the Flyers got quality production from some of the young kids already on the NHL roster. Ivan Provorov is a prime example of a younger player already producing for the team. He appears to be the team’s best defenseman, with only two years under his belt. Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the playoffs that would otherwise take weeks to heal, Provorov played hurt. After the series loss, he was visibly upset with his play and his team’s early exit. His determination and will to win was on full display. Once he tightens up some loose ends that most young Defensemen struggle with, he should consistently be the Flyers best player on the blue line for years to come.
Nolan Patrick is another young player who was able to contribute this season, his first since being selected second overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. Patrick started slow, but started to hit his stride down the stretch of the regular season. Though the Flyers were completely out matched by Pittsburgh in the playoffs, Patrick was one player who stood out. His skill set and hockey sense make him a quality option as the second line Center moving forward.
At wing, the Flyers were helped greatly by second year player Travis Konecny. His flat line speed and ability to drive to the net produced many scoring chances this season. Konecny almost doubled his point totals from last year. This kind of progress is very encouraging, and should continue as he gets more top line minutes. There is also an element of grit to Konecny’s game that is always welcomed in Philadelphia. Scoring is important, but so is getting under the opponent’s skin. Konecny has shown this season he can do both. His play has already drawn comparisons to Boston’s Brad Marchand.
In addition to the young talent already in Philadelphia, there are a lot of players working their way through the minors. Morgan Frost, a prospect acquired in the Brayden Schenn deal, lit up the OHL this season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Frost was second in total points, with 112. Oskar Lindblom is another promising player that could become a mainstay with the orange and black. After playing well with the Phantoms, Lindblom was called up to the Flyers this year. Lindblom is still wet behind the ears, but has raw talent that should lead to more opportunities to stay on the Flyers. Lindblom is a player to keep an eye on in this year’s upcoming training camp.
Of course when talking about the Flyers future success the elephant in the room must be addressed. The Flyers still lack a franchise Goalie. Brian Elliot looked decent during the regular season, but was clearly not 100% in the playoffs as proof by his lackluster performance. Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek, and Alex Lyon can contribute to the team in some capacity. It’s doubtful though one will be good enough to lead a deep playoff run. Winning a Stanley Cup is virtually impossible without stellar play in net, so who will be the right man for the job?
Carter Hart has already been dubbed the next franchise Goalie, and when looking at his numbers it’s easy to see why. This year in the WHL, Hart posted a 1.60 GAA with a .947 SV% in 41 games played. Hart was named top Goaltender of the WHL, and also league MVP. Hart also has experience in tournament play, earning a Silver and Gold medal in the World Juniors as Canada’s starter. Sometimes pronouncing a youngster the next great player may seem a bit premature. In Hart’s case though, they hype is warranted. The only question that remains for Hart is when exactly he gets his chance in Philly. The ability he’s shown so far in his young career has made the Phantom’s Goalie his job to lose.
Young players can have an immediate impact on the ice. They can also be beneficial to the cap salary too. The Flyers seemingly always have a murky cap situation, but could get some relief this offseason by moving some large contracts. This can open the door for Hextall to sign a big name Free Agent or two. If the right players are signed and the correct pieces are put in place, the team could really improve from this past season.
Many fans have given up on current core group of Flyers players, saying now is the time to blow up the roster. Before we can come to that drastic conclusion, fans must first give this group a chance to play with the upcoming talent the Flyers system is providing. Ron Hextall isn’t reinventing the wheel with the Flyers process; in fact it’s a standard practice. Draft well and groom young players through the minors to one day join the veterans, with key players obtained in trades or free agency. Hextall is now starting to see some of his draft picks come to the Flyers, with more help on the way.
Philadelphia fans have been very patient with the Sixers process. It took years of heartache and misfires until the team finally improved. The Flyers find themselves in a similar spot, needing time and patience to once again become contenders.
Stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com
A Philadelphia native who loves sports, writing, and cheesesteaks – in that order. Being retweeted by Brian Dawkins remains life’s crowning achievement.