Since being named GM for the Flyers, Ron Hextall has preached patience with the younger players in the organization. This season would be a perfect time for the team to lose patience.
Last season the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third time in five years. A solid core of players remains, with Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds all still occupying top six forward spots. Finding the right mix of youthful role players to accompany these veterans will be a challenge, but one the Flyers seemed ready to accomplish.
Earlier this offseason Hextall traded former core member Brayden Schenn. The timing of this move should justify the team’s desire to become younger. Nolan Patrick was selected with the second pick in this year’s draft. The highly touted rookie is a natural Center, but joined a Flyers team that was a little backed up in the middle.
Moving Schenn creates a vacancy for the second line Center spot. Patrick seems like his natural successor. The team would not invest such a high pick, or move a valuable member of the team, if they didn’t believe in Nolan Patrick contributing top-six minutes this season.
Schenn was not the only veteran moved in favor of younger talent. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was allowed to test the open market, ultimately signing with the Vancouver Canucks. The Defensive corps already includes youngsters Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Both players earned significant playing time last year and are expected to continue that workload in 2017.
In addition, the team boasts an assemblage of fresh yet unproven D-men. Youngsters like Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, and Robert Hagg all figure to compete for roster spots.
A lot has been invested into the defense through the draft in recent years, and this season would be ample time to reap the possible benefits.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was another casualty to the Flyers age regression. Surprisingly left unprotected for the expansion draft, he was selected by the newly formed Vegas Golden Knights. The Flyers instead chose to protect Scott Laughton. A former first round selection in 2012, Laughton has yet to define a real niche with the orange and black. His youth however, cements his value to the team.
This year should also give players like Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal another chance to prove their worth. Both Konecny and Weal dealt with injuries last season, but at times showed glimpses of real talent. If both players can stay healthy and find a role to play with the team, they could be two younger guys of great value.
Other players who have the ability to play this season include Oskar Lindblom and Mike Vecchione. While unproven in the NHL, these players are highly touted prospects at the minor and collegiate level. Successful teams in today’s NHL have turned unknown rookies into key contributors. If the Flyers want to compete in the upcoming seasons, they will have to have a breakout from one of the kids. This year’s training camp should help in spotting any future standouts.
The league is shifting into a new era where puck movement, skill, and speed are all vital to a team’s success. Young guys with endless potential have replaced aging stars. The Flyers now have an opportunity to join this trend, mostly due to the arrival of young talent. While the team is employing younger players, this transition could hardly be called a rebuild; at least, not yet. The veteran presence of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and Gudas still provide this team with a solid mix of young and old.
Another year of missed playoffs though could force the team to press the reset button altogether.