Philadelphia Flyers hockey is just one day away from returning to our lives.
After the franchise’s best showing since the 2011-2012 season, the orange and black look to build upon the progress made. Under the watchful eye of head coach Alain Vigneault, the team fell just a game short of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in his first season at the helm. It is safe to say that expectations for this year’s Flyers team are high, and I share that same sentiment.
One of the main reasons for this increased optimism around this squad comes from the return of two key players to the lineup, who both were largely absent last season: Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick.
Lindblom, who was absolutely having a breakout season before his cancer diagnosis last December (11 goals in 30 games) has looked good in camp, and it is just so awesome he’s back in a full capacity with the team in such a short time.
Lindblom is projected to be on a first line consisting of 2020 Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier as well as Travis Konecny, a line that with Lindblom and Couturier’s strong two-way could provide as a counter against other team’s top players.
Patrick himself has not only looked good in camp, he has looked great. Patrick netted a goal in the Flyers intrasquad game over the weekend, and his line consisting of James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek has plenty of promise as a third-line that could just devastate opponents.
Appearing to have recovered from his migraine issues, Patrick’s return to the lineup gives the Flyers even more depth, and by no means should he be written off by anyone yet. He was a top-2 pick in is draft class for a reason, and this is the strongest Flyers team he’s been a part of during his tenure. An ideal situation for a returning player to focus on his game.
Kevin Hayes, who now dons an “A” on his jersey, looks to build upon a successful first season with Philadelphia. Hayes has quickly become a fan favorite and has already become an important leader in the locker room — him becoming an alternate captain is just visible proof. Hayes had two goals in the intrasquad scrimmage, and a second line of himself centering Claude Giroux and Joel Farabee looked quite dangerous.
Personally, I think Hayes and G are two players who could really play off of one another well, I think those two have sort of a natural chemistry.
The Flyers defense returns largely intact with the only exception being Matt Niskanen, who retired this past October. However, there are a few question marks for me in regard to this defense.
Shayne Gostisbehere was unavailable for the scrimmage, and it is unclear if he will start against Pittsburgh in the season opener. I mention Ghost because reports say that AV is giving Ghost a “fresh start” of sorts.
Ivan Provorov played alongside returning veteran Justin Braun yesterday, but Braun and Robert Hagg were the normal third defensive pairing last season. Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers were a solid second unit last season, but will Phil Myers possibly be moved to the top pair at some point? See what I mean? I am interested to see the opening night lineups for this Philly defense.
Goaltender wise, it is a second consecutive year of stability as Carter Hart enters the season as the bonafide No. 1 here in Philadelphia. The team brought back Brian Elliot as his backup, and the two have apparently developed a good relationship and Hart was happy that Elliot was returning to the fold.
Hart has ambitions exceeding that of just the goaltender position, he wants to be recognized as one of the best players in the NHL, period. Depending on how the Flyers defense shapes up, Hart could be in serious discussion for a possible Vezina with how he has been progressing. I truly do not believe that is unrealistic.
On paper, the Flyers have possibly the best depth in the entire league forward-wise. I mean, a fourth line of Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel? Essentially, that has real potential to be a second or third line. When you are in an East division that includes the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, not to mention the Islanders, Rangers, and Penguins, that sort of advantage could be the difference.
Speaking of Raffl:
I cannot wait for the start of the 2021 season this Wednesday, you gotta love opening up the season against the Penguins, right?