The big moves this offseason for the Flyers look like they may come on the defensive side of things, but the team's got a few holes to fill in its forward corps as well. Ruslan Fedotenko and Mike Knuble are both on their way out, and Danny Briere is probably going to be gone next year as a compliance buyout.
Free agency is usually the fun place to look and speculate on these kinds of things, and we'll talk about potential free agent targets some time between now and July 5. But given the fact that the Flyers' reserve list for next season is currently the most crowded in the NHL, with 43 names before any slide rule previsions, and that their cap situation is the most unfriendly in the league, it may be easier (and would definitely be cheaper) to fill some of those vacant spots with some in-house options.
So since it's been a while since the last time anyone in the Flyers organization played hockey, now may be a good time to re-familiarize ourselves with some of the forward options in the organization who may get a look for next season.
Let's start with what we already have. The Flyers have 10 forwards under contract, not including Briere, that are expected to be on the NHL club next year, barring a trade: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo, Maxime Talbot, and Jay Rosehill.
Among that group, you've got several pure wingers (Voracek, Hartnell, Simmonds), some no-doubt centers (Giroux, Couturier), a lot of guys who can shift around a bit (Schenn, Read, Talbot, Rinadlo), and Jay Rosehill (Rosehill). There's a lot of flexibility as far as who can line up where, so we'll ignore those specifics for now. All we know is that it leaves room for three other players in the opening-day top 13 forwards.
As far as the potential in-house replacements, we can divide them into two groups, as such:
Guys We Know
... those who spent some time with the Flyers in 2013 and will likely be the favorites to fill those spots if the team is looking to stay in-house.
It was definitely fun to see him back in orange and black, and he's already expressed his willingness to come back to Philadelphia on a deal worth less than the $3.5 million he made last year. He's still got a bit of punch offensively (.42 points per game between LA and Philadelphia this year) and is more than competent defensively, which could make him a prime candidate to slot into a defensively-oriented line with someone like Couturier.
Whether or not the Flyers bring him back probably comes down to two things: 1. How much of a discount is he actually going to take? and 2. Are they high enough on any of the other young guys that they already have under contract that they'd rather not have Gagne block him? We'll talk a bit more about Gagne, his 2013 Flyers cameo, and his prospects for returning in the upcoming weeks leading up to July 5. But he's the most interesting option to slot into one of those winger spots, and certainly the fan favorite.
McGinn was a pleasant surprise after being recalled early in the year, putting up five points in 18 games while actually leading the team's forwards in Corsi while on the ice. He's offers a bit of everything -- the team tried him on the top line and power play, so they've got some faith in him offensively, and he's got a solid physical game and isn't afraid to drop the gloves.
He's under contract for $775,000, which works in his favor, and I definitely think there's a spot for him in the team's top four lines. At worst, he could add some physicality and occasional scoring to the fourth line, but his impressive possession metrics could justify him a trip to the top-9 as well. Probably my top choice among the in-house options, personally.
The team's first-round pick from last season impressed the observers in his five-game NHL tryout last year, and ended his season in Oshawa with a total of 56 points in 49 games, along with 13 points in just seven playoff games before getting suspended for an illegal hit. He's another guy who was hailed as someone who can play a good two-way game, and to see his scoring spike the way it did this year was certainly encouraging.
However, since he's still got a year of slide-rule eligibility, the question now is similar to what it was last January: Is it worth it to burn the first year of his $1.1 million entry-level contract, or does it make more sense to toll that contract for one more year and have him spend another season refining his game outside the NHL? Given that this team is probably not going to contend for a Cup next season, there's a case to be made that the Flyers are best-served keeping him back for another year. But everyone will have their eye on him in the meantime, and he'll almost definitely get at least a nine-game tryout next October.
Guys We Don't Really Know
... those young players, mostly on entry-level deals, that are long shots to make the NHL roster but would probably be leading call-up candidates.
The new guy from Austria, Raffl was signed by the team last week on a three-year entry-level deal. The Flyers have said that they think he's NHL-ready, so it's a given that he's on this list. People seem high on his chances after the great year he had in Allsvenskan, and he turns 25 in December so he's a bit more aged than some of the other options. His situation has drawn some comparisons to Matt Read's from summer 2011, and apparently the Flyers hope he can play a similar role that Damian Brunner did in Detroit this year.
Personally, I think both of those are a little optimistic. He was just under a point a game in Sweden's second league, this was the first year where he was putting up those kinds of totals in that league, and at that age of 24 he probably doesn't have as much upside as some of the other guys here. But they're clearly high on him, so he may get a chance.
Akeson, as you may remember, made his first-ever NHL appearance in the 2013 season finale, even scoring his first NHL goal in Ottawa. He's mostly a one-way offensively-oriented winger, and was the Phantoms' leading scorer last season with 53 points in 62 games. With one year left on his entry-level deal worth $900k, the Flyers may give him a chance to show what he's got. They clearly see SOMETHING in him, because otherwise they probably wouldn't have put him on the top line in that game in Ottawa. (It may, on that note, also be worth mentioning that he and Giroux have been close friends for a decade and do a lot of training together in the offseason, so Akeson might just have a leg up on some of these other guys if the captain has any say and/or if the team thinks there may be some chemistry there.)
Now here's an interesting case, and one that -- in my opinion -- draws a much better comparison to Matt Read's situation in 2011 than Raffl does. Flanagan, a Hobey Baker Award nominee last year after putting up 47 points in 35 games with St. Lawrence University, was signed this past March, and is probably not a favorite to make the squad.
But given his age (24) and the fact that he's on a one-year deal, he may get more of a look. He's a center, and he's a bit undersized at 5'9, 170 pounds, so those two things work against him. But in the same way Read came on and caught us all by surprise two summers ago, Flanagan doing so isn't totally out of the question. Not likely, but not out of the question.
Straka was the Flyers' big win in last spring's undrafted free agent signings, as Paul Holmgren lured him to Philly out of what was allegedly a group of 12 teams vying for his services. A second-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2010, Straka had two down years in the high-scoring QMJHL before taking a big step forward this year, posting 82 points in 55 games to go with 25 points in 19 playoff contests for Baie-Comeau. At 21 and on the first year of a three-year entry-level deal for $925k, the team will likely want to give him some time in Adirondack before giving him a serious look at the big club. If he continues progressing, he could get a call-up. But that's likely not the plan to start the year.
There are some other guys in here worth noting. Guys like Ben Holmstrom, who seems like a candidate to slot in the fourth line as an injury-call up if needed, or Marcel Noebels, who could get a look if he impresses again at the AHL level, or even Nick Cousins, who's going to need some time in the AHL but is one if not the teams best forward prospects. And others.
If I were to guess right now, I'd think that they bring back Gagne, keep Laughton on the NHL team, and then they'll either sign some bottom-6 UFA to a low-value deal or they'll go into training camp with the expectation of Raffl making the team.
If I had my pick? I'd say re-sign Gagne, keep McGinn up, keep Laughton down for another year, and let some of the aforementioned guys fight it out for that last spot. I'm intrigued by Flanagan, particularly if he can put on some weight this offseason and/or if he's willing to shift to the wing. But I also reserve my right to change those predictions/opinions between now and July 5.
Anyone we missed? Anyone catch your eye? Discuss in the comments.