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Can Dale Weise solidify the Flyers’ fourth line?

Weise’s first year with the Flyers didn’t quite go according to plan. Does he fit into the team’s plans this year, and if so, what can we expect from him?

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

To say Dale Weise's first season with the Philadelphia Flyers was underwhelming would be an understatement. Coming into last season as general manager Ron Hextall's biggest free agent signing of the summer of 2016, Weise didn't do too much to get the Flyers' faithful to adore him. The winger not only failed to produce points, but some nights one could easily forget he was in the lineup.

With a cap hit of $2.35 million, Weise's saving grace seemed to be his possession metrics, as his 3.59 Corsi For percentage relative to the team was the fourth highest out of the 23 skaters who played 200 or more 5-on-5 minutes for Philly last year. Unfortunately for a good chunk of hockey fans, the possession numbers don't matter, especially when a player isn't producing goals and assists (which, at Weise's cap hit, is fair). With an influx of young talent coming into the lineup and the addition of a player who provides a similar skill set in Jori Lehtera, Weise will need to stick out in a positive way early, or he could find himself not in the starting lineup against the Sharks on opening night.

Weise started the 2015-16 season with the Montreal Canadiens, where he racked up 14 goals and 12 assists in 56 games. He was an effective enough player to draw attention at the trade deadline and was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks. Although his point total dipped from 29 points in 79 games with Montreal in 2014-2015 to 27 points in 71 games that season, his goal total jumped from 10 to 14. He also had a goal for the Blackhawks in the 2016 playoffs before they were ousted by the St. Louis Blues in the opening round.

On top of that, Weise provided the strongest play-driving season of his career, as he posted a 52.58 Corsi For percentage (the first time he posted higher than 45.74 in a full season) in 829:20 of even strength play.

These reasons most likely led to Hextall eyeing Weise in the 2016 offseason as a depth forward that can provide scoring in the bottom six while not spending most of the game in his own zone. Unfortunately, it might be Hextall's most questionable transaction to date. With three years remaining on his contract, the fact Weise may not even make the roster is a cause for concern, especially since more offensively talented forward prospects will be added to the roster over the upcoming seasons. As for now, we can only focus on what to expect out of the forward heading into the 2016-17 campaign.

As the 2017-18 Flyers season draws near, we’ll be breaking down everyone we expect to make the roster, from the long-time vets to the new guys. For each player, we’ll ask three key questions about their season, and look at what their best- and worst-case scenarios are for the year.

3 Big Questions: Dale Weise

1. Can Weise score more?

Thanks to 10 points in his final 14 appearances last season, Weise finished with eight goals and seven assists for a mere 15 points in 64 contests. Before his strong finish, Weise only had five points in 50 games, which put him dead last out of 326 forwards who played 500 minutes at 5-on-5 through March 14th with a points-per-60 rate of 0.32. He finished the season with 1.05 points per 60 at 5-on-5, which was a drop from his 1.45 points-per-60 rate in 2015-2016. Weise also posted a 0.23 points-per-game rate, which was a slight drop from his point-per-game rates of 0.37 in 2014-2015 and 0.38 in 2015-2016.

On top of that, there is a chance Weise can produce more individual high-danger chances than he did last year. He followed up his 49 iHDCF total during 5-on-5 play from 2014-2015 with 53 in 2015-2016, but saw that total drop to just 31 this past season. During that 14-game stretch to close the season, Weise registered 12 iHDCF at 5-on-5, which means he only had 19 in his first 50 games of this season. If Weise can find himself routinely near the net like he did during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns, he should be able to return to a double-digit goal total and maybe he could set a career high of 15 goals in a season.

However, there are a few factors working against Weise. For one, it’s very likely his 5-on-5 ice time takes a hit. He finished 11th among Flyers forwards last season with 11:54 of 5-on-5 ice time per game, with Brayden Schenn and Matt Read ahead of him on that list. Even with Schenn’s departure and Read’s deployment in limbo at the moment, Weise will have to try and steal ice time from the new additions of Lehtera, Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, and Scott Laughton. Weise didn’t see too much time on the man advantage last season and will likely see that ice-time-per-game average drop to zero thanks to the additions of Patrick and Lindblom.

Also, while there’s a chance Weise could play with one of the younger, more explosive forwards in the Flyers’ lineup, it’s likely he’ll be relegated to the fourth line. Spending most of last season with Schenn and Couturier, Weise found himself skating with the best play driver on the team and a player who was equally skilled in terms of scoring and setting up goals.

No offense to Laughton and Read, but it would probably be harder for Weise to score with these two on his line. Read is great in terms of dictating possession of the puck when he’s on the ice, but he has also struggled mightily to register points over the last few seasons. And after having spent last season in the American Hockey League, Laughton isn’t anticipated to rack up points this upcoming season. The trio may be effective in keeping play towards the other end of the ice, but they’ll most likely fail to convert that possession domination into consistent even-strength production throughout the season.

2. Is Weise likely to repeat his strong shot suppression numbers?

With some (but not much) hope Weise increases his point total, he'll need to provide some meaningful aspect to the Flyers' roster that not many other players can. It seems as though that aspect can be shot suppression, as Weise was quietly one of the best forwards in the league when it came to preventing shot attempts from the opposition.

Out of the 15 forwards who played 200 or more 5-on-5 minutes for Philadelphia last season, Weise was the only one with a Corsi Against per 60 under 50 at 49.79. He also led the team with a 34.08 Fenwick-against-per-60 rate and a shots-against-per-60 rate of 23.72. Across the league, Weise had the 28th-lowest CA/60 rate, fifth-lowest FA/60 rate, and fourth-lowest SA/60 rate out of the 284 forwards who played 700 minutes or more at 5-on-5 last season.

Weise also found himself with the 21st-lowest high-danger chances against per 60 with 8.42. The difference Weise had defensively last year is quite visible when you take a look at the heat maps of the Flyers' unblocked shots with Weise on the ice and with Weise off the ice (via / Micah Blake McCurdy

Weise accomplished this while producing shots at rates in line with those of the rest of the team. He produced a 0.57 Corsi-for-per-60-rel rate and a 0.74 shots-for-per-60-rel rate, meaning the volume of the Flyers' shot attempts didn't fall when Weise was on the ice despite his shot suppression numbers. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's what separates a player like Weise from the Chris VandeVeldes and Pierre-Edouard Bellemares of the league, as those two had fine shot suppression rates but sacrificed way too much offensive upside to make it beneficial.

Now if Weise is able to produce these results this upcoming season while also improving his point total, his spot may be safe on the Flyers. However, there is reason to believe he may not replicate this defensive display. With the exception of the last two years, Weise was a sub-50 Corsi For percentage player over the course of his career. It seems as though he has trended in the right direction in terms of driving play over the years, but there is always a chance Weise returns to his form from before the 2015-16 season.

There is a possibility this could happen when one considers Weise’s two most common linemates last season. Schenn's departure could hurt Weise's possession numbers, but considering Weise did significantly better away from Schenn at evens last year and Schenn's WOWYs weren't too great, it's not too likely.

However, the likelihood of Couturier centering one of the top three lines while Weise is on the fourth line could hurt his defensive numbers. Couturier is a force at 5-on-5, so it wouldn't be the worst to assume Weise's numbers were inflated by playing alongside the Flyers' 2011 first-round pick. But Weise posted a 53.58 Corsi For percentage in 304:46 away from Couturier, while Couturier posted a 52.79 away from Weise.

It also bodes well for Weise that he posted better numbers away from almost all of the Flyers' skaters while his teammates' Corsi For percentages dropped while away from him. If this trends continue for the 2017-18 campaign and Weise is playing alongside Laughton, Raffl, Read, or Lehtera, he could work his way to becoming one of the more underrated players on the team.

3. Does Weise make the team?

As mentioned on BSH Radio this week, Weise feels as though he’ll make this team ... but should he? As a player who has never sniffed a 0.5 point-per-game average and isn’t a big time contributor on special teams, it seems weird to think Weise isn’t at risk of being demoted with all the young talent being injected into the lineup. The orange and black already have a pair of play-driving point-allergic forwards in Read and Raffl.

Unfortunately for Weise, Read and Raffl probably have more of an argument to make this roster than he does. Read has shown in the past he is capable of racking up goals and forms one of the best play-driving tandems the team can offer when paired with Couturier. Read can also kill penalties. Raffl has shown he can be a factor playing on the top line with Claude Giroux and can provide positive possession numbers playing alongside most Flyers.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins
How safe is Weise’s spot on the team?
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Considering his actual defensive play, maybe Dave Hakstol sees Weise as a replacement for VandeVelde or Bellemare. Not exactly an exciting development, but Weise would be a better 12th forward than VandeVelde, as he actually does seem to curtail opposing team’s offensive pressure and can possibly provide more points himself.

From an organizational perspective, Weise not being on the opening-night roster wouldn’t be the worst thing. If he were to start the season as the 13th forward or somewhere other than Philly (whether it’s Lehigh Valley or another organization), it most likely means one of the forwards who isn’t anticipated to start in the NHL this year stepped up immensely in the preseason. Whether it’s Mikhail Vorobyev, Cole Bardreau, or Mike Vecchione, if Weise isn’t in San Jose on October 4th it means one of these prospects is ahead of schedule, which is more important than Weise’s standing within the franchise.

It’s hard to remember the last Flyers’ team Weise wouldn’t have been a lock to make, as names of recent fourth liners like Jay Rosehill, Zac Rinaldo, Harry Zolnierczyk, Blair Jones, and Vandemare come to mind. The fact there is even serious thought Weise could not make the cut shows how well Hextall has stocked the pipeline with talented prospects.

Worst-case scenario

Weise becomes the new, more expensive VandeVelde. He regresses in terms of shot suppression and watches his Corsi For percentage return to the mid-40s. On top of not playing in either man up or man down situations, Weise also fails to even reach his point total of 15 from last season and his habit of not driving to the net from early last year returns. Weise performs so similarly to VandeVelde that Hakstol refuses to scratch him and he drags down the fourth line for the entire season.

Best-case scenario

The best case scenario for Weise is he maintains his stellar play in the defensive zone while improving his 0.23 points-per-game average from last season. Realistically, Weise isn’t going to flood the scoresheet with points, but finally breaking the 30-point plateau this season while playing on the fourth line would be considered a success. Likely playing alongside two of Laughton, Raffl, or Read, Weise helps to form one of the better fourth lines the NHL in terms of both point production and keeping play in the offensive zone. With an actual fourth line for the first time in years, the Flyers are able to consistently provide a threat of scoring throughout the game and the top lines don’t feel as much pressure, which helps to mask some issues on the back end and in net.

Previously in Philadelphia Flyers 2017-18 Season Previews:

How does Wayne Simmonds follow up his team-MVP season?

What can the Flyers expect from Valtteri Filppula?

How does Radko Gudas fit on a changing Flyers blue line?

Is a bounce-back actually in store for Claude Giroux this season?

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