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Top 5 breakthrough performances of the 2017-18 season

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Which young Flyers announced their arrival this past season?

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

With a team going through a rebuild and a pipeline stocked with several high-end prospects, the Philadelphia Flyers will hopefully see several players reach their full potential at the NHL level. For these players there will be moments or games along the way where fans and those in the organization can point back to as a moment when that prospect or young player broke through to announce their spot in this league. A handful of young Flyers took a step forward this season, so let’s see when the moment was we as fans realized they had broken through.

5. Laughton’s shorthanded goal against the Washington Capitals on October 14

Although Scott Laughton had played in 112 total NHL games before the 2017-18 campaign, he never really had a moment to announce his arrival. That changed during the Flyers’ 8-2 drubbing of the Washington Capitals in mid-October. In a 1-1 game late in the first period, the Orange and Black were killing a shortened man advantage opportunity that came thanks to a too many men on the ice minor. John Carlson held the puck at his own blue line while Laughton served as the Flyers’ lone man to pressure the blue liner. Laughton managed to break up Carlson’s outlet pass attempt and was chasing down the loose puck in the Caps’ zone when Philipp Grubauer decided to make it a puck race. Grubauer won the race, but passed it right to Laughton who maneuvered his way to the net to dunk it (in a play that looks pretty familiar) for a lead the Flyers would never give back. The forward was a little lucky when it came to Grubauer’s passing, but he did everything else right on the play to start a Philly route.

With a goal in the third period (on a pretty wicked wrister), Laughton recorded the first of three two-point performances this season, as he also had a two-goal game in early December against the Calgary Flames to help the Flyers end a 10-game losing streak.

Even though he did a pretty good job producing at 5-on-5 given the amount of ice time he received, Laughton will never be a big point producer in the NHL. However, his impressive goal against the Caps was not only his first statement since his return to the team after spending most of last season in the AHL, but probably his first statement as a member of the organization.

4. Patrick’s steal and score against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 18th

Early on in his rookie season, Nolan Patrick showed flashes of his high-end hockey sense and playmaking abilities with his first NHL point and his first point at the Wells Fargo Center. Unfortunately, a week after his beautiful pass to Dale Weise, Patrick suffered a concussion following a check from Chris Wagner during the team’s blowout loss at home to the Anaheim Ducks. The second overall pick in 2017 proceeded to score just one goal over the next 26 games heading into the Orange and Black’s contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 18th.

With his team down by two goals heading into the third period, Patrick took a shot below the circles off a feed from Wayne Simmonds that resulted in a rebound behind the net. As Mitch Marner started carrying the puck up ice from his own goal line, Patrick was able to stick lift the Leafs’ forward, grab the puck, and fire it past Frederik Andersen (which, again, looks pretty familiar) to cut the Flyers’ deficit in half just 1:33 into the final stanza. Simmonds’ accumulated his second point of the game just 1:52 later with a shorthanded tally to even the score before Sean Couturier eventually won it in overtime.

He wouldn’t record another point in the next four games, but Patrick did close the season with 21 points in 33 contests, as well as maybe the most memorable image the Flyers will take away from their loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2018 postseason. He had some flashes before, but this was Patrick’s first big moment after his concussion and maybe the biggest play he had for the team up until that point.

3. Konecny’s overtime goal against the Detroit Red Wings on January 23rd

Travis Konecny has been an offensive threat since he joined the NHL. Despite benchings and being moved down the lineup for certain segments of the 2016-17 season, he displayed flashes of absurd offensive capabilities. The question surrounding the 2015 first rounder wasn’t if he had the skill to succeed in in the top six, but how high is his high-end skill? In a five-game stretch in late January, that question seemed to be answered.

After he danced around the trio of Caps’ skaters on the ice to win it in overtime on January 21st, Konecny became a part of Flyers’ history on a play that was equal parts skilled, intelligent, and weird. With his game-deciding tally coming 27 seconds into overtime against Washington, Konecny decided he wanted to repeat that action by scoring the same time into overtime against the Wings just two days later.

The skill was shown on his shot and ability to dart up the right wing to let go of the winning shot, while the hockey IQ came in when he managed to not touch the loose puck in the offensive zone before he (somehow) successfully cleared the zone to cancel offsides. By managing to just get back onside before potting the game-winner, most of the players and those on social media thought the play was most likely not going to stand. It took a few extra looks to realize what Konecny had done, which was join Sami Kapanen as the only Flyers to ever score the overtime goal in back-to-back contests. The goal came in the midst of a five-game goal streak for the forward, a goal streak that started a 33-game stretch where he put home 18 goals and tallied 30 points. It wasn’t his best goal of the season, but it was the goal that signified he has game-breaking abilities that can turn seemingly innocent plays into game-deciding ones.

2. Couturier’s game-tying goal against the Arizona Coyotes on October 30th

Sean Couturier has been a dominant player in terms of driving play and shutting down elite opposition for a few years now, but many fans wondered if his offensive upside would ever come through at the NHL level. It’s safe to say after a 31-goal, 76-point campaign where he finished second in the Selke voting that he’s at least shown he is capable of producing points, even if his point totals take a slight hit next season. Although there aren’t usually positives in a shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes (especially to give them their first win of the season) at least many fans came away with the feeling that Couturier had turned the corner.

In the first 11 games of the season, Couturier racked up 13 points with a pair of two-goal games. However, each of his two-goal games came in contests where the goals weren’t necessarily needed, as he had a pair in the blowout win against the Caps and a pair of goals in the 6-2 loss to the Ducks on October 24th. His two goals on this particular night, however, turned out to be particular important. After giving up a power-play goal to Brendan Perlini just 1:34 into the final stanza to go down 3-0, the Orange and Black looked destined to suffer a loss to the lowly Coyotes. Shortly after Perlini’s goal, Brad Richardson was hit with a hooking minor, which led to Claude Giroux setting up Couturier for a one-timer off a nifty backhanded pass just 40 seconds after Perlini’s tally. Philly didn’t manage to score again until the final minute, when Jordan Weal put home a rebound to make it a one-goal game with 53 seconds remaining.

Just 38 seconds later, following an insane keep by Ivan Provorov, Giroux once again set up Couturier for a goal. This time, Couturier was cutting down the slot and Giroux hit him with a tape-to-tape pass through traffic.

After starting the comeback with a quick response on the power play, Couturier was rewarded for his ability to drive to the net in the dying seconds with the game-tying goal. The Flyers have relied on Couturier many times in the past, but it was for defensive matchups and penalty killing. It was never to provide an offensive spark to win or save a game. He was piling up many points in the beginning of the season, but up until that point in the season Philadelphia didn’t need as big a pair a goals as Couturier’s to salvage a point on a night when the majority of the team was absent against a clearly inferior opponent.

1. Provorov against the St. Louis Blues on November 2nd

Since the day he reached the NHL, it was obvious Provorov was going to become something special. Whether it was his coverage in the defensive zone, defending opposing rushes, or the brief moments of his ridiculous shot from the point, the 2016-17 season illustrated that Provorov was one day going to be The Guy (or one of The Guys) on the blue line for the Flyers for many years to come.

The moment it became evident he was The Guy came in a game against the Blues in St. Louis. With the team missing Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, and Andrew MacDonald, Dave Hakstol had to turn to Mark Alt and Will O’Neill (in his only NHL game to date) in the second game of a road back-to-back against the team tied for first in the Western Conference. With Alt and O’Neill forming the third pair while Travis Sanheim and Brandon Manning formed the second, Provorov and Robert Hagg were the team’s top pair on a night they had to go up against (at the time) maybe the hottest line in the league with Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko. Considering the circumstances, there was little chance the Flyers were going to outplay St. Louis. The most they could hope for was an ugly win where Michal Neuvirth and the defense came through...which is exactly what happened.

After playing 29:51 the night before, Provorov logged 27:08 on a night where he blocked a career-high 10 shots in a remarkable performance. It wasn’t pretty in terms of underlying numbers, as Provorov finished the game with a team-low 25.71 corsi for percentage, but Provorov showed the ability to take control of a game when his team needed it. Neuvirth had a strong night in net, but Provorov handled everything thrown at him by the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line.

Provorov’s potential is sky high, as he could become an elite mobile shutdown d-man who can play around half of each game over the next few seasons. As he continually takes steps to becoming that one-of-a-kind player, his performance that night in St. Louis in early November will be one of the games fans and players will reference for years to come.