The main question remaining as we head towards the start of the regular season is who will be the Flyers’ third line center. Our own Maddie Campbell took an extensive look at all of the options, including Mikhail Vorobyev who may have the inside track for job at the moment. He’s been taking reps alongside NHL roster locks in Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, and Oskar Lindblom throughout camp, and has been getting plenty of work in on the penalty kill. All of this made the decision to focus on him during the first preseason game an easy one to make.
We’re kicking things off with a bit of his work on the power play. Vorobyev was a part of the first unit yesterday, primarily alongside Lindblom, Konecny, Nolan Patrick, and Travis Sanheim. He also saw a little bit of time with the second unit, and on both units he played the role of Wayne Simmonds - sort of. He’s a left-handed shot so it’s a bit of a different look, but what he adds to the role is dynamic passing, especially behind the net.
All things considered, this is fairly simple play to make He has time and space thanks to the Islanders’ defenseman staying at the front of the crease to cover Lindblom, but what this does do is showcase the area of the ice that Vorobyev utilizes more than anybody in the Flyers’ organization; the trapezoid. Bold claim? Maybe, but with the lack of behind the net passes from Flyers’ forwards ever since they bought out the final two seasons of Danny Briere’s contract, I truly believe it to be true. While the power play failed to score, they did generate six high danger chances, one of them being Vorobyev’s lone shot on goal in the game, and ten total scoring chances. They had some chances, but nothing he did was all that fancy. In fact his flashiest plays came at even strength, where he made difficult saucer passes look easy.
Take this play for example. In the image below Vorobyev is staring at three Islanders in between him and his intended target, Robert Hagg.
Despite this, Vorobyev shows the confidence that he has in his own ability and attempts to make the pass anyway, and is successful in doing so.
Shout out to Hagg for accepting that pass flawlessly. The speed behind that pass makes it hard enough to follow on video after the fact, let alone having to corral it in real time. The level of difficulty to this pass is extremely high, and while the result is just another low-to-high passing play, if he can do it then, he can do it when there’s someone in position to take a dangerous shot as well.
There was another moment earlier in the game where Vorobyev made a similar pass to Reece Willcox, this time on the opposite side of the ice and on his backhand. With Nick Leddy behind him attempting to lift his stick he was able to flip the puck over Jordan Eberle’s stick and have it land right on Willcox’s tape. It was another low-to-high play - how incredibly on brand for the Flyers - that showcased the ability to set teammates up even with multiple opponents attempting to disrupt the play.
Vorobyev also made an impact in the neutral zone, both with zone entries and zone exits. Two weeks ago we talked about how controlled zone exits were found to be the best at predicting future on-ice goal results for Flyers’ players and that’s something that he showed that he can do pretty well.
In this instance, he was able to beat Cal Clutterbuck to the puck behind the net, avoid the charging Matt Martin, and make a pass to Danick Martel, allowing him to exit the zone with possession of the puck. It’s a skill that he showed off plenty of times in his rookie season in Lehigh Valley, and it’s nice to see him do it against NHL-caliber forecheckers. To my eyes, he didn’t turn the puck over on any of his defensive zone touches at even strength. Although he did miss on a pass connection and wound up icing the puck once.
There were numerous entries, and they went well for the most part, but there were a few times where it seemed like he may have tried to do a bit too much by himself.
If it had worked it would have been incredible, but going up against three players at once is a tall task and there’s a very select few that can pull that off at the NHL level. I have to give him props for getting as far as he did.
One period later he almost broke free for a breakaway opportunity, but just wasn’t able to pull away from Noah Dobson (#45) who was able to lift his stick and shove the puck into the corner. Luca Sbisa (#72) was also there providing pressure from behind.
What might be the most intriguing part of his game is his work on the penalty kill, an area of the game that the Flyers desperately need to show improvement in. Both he and Taylor Leier played just over two minutes and 45 seconds on the penalty kill together and, get ready for this, allowed a grand total of one shot attempt against. These two were legitimately a shut down duo yesterday, and the penalty kill was much more successful when they were on the ice. The Flyers had around one minute and 28 seconds on the penalty kill where Vorobyev and Leier were off the ice, and in that time they allowed five shot attempts and were scored on twice.
Vorobyev was no passenger on the penalty kill and may have been the true driving force behind the duo’s fantastic shot suppression. In part one of the following sequence, Vorobyev challenges the passer and while he can’t get a stick on it, it looks like Leier may have been able to.
Once the pass is attempted, Vorobyev takes over as the third member of the triangle while forward one, Leier, chases. Moments later, as the puck is thrown behind the net, Leier takes over as the “triangle” forward and allows Vorobyev to get back into the role of the attacking forward. The result of this perfectly read defensive play leads us to part two.
Just enough pressure from Folin forces Mathew Barzal to make a quick pass which Vorobyev is in perfect position to pick off. This play sent the Flyers into the Islanders zone and although it did not result in a shot, it did kill time off the clock. It’s a great read by all four Flyers on the ice and it leads to an easy exit. His active stick on the penalty kill was noticeable all night long and he and Leier were able to keep the Islanders to the outside and, more importantly, off the score sheet.
The Flyers, and Dave Hakstol, made it clear that they wanted to really wanted to see what Vorobyev could give them in game one of the preseason by having him play close to twenty minutes in the game and see ice time in every game situation. He finished the game with a score and venue-adjusted CF% of 63.74 at 5-on-5 and a +28.22 CF% rel.
Based on both shot quantity and shot quality, his line with Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Danick Martel were the most effective trio for the Flyers by far. The Vorobyev line played against the Barzal line more than any other Islanders’ trio and they were able to break even in Corsi against them, and even out-chance them three to one. Away from Vorobyev, Barzal had a 80% CF, a hefty jump from a break-even 50.
All in all it was quite the performance from Misha, one that should continue to increase his odds of making the team come the end of the month. The Flyers will be back in action today at 7 pm, and Vorobyev looks to be in the lineup once again.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick