Yesterday we took a look at Mikhail Vorobyev’s performance in game one, so it only makes sense to continue down the path of third line center candidates today. Last night Jordan Weal was given the opportunity to center the Flyers’ second line (based on 5-on-5 ice time) with Claude Giroux and Nicolas Aube-Kubel as his wingers.
It’s a line that worked extremely well together, with both Weal and Aube-Kubel posting a score and venue-adjusted Corsi for of 82.94%, and Giroux a 78.85%. The level of competition last night wasn’t all that high, especially when you have a superstar like Giroux out there with you, but the fact they dominated is a good sign for Weal moving forward.
So what did they, specifically Weal, do well that led to such a great number? He used his speed to find open ice and his vision to spot an open teammate. Weal himself only took two shots towards the net, hitting it once, but where his impact was really felt was in his teammates shots that he set up.
The Islanders don’t do that great of a job attacking Weal here, but some of that is because of his speed. He’s able to wrap around the entire outside of the offensive zone before finding an open man, in this case Ivan Provorov, at the point. It’s a known fact that shots from the point aren’t very dangerous, but there was a good bit of traffic in front, and Weal isn’t responsible for Provorov’s decision to shoot. That’s not to say it was a bad decision by Provorov - the Flyers’ system is very reliant on shots from the point and at the end of the day they’re all just playing into the system.
Later in the game we see Weal elude three Islanders’ skaters as they collapse towards him and send the puck deep into the zone towards Aube-Kubel.
The move through the middle of the ice is impressive enough, and he then follows it up by chipping the puck over Scott Mayfield’s stick and right to Aube-Kubel in the corner. If you take a moment to watch Giroux, you can see that the Islanders’ defenders lost him in coverage and once Aube-Kubel received the pass it was very easy for him to get it to Giroux and they were able to execute a decent scoring chance. It’s a risky play going through the center of the ice like Weal did, but the fact that it resulted in a wide open teammate, Giroux, made it worth the reward.
Something that gets talked about a lot with Weal is that he’s “undersized” and gets shoved off the puck easily. At times, sure, everyone gets knocked off the puck, but last night he seemed to win the vast majority of the board battles that he found himself in, most notably against Brock Nelson in the middle of the second period.
Nelson is no easy competition, he’s a NHL veteran of 398 games and is 6’3” and 212 lbs, certainly not a pushover. Weal manages to protect the puck on his forehand and use his edge work and powerful strides to break free and eventually make a pass to the point.
Later in the game we see him win an even more impressive puck battle, although the Flyers don’t go on to retain possession like they did in the prior example.
Weal starts this play off by securing the puck from Bode Wilde (#46) and attempts to make a pass to Shayne Gostisbehere at the point. His pass attempt is blocked by Michael Dal Colle (#21) and the pucks lands directly in front of Tanner Fritz (#11) after he may have got a piece of it with his glove. Weal quickly recognizes that the puck is bouncing and quickly makes his way towards Fritz, and lifts his stick. Fritz is still able to get a piece of the puck, but Weal’s stick check makes the puck remain in the zone.
Here’s the play slowed down so that we can easily follow Weal’s stick.
Of course not everything was perfect and there are plays that you can point towards where Weal could have made a better play. None were more clear than this moment in the second period when Giroux was in a prime scoring chance and Weal decided to keep the puck himself.
If Weal makes a pass to Giroux here there’s a good chance it results in a goal. Giroux likely one-times the puck and there’s a very good chance he beats Christopher Gibson blocker side. A one-timer from this area of the ice following a pass from behind the net is one of the more dangerous plays that you can execute in hockey. Instead, Weal spins to his forehand and attempts to take a shot that gets deflected away by Adam Pelech.
The best scoring chance in the game for Weal came on the power play when he was set up beautifully by... Dale Weise? Yup, that’s Dale Weise.
Sadly, his attempt was blocked by Wilde and wound up being a nothing play. Weal likely scores here if not for Wilde being in great position.
In the battle for third line center, Weal loses some ground when it comes to special teams. While Vorobyev has been given opportunities on both the power play and penalty kill, Weal hasn’t been given reps on the penalty kill at all, not in the preseason nor in training camp. Where he has an edge over Misha is faceoffs, as Weal won 75% of his draws last night while Vorobyev won just 21%. Scott Laughton will also likely see time at the center position as we move closer to the start of the regular season, and with Morgan Frost likely being out of the race, it seems to be down to these three forwards.
Weal has yet to prove himself as a center in the NHL and now he may finally be getting the opportunity to do so. A couple more performances like that, hopefully against tougher competition next time, and he’ll be making the Flyers’ decision that much tougher to make.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick