Since Ron Hextall took over as GM, there has been a lot of patience and anticipation of what is to come. Re-stocking the farm system and ridding the roster of bad contracts and/or replacement-level talent were the primary objectives; we’ve been over this time and again. Four years and five entry drafts later, I think it’s safe to say re-stocking the farm has been a success. The prospect pool is as deep or deeper than it’s been in the history of the franchise and among the best in the NHL over the past 2-3 seasons. And with the ascension of some of these prospects – Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny to name a few – not just to the NHL level but to the top of the depth chart, the Flyers have established a strong top half of their roster around which to build.
The remaining issue has been in the replacement-level talent spread throughout the rest of the lineup. From Chris VandeVelde to Jori Lehtera to Andrew MacDonald, the team has prevented themselves, in a way, from taking that next step toward the upper echelon of the NHL. Not only have they consistently had these players on the roster, they’ve used them in roles (ugh, that word) and positions that are well above their talent level. The argument can be made that over the past four seasons, the Flyers didn’t have much choice in that respect. Cap space, while improving, was an issue. More importantly, young players in the system just didn’t seem quite ready to earn a spot with the big club. Hextall has always been of the mindset that a young player doesn’t just need to be equal to or slightly better than a veteran on the roster. A young player needs to show that he’s capable of helping this team both in the short term and long term. I had time for that argument; I wasn’t completely buying in given how that card has been played as it pertains to certain players, but I had time for it.
So right now, in this moment, I am going to play that card. Right now, I am here to say that the kids aren’t just potentially better, they are better. We’re watching Misha Vorobyev thrown into various situations – penalty kill, powerplay, bottom 6 linemates, top 6 linemates, heavy minutes – and come out the other side with production, composure and grace. We’re seeing Philippe Myers challenge forwards in the neutral zone, clear the crease with physicality, evade pressure on the forecheck and push play up the ice with aplomb. We’re observing Oskar Lindblom demonstrate the intelligence, strength and skill he displayed in the SHL that made him the league’s best forward as a 20-year-old. We’re witnessing Carter Hart dominate his crease with precision and poise to the tune of .957 save percentage. And all the while, we’re subjected to the likes of Dale Weise and Jori Lethera struggling just to keep up with the pace of play.
It’s time, Ron. It’s time, Dave. It’s time to give these young upstarts the chance they have earned to help take this team to the next level. I think Hextall at least had a feeling it was time. You don’t go out and sign a player of James van Riemsdyk’s caliber to a long term and lucrative contract if you don’t at least have an inkling that this could be the year the young players took the next step.
No more anchors. No more “JAGs” (Just Another Guy). I don’t want to hear about the veteran presence Jori Lehtera brings to the locker room. I don’t want to hear about the revival story of Corban “Corona Light” Knight. I want to hear about how these young whippersnappers are adding intelligence, skill and a dynamic element this team hasn’t had in a very long time.
The kids are more than just alright. They’re ready. Only one question remains now, Ron and Dave: are you?