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Flyers season preview - The Forwards

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There is much to be excited about here!

Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Introduction

For the Flyers, going into this off-season, there were many concerns and growing questions regarding forwards. There was a gap at 2C, and overall a lack of depth in quality beyond the first line. Now, at a bare minimum, the roster questions have been answered. Kevin Hayes is your new second line center, and is looking like a fantastic addition to the team (as evidenced in this line by line recap). It is also looking like Joel Farabee will make the roster out of camp, which will add more quality to the Flyers’ middle six.

The Flyers’ forward corp are very reliant on one thing: growth from young players. We already know that the top end talent like Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier will perform and meet our expectations. We also know that the presence of Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl on the fourth line will propel that line to be at the very least acceptable. However, the big “if” in this whole scenario is whether or not the multitude of young talent the Flyers have will continue to build on their play and provide the depth up top that will alleviate pressure from the first line.

Therefore, like last season, expectations are high for the Flyer forwards, and we will hope to see that jump in production that we were hoping for last season finally appear for the kids. The new coaching regime is a cause for optimism in this regard, as all indications have pointed to the Flyers playing with more speed this year, which will almost certainly open up the flow of offense.

Player by Player

Centers

Sean Couturier

2018-19: 80 GP: 33 G, 43 A, 76 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 52.89, GF% = 50.00

2019 Preseason: 3 GP - 0 G, 1 A

Couturier is not the 1C we deserved, but he is the 1C we needed. What else is there to say about him? The man has been an absolute revelation since his 2017-18 breakout. Regardless of whether the Flyers switch Giroux back to center (due to Nolan Patrick’s injury), I think Couturier will still be the first line center. His two-way game suits the Flyers play-style well, and allows his more offensively minded line-mates (like Travis Konecny) to assert themselves on the game.

Couturier is likely poised for a 65-75 point season, and he will without a doubt be one of the Flyer forwards’ leaders in Corsi-For at the 5v5 level. How he does not have a Selke Trophy yet is beyond me.

Kevin Hayes

2018-19: 71 GP: 19 G, 36 A, 55 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 50.51, GF% = 52.33

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 1 G, 2 A

As I mentioned before, Hayes was signed to play as the team’s second line center in order to place Nolan Patrick at 3C. So far in pre-season, he has looked more than capable of fulfilling that role, not that there were many doubts about it. The line Hayes has played on with Jake Voracek and Oskar Lindblom looked very good, and is looking to be the defacto 2nd line.

Of course, this could be changed if Nolan Patrick is out for a significant amount of time and Giroux is switched back to center. However, if that doesn’t happen, expect Hayes to put up solid 2C numbers, according to Pension Plan Puppets’ model. According to their explanation, a ‘good’ second line center should total around 53 points, which would be just under Hayes’ output last season. That’s certainly within reach for the 27 year old.

Nolan Patrick

2018-19: 72 GP: 13 G, 18 A, 31 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 46.47, GF% = 47.83

2019 Preseason: 0 GP - 0 G, 0 A

Patrick is one of the key players whom Flyers fans are hoping will take a big step forward this season. However, Patrick will not be ready for the start of the season due to a migraine disorder diagnosis. He is listed as ‘week to week’, so we won’t really know when he is expected to return to play.

His condition aside, there is a contingent of fans who have been disappointed with Patrick due to him ‘not living up’ to his status as the second overall pick. To that, I say patience is a virtue. As I noted in my earlier article on Patrick, it is not often that players drafted that high bust. I believe Patrick playing on the 3rd line will open up his game and allow him to come into is own as he faces easier line competition. His point production so far has been in the low 30’s, but as I theorized before, I think Patrick can produce around 40-45 points. Hopefully he can improve upon driving play as well. His Corsi-for at 5-on5 play has never been positive, though with a less taxing role, Patrick could at least break even.

Scott Laughton

2018-19: 82 GP: 12 G, 20 A, 32 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 43.90, GF% = 42.86

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 0 G, 2 A

Laughton will yet again anchor the Flyers’ fourth line, and we can expect him to deliver another solid year in that position. Ever since the dawn of the ‘honey bees’ with Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl, the fourth line has been a strength for the Flyers. The team will be looking to rekindle the chemistry that they found with the honey bees, and Laughton is pivotal in that.

Laughton was Corsi-positive in 2017-18, however, he found himself in negative territory at 5-on-5 last season. This is more likely than not related to the entirety of team play since Corsi statistics in general were down trending for nearly every Flyer forward. He should hopefully return to his previous statistical profile possession wise, and score around 20-30 points.

Tyler Pitlick

2018-19: 47 GP: 8 G, 4 A, 12 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 48.05, GF% = 41.18

2019 Preseason: 0 GP - 0 G, 0 A

Since Pitlick is listed as a center, I’ll include him here, despite my inclination that he would probably play wing on this roster. Pitlick is currently injured, so he won’t play at the start of the season, but he is currently traveling with the team.

Pitlick is a clear cut 4th liner who probably won’t play much larger a role than that. He scored 27 points in 80 games for Dallas in 2017-18, though if he does play often, I wouldn’t expect much more than that for him. The most positive thing I can say about him is that he doesn’t get completely buried possession wise. He isn’t an all-star by Corsi standards, but he isn’t terrible.

Connor Bunnaman

2018-19 (Phantoms): 62 GP: 19 G, 13 A, 32 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 43.25, 5v5 GF = 21

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 1 G, 0 A

And we’ve got our first prospect! While Bunnaman is certainly not the rookie that fans will be the most excited about, he can offer quite a bit to this roster. Personally, I was a bit disappointed that Bunnaman is still here while Morgan Frost did not make the roster, but it is understandable that the team would be cautious with Frost’s injury.

Bunnaman has been fairly impressive during the preseason, and is a solid injury call-up at the least. He probably won’t play a full season, but when he is here, he can be a solid replacement level player. To put it this way, if Scott Laughton is bumped up to 3C in Patrick’s absence and Bunnaman is the 4C, I would have little complaints.

Wings

Claude Giroux

2018-19: 82 GP: 22 G, 63 A, 85 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 52.24, GF% = 54.03

2019 Preseason: 3 GP - 0 G, 4 A

At this point, we all know what to expect from the captain. Though he technically had a “down year” after posting his first 100+ point season in 2017-18, Giroux has re-invented himself after his move to the wing, and a similar point-per-game season isn’t an entirely un-reasonable expectation for Giroux. Though, as I highlighted in an article I wrote in May, fans should not be disappointed either if Giroux manages a 70-75 point season either. While he may have exploded upon his move to wing, regression is still to be expected to some degree, though I think any regression with Giroux for this next season will be entirely minimal.

However, this could change if Giroux plays at center. Being separated from Sean Couturier, Giroux’s line-mates will become of increased importance, and Giroux would certainly be the driving force behind a line with him at center. Though, regardless of his line-mates, I think having Giroux at center would temper my expectations of him since he would have to be more involved in play, and my point expectation of him would probably fall into the mid-sixties.

Travis Konecny

2018-19: 82 GP: 24 G, 25 A, 49 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 49.81, GF% = 52.00

2019 Preseason: 3 GP - 2 G, 0 A

Konecny is another youngster who we are expecting a step forward from, though not to the same degree as Patrick. Konecny impacts the game immensely from an offensive perspective, however, as much as we would like to see an uptick in point production, Konecny improving upon other aspects of his game would be a welcome sight. Just think about a Travis Konecny who’s a 60 point player and who can contribute on PP2. That would be the dream.

Whether or not that happens is a different story. Konecny may just be a (roughly) 50 point winger, but that’s not a bad thing! He can still impact this team, and hopefully become a primary scorer for this club. If he plays most of the year on the top line, he can certainly hit more than 50 points, and playing a faster style under Vigneault should help with that too.

James Van Riemsdyk

2018-19: 66 GP: 27 G, 21 A, 48 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 46.38, GF% = 46.15

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 2 G, 1 A

In his first season back as a Flyer, JVR played well, but not excellently. He had to fight through injury, and was centered by Nolan Patrick, with whom he did not generate much chemistry. However, things could be different in 2019-20. The addition of Kevin Hayes (as Mike discussed in his article on JVR) will be beneficial to Van Riemsdyk, if he indeed plays on that line. Additionally, even if Hayes and Van Riemsdyk are not paired together, you would have to think that JVR can find his rhythm on the power play this time around.

I think it is more than fair to expect better from Van Reimsdyk this coming season. His raw number totals will be variant on whether or not he plays with Kevin Hayes. If so, he could easily score 30+ goals. However, if not, he probably has a similar output to last season but with a better advanced stats profile. He could end up reaching 30 goals regardless simply if the whole team plays better.

Jakub Voracek

2018-19: 78 GP: 20 G, 46 A, 66 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 48.10, GF% = 44.76

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 1 G, 3 A

Voracek is another player who could will be helped by the addition of Kevin Hayes. Voracek has pretty much been confirmed to have been slotted alongside Hayes on the second line, and regardless of whether it was James Van Riemsdyk or Oskar Lindblom on the left wing, the line played very well. With Hayes’ ability to properly protect the puck and move it up ice, Voracek can become the line’s defacto playmaker along the right wing, carrying it into the offensive zone and setting up chances for both Hayes and the LW.

Last year was a noticeably down year for Voracek, but he will be looking to bounce back in a major way, and I think he is more likely than not to do so. Voracek has looked very good so far in the preseason, so I think he will hit the ground running. I’d expect for Voracek to hit 70-75 points this year and be Corsi-positive or break even.

Oskar Lindblom

2018-19: 81 GP: 17 G, 16 A, 33 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 50.40, GF% = 45.68

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 0 G, 1 A

Though I talked about Van Riemsdyk playing on the left wing with Kevin Hayes, I really really hope it’s Lindblom in that position. Oskar is just so good at driving play. The only Flyers forwards (who actually played a majority of the season) with a higher Corsi-for at 5-on-5 than Lindblom were Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. That’s very good company. I’m a firm believer that if he is put with Hayes and Voracek, Lindblom will explode points-wise.

I predicted earlier in the offseason that Lindblom would be good for 40 points this year, but I think if he plays with Hayes and Voracek, he could end up with 45-50. I also think his Corsi-for at 5-on-5 would hit above 53.00%. Lindblom is one of those many young players who we are looking for improvement from, and I am incredibly confident that Lindblom will come through.

Joel Farabee

2018-19 (with Boston University): 37 GP: 17 G, 19 A, 36 Pts

2019 Preseason: 4 GP - 0 G, 0 A

Don’t let the preseason stat line tell the whole story. Farabee has been excellent this preseason. Having played with varying line-mates, from Giroux and Couturier, to Michael Raffl, Farabee has looked like a clear cut NHL player regardless. He has hit the post more times than I can count, and has shown exceptional vision and ability in disrupting play.

At the beginning of training camp, the focus was very much on Frost vs Farabee in terms of who would win the seemingly open spot for either on the roster. It was a competition to solve a good problem to have, and I am very excited to see what Farabee can do in the NHL. He will most likely slot in with Nolan Patrick and one of Oskar Lindblom or JVR on the third line, so expect average to good 3RW numbers (19-25 points) with good underlying numbers and noticeable plays from an eye test perspective. Though, as is linked to earlier, the Flyers did try Farabee on the first line, and if they try this throughout the season, expect a potential uptick in his numbers. It is more likely that he just slots into the third line however, as they quickly placed Konecny in the 1RW spot when he returned to the team.

Michael Raffl

2018-19: 67 GP: 6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 45.73, GF% = 46.43

2019 Preseason: 3 GP - 1 G, 0 A

With Raffl, there isn’t much to get excited about. At this point in his career, he is just an average fourth liner or a very good replacement player. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, had it not been for the $1.6 million cap hit. That’s money I would rather save to be honest, but I digress. Raffl was a member of the “honey bees” line that provided the Flyers with depth in 2017-18, but he hasn’t been at all relevant since that line was separated.

Raffl fits into the group of “interchangeable bottom tier players” along with Tyler Pitlick and Carsen Twarynski in that I don’t have high exceptions of them at all. Raffl probably won’t hit 20+ points, but if he does, I’ll be pleasantly surprised! Additionally, last season was his worst from a Corsi-for perspective, and as much I would like him to at least break even next year, I can’t say I expect it.

Carsen Twarynski

2018-19 (Phantoms): 47 GP: 6 G, 10 A, 16 Pts: 5v5 CF% = 42.46, 5v5 GF = 21

2019 Preseason: 5 GP - 2 G, 0 A

Don’t get me wrong, Twarynski has had a good preseason. I think he’s done a lot of things right, and didn’t look like absolutely didn’t belong in the NHL. However, I think he should only be here as an injury call-up.

Considering Twarynski hasn’t exactly lit up the AHL, I wouldn’t peg him to be incredibly impactful in the NHL yet even as a fourth liner. It is especially confusing considering the Flyers send Nicolas Aube-Kubel, whom I thought was more NHL ready, to the Phantoms. Twarynski is likely to produce around Raffl level or worse in my opinion, around 8-12 points. I don’t think he will break even Corsi wise either, considering he didn’t come near that in the AHL.

Conclusion

With a new coach, new faster play style, and exciting additions for the forward corps, the Flyer forwards should help the team eclipse their team goal totals from last year. The Flyers scored 241 goals last season, good for 18th out of 31 teams. That wasn’t a bad total, but I think the Flyers can do and will do much better than that. I think many of the Flyers forwards will have better seasons, and it is almost certain that the team will not receive the luck they did last year (which was bad).

Like I mentioned, Alain Vigneault’s coaching style and his speedy, offensive based systems should also see the Flyers score more, though it could also see them give up more goals. Well, unless Carter Hart has anything to say about that. The forwards, and the team overall are poised to announce themselves to both the Metropolitan division and to the entire NHL. Ignore the preseason record; the guys who we want to look good have mostly looked good, and that’s the exciting thing.