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Corban Knight won’t be back, what that means for the Flyers

There’s one less option to fill out the Flyers’ bottom six, even if it wasn’t much of an option to begin with.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it the other day, Corban Knight has signed a one-year contract with Barys Nur-Sultan of the KHL.

Knight, 28, played 23 games for the Flyers and recorded a goal and three assists in 2018-19 for the club. He joined the Flyers as a free agent back in 2016 and spent most of his time in Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms, but spent most of this past season in Philadelphia in some capacity.

It’s a curious move to see a free agent like Knight seemingly bypass NHL free agency, but given his status with just 52 NHL games to date in his career, the forward found a good opportunity overseas. Perhaps there he can build value and carve out a nice career as other former NHLers have done, or even play well enough in the year to garner a look with another NHL organization.

Though Knight was far from an integral part of the Flyers, his decision to bounce to Europe does sift out another potential option in the bottom six for new coach Alain Vigneault and his staff. Knight wasn’t flashy, but could play multiple positions and did provide an able body on the penalty kill, where Vigneault must find a way to coax better results out of his new club.

Vigneault could also stand to benefit from more production from his bottom six, an area where the likes of Knight, Phil Varone, Dale Weise, and Jordan Weal among others struggled to support the Flyers’ big gunners. While Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier are more than capable of carrying the Flyers’ offense in stretches, getting occasional offense from the bottom six can separate middling teams from playoff and contending teams. Heck, they don’t even need to produce consistent offense, but providing energy and minutes unlike whatever Weise brought night-in and night-out is more than what they got last year.

With Knight out, that leaves options like restricted free agent Ryan Hartman, who figures to be back given that general manager Chuck Fletcher made him part of the return in the Wayne Simmonds trade and he shouldn’t command too much cash. Ditto Scott Laughton, save for the whole trade part. Laughton hasn’t lived up to first-round billing quite yet mostly due to his offensive shortcomings, but he’s turned himself into a solid bottom sixer that can play center or wing and kill penalties. He could also benefit from some better linemates, and making some upgrades around him could help him tap into some further potential. One of the guys who will certainly be back in the mix is Michael Raffl, who just re-upped with the Flyers. That trio should form at least half of the Flyers’ bottom six heading into next season, leaving some room for Fletcher and Vigneault to work with.

Justin Bailey got into just 11 games after coming over via trade from the Sabres, and is also headed for RFA status though he’s looking at the lowest price tag of the three. He’s also probably got plenty of competition coming his way even with Knight off the radar. Mikhail Vorobyev made the Flyers out of camp, but spent the rest of the season down in Lehigh Valley after 15 mostly disastrous games. The young pivot had a really good preseason but looked overwhelmed with NHL speed in his first test, but there’s tools there to work with especially if he dedicates himself over the summer.

There’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who certainly has the snarl you’d love in the lineup, but wasn’t impressive in nine games a year ago and comes with concerns about whether or not he’d inject any offense anyways. He’s also RFA, though again, probably not going to cost a whole heck of a lot to retain. Both Vorobyev and Aube-Kubel were drafted under a different regime, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Fletcher and his staff see them as viable options but they’re likely to get a shot here.

Given the general sense that the Flyers are going to try and improve sooner rather than later, it doesn’t seem like they’d be willing to go super young, but if they do there are some options. German Rubstov, who was off to a fast start with the Phantoms prior to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Known for his two-way game, perhaps the former first rounder could inject some youth and skill into the bottom six after he recovers from his injury fully. The role would be much like the one that Laughton had when he came up early in his career, and wouldn’t overload the young player too much.

Under the “unmitigated disaster” portion of the program, Tyrell Goulbourne is still a part of the organization and somehow found his way into a pair of games last season. That’s the joke.

There’s Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost, who could certainly pump some offense into the bottom six should they be given a shot, though unlikely. Vigneault doesn’t seem like a coach willing to wade through the struggles of youngsters, but pretty much anyone would be better than guys like Weise, Jori Lehtera, and Knight, so the Flyers really only have up to go from here.

So farewell Corban Knight, this is by far the most attention we paid to you all season and I regret nothing.