With the preseason still months away, there has been plenty of discussion with the Flyers NHL roster pretty much locked except for the third line right wing. A lot of that discussion involves who will be playing on what line for the wingers, and especially for the second and third lines. The first line would most likely be a combination of Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny with Sean Couturier in the middle, but the second line is where things get interesting.
Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek appear to be absolute locks for the line unless Voracek moves up to the first, but the left wing is where we see some discussion. Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk are the main players who could fill this spot, and although the latter is the veteran with more experience playing heavy minutes, the former in the young Lindblom could be the better option.
Lindblom played his first full NHL season last year, playing in almost all 82 games. You may remember that when Dave Hakstol coached his final game, he went out by scratching Lindblom for Jori Lehtera. Lindblom had a strong season overall by scoring 33 points and almost totalling a 20 goal season. The second half, however, was where the 22 year old forward really stepped up and showed he belonged.
Through his first 42 games, Lindblom scored just 12 points in 42 games, a 0.29 points per game pace. In those 42 games, Lindblom averaged just over 11 minutes a game and in the final 19 games of that stretch averaged just over nine minutes. The young Swedish forward wasn’t even being played by interim head coach Scott Gordon, and it was turning into a miserable season.
But, starting with game 43 and going to the final game of Lindblom’s season, he saw his minutes increase and his production do the same. Over his final 39 games, Oskar Lindblom scored 21 points including 13 of his 17 total goals on the season. A 0.54 points per game pace is certainly a fine way to end a season, and make him a favorite to have a breakout 2019-20 campaign.
We know what kind of player Oskar Lindblom is: he’s a smart forward who plays a strong two-way game who can be an above average play-driving winger. While he doesn’t have the top-end skill that readily apparent in the Flyers’ presumptive top six, I think he can be the perfect player for the second line left wing role. He showed last season that when given a greater responsibility he can produce like a top six player, and I think he deserves that opportunity at the start of the season.
Now in no way is this a slight against the other top candidate for this position, James van Riemsdyk. JVR is clearly one of the better forwards on this team and was a goal scoring machine in the second half of last season. He nearly hit the 30 goal mark despite only playing in 66 total games due to an injury he suffered in the second game of the season. JVR averaged over 16 minutes a game last season and was solid in that role despite seeing his play-driving metrics dip from the previous year.
What I’d argue the Flyers can do with van Riemsdyk is put him on a sheltered third line with Nolan Patrick and whomever they decide will be the third line right wing. If they do decide to do this, I’d love to see them fill that right wing spot with a kid and truly shelter that line as much as possible. In JVR’s final season with Toronto, he played on a sheltered line with Tyler Bozak and an almost equal combination of Mitch Marner and Connor Brown. Overall, 21 of JVR’s 36 goals that season came at 5-on-5. If the Flyers can get that same kind of production from him at even strength, and see his power play numbers increase with a full season on the top unit, we could see a very good third line while not losing much if anything on the second line.
Another argument is this should benefit Nolan Patrick. Patrick has been a frustrating player over his first two NHL seasons and with already less responsibility heading into this year knowing he’ll be the third line center, why not help him even more? In addition to being on asheltered line, one would assume van Riemsdyk’s goal scoring touch would help bump Patrick’s numbers.
There’s a good counter argument to be made here, though as Nolan Patrick really seemed to gel with one player last season: Oskar Lindblom. Out of forwards who had at least 100 minutes of ice time with Patrick last season, Patrick’s Corsi-For percentage with Lindblom was the highest at a 50.63. Patrick did play a good bit with van Riemsdyk in the beginning portion of the season, but the numbers were ugly to say the least. To play devil’s advocate on that, it was the beginning of the season and well, to put it nicely, was anyone really playing good hockey for the Flyers in November?
So while I do believe Oskar Lindblom should start the season on the second line in an increased role, if Patrick falters at the beginning of the season and Lindblom isn’t exactly performing well, I wouldn’t hate the idea of seeing JVR and Lindblom switch. But there needs to be time given to let these guys gel together especially in a new system. If after a month or two the lines still aren’t at top form, then yes, make the change.
The Flyers have their team pretty well figured out already heading into next season, and that’s a great and something we haven’t been all that used to over the past couple of seasons. This is a big year for the team and there are going to be a lot of big decisions to be made and while this isn’t a big one by any means, it’s one that could prove vital for the success of not just Lindblom, but the second and third lines as a whole.
All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and hockey-reference