If there was one thing that became evident to me after the dust settled on the first few days of free agency, it is that Chuck Fletcher believes in this team and the current core. While he has made changes to the roster both by addition and subtraction, the main players in this club we thought could get moved are still here: Shayne Gostisbehere and Jacub Voracek still look to factor into 2019-20. Though, more than anything, the Flyers are relying on what we have all hoped for — youth.
Fletcher obviously believes in the aforementioned core of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Gostisbehere and Voracek. As much as he is looking to lean on veterans, he has made it very clear to fans and the media that, at least in terms of his roster construction, prospects will be involved (or at least players he deems prospects). Fletcher has singled out Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, and the myriad of young players currently holding down spots on the team as key to his vision of success, and this is rightfully so.
In fact, this is what we were told would happen during the Ron Hextall era, and what we urged to happen but never did fully materialize. This is not to say that Hextall didn’t try, but that factors got in the way of that vision, one being his inability to put a stamp on the league and go for it, as opposed to always moving cautiously. Under those teams, yes the kids played, but besides Ivan Provorov, they were afraid to rely on young players when it mattered. Some would say that was justified, and yes in most cases, I want Giroux on the puck in overtime. But, when you’re playing Travis Konecny on the fourth line with Dale Weise, nothing good is going to happen. It was setting them up to fail, much like anchoring the young defensemen to Andrew MacDonald, it is giving them a role in theory but in practice, it is one that would only convince us the young player was the one at fault.
This year, it is looking increasingly likely that the 12th forward spot could go to a rookie call up. Here’s what that could look like:
Flyers 2019-20 Maybe?
It seems to me, even on a cursory level, that the Flyers (and Fletcher) are extremely high on Morgan Frost. Chuck Fletcher has said that he is looking to be reliant on youth this season:
“Make no mistake, our future success is going to depend on a large part of how far these young players do, how much they develop and that’s the exciting part of the group.”
Additionally, Frost has looked very good at development camp, and his playmaking and silky puck skills stood out. Either that, or the Flyers social media team is heavily catering to our hopes and dreams of Frost making this line-up come October.
: Frost in translation. pic.twitter.com/Ip980pF0mS— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) July 2, 2019
In my eyes, Frost can hang with NHL level competition. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a playmaking center with 100+ points in the OHL will find success at the next level. Though, what gives me pause is the same dogged issue that befell the Flyers in the past: coaching choices. As has been thoroughly discussed, Alain Vigneault is not the best with handling young players, ala Pavel Buchnevich. While one can argue that perhaps Fletcher would have talked to Vigneault about his willingness to use young players in important roles, this doesn’t guarantee that Vigneault’s previous coaching tendencies won’t shine through once more. It’s not even necessarily that Vigneault would be the problem himself. I think most mainstream NHL coaches have similar issues to Vigneault regarding young talent (that isn’t Connor McDavid or Elias Pettersson).
“Drew!” I hear you saying, “But what about signing Niskanen and Braun? They suck!”. Well, eager reader, even if what these players are is a mismatch in our views vs how Chuck Fletcher views them, the move is still geared towards the future to some degree. When asked about Matt Niskanen, Fletcher mentioned how he can mentor the young defensemen with his experience. Remember this tweet?
Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher: "He is a veteran, right shot defenseman who has a track record of success as a Stanley Cup champion. Having played heavy minutes in all situations throughout his career, Matt will be a steadying influence to our talented and young group of defenseman."— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) June 14, 2019
Even if Niskanen is no longer a top pair defenseman, I don’t think that Fletcher views him as any sort of long term solution. Even if it is just lip service, there appears to be a clandestine view, emanating from Fletcher, that in this organization, the kids will play and play in a meaningful manner. It’s becoming less and less of a secret as the days go by, and at least for me, is a very good sign of health for the future of this franchise.