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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Mikhail Vorobyev looks to become a mainstay

After two short stints in the NHL last season, what’s next for the center?

Los Angeles Kings v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Following an impressive debut season in North America, and a strong showing in camp, Mikhail Vorobyev found himself on the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening day roster this past season. However he wouldn’t stay for long, as after appearing in only seven games he found himself back in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Three months later he’d return to the NHL once more, but face the same fate just three weeks following the call-up. Now, the Russian center will have to prove that he belongs again, this time to a whole new set of eyes behind the bench.

No. 15: Mikhail Vorobyev

Position: F
Age: 22 (1/15/1997)
Size: 6’2”, 194
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft — Round 4, Pick 104 (Pick acquired from Los Angeles along with a sixth-round pick in 2016 in exchange for Pick No. 99 in 2015 on June 27, 2015)
2018-19 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 7 G, 19 A in 42 GP
Nationality: Russian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2019 25 Under 25: 11

Vorobyev began the season as the team’s third line center, flanked by James van Riemsdyk and Wayne Simmonds. And the (very) early returns on the trio were extremely positive. But due to van Riemsdyk suffering a knee injury during just the second game of the season, the line would only get to spend just under twelve minutes together.

The left wing vacancy led to Scott Laughton joining the line, and at around the same time Vorobyev’s play began to slip. This led to him getting dropped to the Jori Lehtera line, and being benched for the final thirteen minutes of the third period in the October 16th contest versus the Florida Panthers — the sixth game of the season. Just like that three bad games at center, and one at wing alongside Lehtera, had erased the prior weeks of evaluation.

Vorobyev would sit out the next four games before returning to the lineup in a game versus the New York Islanders where he received only seven shifts before being benched in the middle of the second period, only to later see the ice again only after one of the Flyers’ patented late third period collapses. After the game then-head coach Dave Hakstol stated that he wasn’t confident that Vorobyev was a guy that was going to help them get back into the game, and a day later it was announced that he had been loaned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Now let’s make one thing clear — Vorobyev was not playing well. It would’ve been perfectly acceptable to have him sit out a game or two, and be given a chance to bounce-back once he returned to the lineup. But the way that the situation was handled was poor, and he was never really given a chance to prove himself once he was re-inserted into the lineup. Maybe things would have played out differently if the team had actually been playing well, and maybe that could have been achieved by bringing in a new head coach ahead of the 2018-2019 season. But that’s a different conversation.

Once he re-joined the Phantoms, Vorobyev was back to being a positive contributor. Both offensively, with 22 points through 32 games, and from a play-driving standpoint. Furthermore, while Lehigh Valley had a tough season overall, the penalty kill was one area of the game in which they excelled — and Vorobyev had a hand in that success. This led to his second NHL stint in January, this time with a new, but familiar coach behind the bench in Scott Gordon.

Things didn’t go much better for him the second time around. His performance may have been even worse. It didn’t help, and probably wasn’t the best idea, to have him return during a back-to-back, leading to him playing in eight hockey games in twelve nights, but the fact remains that he couldn’t keep a spot in the NHL this past season. Per Corsica he had a dreadful 41.09 Corsi-for percent and 34.89 Expected Goals-for percent at 5-on-5 across his fifteen games in total, and while he had good moments, he also looked really out of place at times, especially during his second assignment.

But just because he underwhelmed during his first taste of NHL action doesn’t mean that he can’t become a regular in the near future. Though, with how the roster is constructed, the odds aren’t in his favor to start the upcoming season with the Flyers.

Unlike a year ago, he doesn’t have a clear path to make the team out of camp. Outside of an injury opening up a spot, his only real path involves Laughton taking the open spot on the third line as a winger. If that spot goes to anyone else, the team’s four centers are all but locked in for opening night. And even if he would take that spot, the somewhat-newly acquired Tyler Pitlick would probably start the season as the fourth line center over Vorobyev.

If he blows the doors off again, maybe he does make the opening day roster. But it seems more likely that his third professional season will begin in Allentown. Either way he still projects to be a bottom-six center in the NHL who can kill penalties.

Will it be with the Flyers? That remains to be seen.

Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2019 Top 25 Under 25: