If the Flyers are to make the leap back into the playoff picture, they’re going to do so based largely on returning the same team from a year ago —albeit with one big addition on offense, a pair of additions on defense and a full season of Carter Hart in net.
That means that they’ll need to see more production offensively, and more consistency defensively in order to jump back into the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the spring. Here are five candidates from the Flyers to breakout in 2019-20.
1. Travis Sanheim
While you could argue that Sanheim already had his breakout campaign a year ago with 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists) while playing in a career-high 82 games in his second NHL season, but there’s much more in his game to be unlocked going forward for both player and the Flyers.
After watching a previous coaching regime led by Dave Hakstol that was seemingly hell bent on holding him down, Sanheim was finally freed in mid-December and took off running. The 23-year-old saw his ice time rise each month from around 16 minutes to start the season to up over 22 minutes a night by the end of the season and finished strong with 18 points in his final 21 games. If his notable play in 49 games as a rookie (5.8% Corsi Relative) wasn’t a big enough sample size, Sanheim proved he belongs at the NHL level last season and should only see his role expand going forward.
Thanks to a step back from fellow defender Ivan Provorov, Sanheim ended up finishing second among Flyers defenseman with 35 points behind Shayne Gostisbehere’s 37. What more is there for Sanheim to gain on you ask? Well, it should be on the power play, where he should replace Provorov —who mustered just two assists captaining the Flyers’ second unit for much of the season a year ago. Sanheim, in far less time —around 43 minutes per NaturalStatTrick— produced five power play points (two goals, three assists). Outside of what now looks like an outlier of a 17-goal season for Provorov, Sanheim has already shown just as much and if not more offensive instinct, and would be the better man for the job where Gostisbehere isn’t out there manning the point. So while he should be the man for the job, we’ve seen Flyers coaches get it wrong before.
Even without the possibly of more run on the power play, a full season of Sanheim playing upwards of 20 minutes a game is likely enough to boost the defender into the 10+ goal range and past the 40-point mark and beyond. That would easily blow away the value on the $3.5 million contact he’s going to play on for two years, by the way.
2. Carter Hart
Ever think about where the Flyers would have been without Hart last season? Or what about where they would have been with him all season? Both fair questions to ponder as the Flyers’ wunderkind netminder finally arrived and did not disappoint.
Hart posted a .917 save percentage, the second-highest mark in NHL history (minimum of 20 games) for a goaltender 20 years of age or younger only trailing Carey Price and his .920 from 2007-08 per HockeyReference. That’s some pretty elite company, folks.
The rookie was a pretty substantial difference maker with a 16.60 GSAA mark (goals saved above average) per NaturalStatTrick, more than 11 higher than the next closest Flyers netminder in Brian Elliott.
What will he do for an encore? Well he should play more than 31 games barring injury, and will play behind an overall team that should be better in 2019-20 with upgrades at forward and veteran defense additions. He could improve upon his numbers at 5-on-5, where his save percentage was merely league average, and on the penalty kill, where the Flyers are hopefully much improved.
A better team, and more games should propel Hart to a breakout season in his sophomore campaign.
3. Nolan Patrick
The former No. 2 overall pick has essentially provided the Flyers with two seasons that were nearly identical in his rookie and sophomore years. The problem is that he didn’t make a leap in year two despite being handed a big-time role with top six minutes, registering just one more assists from year one to two. Patrick’s lack of production was a big part of the reasoning for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher going out and spending big on Kevin Hayes to fill the 2C spot.
That’s both good and bad, because it pushes Patrick down to 3C but also gives the Flyers three very good centers in the event that Patrick does in fact finally take a step forward this season. He’ll have a great chance to do it, too, seeing more favorable matchups and likely starting the season stapled to one of his better linemates in his two years in Oskar Lindblom.
Patrick could also see an uptick in his production from the power play, where he logged just one goal and one assist a year ago. Hayes joining the Flyers’ second unit could certainly help, as could the aforementioned possible change to Sanheim running point. And hey, who knows maybe the Flyers get wild and give Patrick an offensive dynamo like a Morgan Frost or Joel Farabee on his other wing when camp breaks.
It could add up to that breakout season that we were expecting from Patrick a year ago. Don’t look now but if it doesn’t happen this year then we’ll be talking about the guys picked behind Patrick in the 2017 draft, and that won’t be pretty.
4. Oskar Lindblom
After a cup of coffee in 2017-18, another one to break free from Hakstol’s doghouse last season was the 23-year-old Swede, who finally overcame Jori Lehtera in the lineup to post 17 goals and 16 assists in 81 games in his first extended NHL action. Lindblom showed flashes in his first NHL look, posting favorable possession numbers, and followed it up with an impressive campaign given his sub-14 minutes of ice time per game.
The former fifth-round pick does everything well and has quickly developed into one of the Flyers’ more promising youngsters. His possession metrics have been stellar (3.5% Corsi For Relative) since entering the NHL, and he’s shown finishing ability in addition to being a responsible 200-foot player. Lindblom should benefit from extended playing time with Patrick, as the pair worked well together to the tune of a 52.78% Corsi For/Goals For percentage in two years per NaturalStatTrick.
That combination should reap benefits for both players and the Flyers this season, as hopefully both enjoy breakout seasons inside a pretty good top nine group of forwards.
5. Philippe Myers
The 6-foot-5 undrafted defenseman broke into the NHL ranks last season and impressed in 21 games with the Flyers after some extra seasoning in the AHL with the Phantoms. Myers has the skating stride and mobility that teams crave on today’s modern blue line and it’s really still a shock that the Flyers unearthed him after not being drafted.
Their find has been a good one, and Myers projects to break camp with the Flyers and be installed among the six defenseman to start the season. He’s an aggressive pursuer of the puck and works tirelessly to get pucks off opposing sticks and turn up ice. Though he managed just a goal and an assist last season with the Flyers, he did show offensive upside with the Phantoms with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 48 games that should translate well across a full season in the show.
The Flyers have some impressive young defensemen, and we’ve seen both Gostisbehere and Provorov have big-time success in the league already and now it’s time for Myers and Sanheim to have their turn.