It’s hard to fault Chuck Fletcher for, well, anything regarding the trade deadline.
He approached this year’s deadline with two simple things in mind: to add depth and to not add by subtracting a current roster piece. Fletcher did just that, all while not sacrificing many Flyer assets. Derek Grant, the twenty-nine year old forward enjoying his most productive season yet, was picked up from Anaheim while only relinquishing a career AHLer and a 4th round pick in the upcoming draft. Additionally, Nate Thompson, another depth piece, was added for only a 5th round pick in 2021. Those are moves that, in theory, give the Flyers much needed depth up the middle, and at great value for the price.
However, despite the prevailing assumption that one of these new players would serve as the 13th forward in the press box, that has not been the case through the past few weeks, likely due to the fact that the Flyers went on a nine game winning streak. Winning games, of course, is a good thing (no way!), yet have Grant and Thompson’s performances merited their inclusion in the lineup bearing forward?
Let’s start first with Derek Grant. With the exclusion of the first impression we received of Grant (given the circumstances it was understandable, he took an early cross-country early flight), from an eye-test perspective he has not looked out of place on the third line. Grant has worked well to provide another energy player alongside Tyler Pitlick on that line to hassle opposition and be a general nuisance. He also has been pretty good on the penalty kill, bolstering an already important strength of this team. To the tune of five points (one goal and four assists) in his seven Flyer games, Grant has, on the surface, looked like a steal.
However, his play-driving numbers are not even less than ideal, they’re downright awful. In his forty-nine games with the Ducks before the trade, his Corsi-For percentage stood at a dismal 40.58%, and through seven games with the Flyers that number stands at 37.42%. Yikes. To be fair, Grant has never been a play-driver. The best output in this regard came in 2018-19 during a thirty-one game stint in Anaheim (he also played in Pittsburgh) where he was closest to breaking even at 48.60%.
Though the degree to which he negatively impacts possession is alarming, he at the least brings other aspects of value in his game to merit his inclusion in the bottom six moving forward. If anything alone, his ability to kill penalties effectively has given him a role with this team.
Nate Thompson, on the other hand, should probably not be playing regularly.
From a possession perspective, Thompson has performed better than Grant so far as a Flyer, but not by very much — his CF currently sits at 41.96%. When you look at this, combined with the fact that Thompson doesn’t really put up points (he has one assist in his seven games as a Flyer) keeping him in the lineup down the stretch starts to look like a questionable choice. Sure, Thompson, like Grant, is also an effective penalty killer, but when you move Grant onto the third line and slot Thompson in at 4C, you’re sacrificing skill depth in the lineup. Thompson, like Charlie O’Connor said on a recent podcast, to paraphrase, Thompson is really a guy you want so you don’t have to plug in Mikhail Vorobyov or Chris Stewart to fill that spot instead.
In an ideal world, the Flyers would re-call Morgan Frost (who recently had an excellent game against the Islanders’ AHL affiliate), putting him at 3C. Then, either Derek Grant shifts to wing and Scott Laughton moves to 4C, or vise versa where Grant is 4C. Looking to the future, having a skilled center like Frost gives the Flyers a better chance of winning than Thompson. There’s no real problem with Nate Thompson being slotted in as a replacement in a big game where more defensive help is needed, but for now, bring on Frost.
UPDATE: It appears that due to injury, Thompson will be spending some time out of the lineup. In response, the Flyers called up Connor Bunnaman.
Injury update: Forward Nate Thompson will be sidelined a minimum of two weeks with a knee sprain.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 11, 2020
The club has recalled forward Connor Bunnaman from the @LVPhantoms (AHL).
I imagine the Flyers would have called up Morgan Frost, but he is currently dealing with a very minor injury, and according to Alain Vigneault, Frost will be back at the weekend.
AV says Frost's injury isn't that serious. Expected to be back this weekend.— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) March 11, 2020
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick