The Philadelphia Flyers are just days away from their first round-robin game. After taking care of business against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their lone exhibition game, the Flyers are getting ready for the real thing.
The Flyers have a good mix of core guys, grizzled veterans, role players, and fresh-faced young guns to make a playoff run. We’ve seen some of these guys in the playoffs a few times before, others have made deep runs with former teams, but there is a group of players looking to make a mark as they get their first taste of playoff hockey.
It’s always said that playoff hockey is a different animal; things get that much more intense, and every play matters that much more. “Playoff experience” is a valued trait in some players.
The last time the Flyers made the playoffs, they had a handful of their key players making their playoff debuts, namely Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim, among others. Then, in 2018, those players gaining playoff experience was important, and a first-round loss wasn’t too unexpected. This year, however, the Flyers will be leaning on their young players to help them go far.
Of the 31 players on the official playoff roster, nearly one-third of them (10) have no NHL playoff experience. While a couple of those 10 players will only be used in case of emergency, there are several that could see ice time see ice time for the Flyers during the 2020 NHL Playoffs.
I’ve broken the 10 players (potentially) making their playoff debut into three tiers. Let’s start with the ones that you can at least pencil into the lineup.
Ready for a Cup run
Carter Hart is without a doubt the most important Flyer making his playoff debut, and quite possibly the most important player for the Flyers in these playoffs. The 21-year-old is one of the Flyers’ main playoff X-factors, and for good reason.
While Hart doesn’t have any professional playoff experience, he has performed under pressure in the past. He went 5-1-0 with a .930 SV% and 1.81 GAA to backstop Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. He also led the Everett Silvertips to the WHL Championship Series in 2018, going 14-5-3 with a .921 SV%.
This season, Hart grabbed the reins as the Flyers’ starting goalie. After a shaky month to begin the season that had some wondering if he was ready for such a quick transition from the WHL to the NHL, Hart turned it around. From November 5th on, he went 21-10-2 with a .921 SV% in 35 games. That includes an outstanding 11-3-0 stretch (with a .929 SV%) from January 8th until the end of the season.
Hart now really has a chance to shine in the playoffs. Brian Elliott has played well as the Flyers’ backup goalie this season, but it will be Hart’s net for the playoffs. If Hart is on his game, there’s no telling how far he can help carry the Flyers.
Another young player looking to make his mark on the playoffs is Philippe Myers.
Myers has quickly developed into an important defenseman on this Flyers team, and that role will only continue to grow in the postseason. He went from playing less than 15 minutes per game earlier in the season to over 18 minutes per game during the Flyers’ hot stretch in mid-February.
The Flyers have a strong group of defensemen alongside Myers, but the young defenseman will be locked in on the right side of the blue line. The undrafted free agent has already come a long way, and the scary thing is that he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet. He’ll be eager to show off his skill and take his game to the next level in the playoffs.
Myers has spent the majority of his playing time this season (and summer camp) with Travis Sanheim on the second pair. Those two have become a formidable duo, as both players have the skillset to join the rush and chip in on offense, while also being able to get back and defend in their own end.
Sanheim isn’t exactly a playoff veteran, either. He only played in four games of the Flyers’ 2018 series against the Penguins back when he was just a rookie. Sanheim is now a key part of the Flyers defense and will be looking to make his presence felt alongside Myers.
Joel Farabee is one of the Flyers’ true rookies looking to make an impact in these playoffs.
Farabee may be a victim of the numbers game in the bottom nine due to the Flyers’ forward depth, but he should be in the lineup and he’ll definitely be making an impact no matter where he plays.
Farabee played over 200 minutes on the second line with Kevin Hayes and either Travis Konecny or Scott Laughton, but he has recently been knocked down to the bottom six. With the line of Laughton, Hayes, and Konecny clicking, Farabee was on the third and fourth lines later in summer camp and in the exhibition game against the Penguins. Farabee has the motor to be effective on the forecheck and the ability to add offense to a checking line.
Although Farabee has mostly been in the bottom six in recent games and practices, it doesn’t take much for him to get hot. Farabee had his ups and downs throughout the regular season, and he has the ability to flip the switch to get a shot in the top six. If Farabee catches fire during one of the round-robin games or if the Flyers need a jolt, don’t be surprised to see Farabee on the ice more and in higher-leverage situations.
One of the forwards – another rookie – that will be battling in the bottom six with Farabee is Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
Aube-Kubel emerged as a bottom-six threat in the second half of the season for the Flyers. The former second-round pick has plenty of offensive ability and he’s been showing it while playing in a checking role. He’s been able to win battles and use his speed to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates.
The rookie was heating up right as the Flyers entered the home stretch of the regular season, and the season was suspended. From February 8th to March 5th, Aube-Kubel had 10 points in 13 games, including a five-game point streak from February 25th to March 5th.
Aube-Kubel and Farabee have been rotating as the second winger on the fourth line with Michael Raffl and Nate Thompson, but both deserve to be in the lineup. If Laughton or Raffl shifts to center, and Thompson gets scratched, that could easily happen. However, it wouldn’t shock me to see one of them scratched for at least one of the round-robin games while Vigneault experiments to determine his best lineup options for the first round of the playoffs.
Waiting in the wings
A tier below the four players above – perhaps just a tick below Farabee and Aube-Kubel – are a few players that are waiting in the wings. They’ll be looking to join the lineup and could see some time during the round-robin games to make their case. Well, one of them at the very least.
Unfortunately for Morgan Frost, he’s been on the wrong side of the bubble. While Farabee and Aube-Kubel are battling for a spot in the bottom six, Frost is waiting for his chance. He’s still working hard and doing what he can, but he’s simply on the outside looking in due to the Flyers’ forward depth.
The deadline additions of Derek Grant and Nate Thompson moved Frost down in the pecking order, and he hasn’t shown enough to surpass them. He’ll hopefully get a chance during the round-robin games, but it’s possible that Frost only sees ice time in the playoffs if there’s an injury or if the Flyers need an offensive boost.
Right behind Frost is Connor Bunnaman.
Bunnaman only played 21 games with the Flyers this season, but there was a solid stretch of games where he was playing well on the fourth line. However, like Frost, his playing time took a hit with the additions of Grant and Thompson, and now Bunnaman is behind those two as well as a few others in the battle for ice time.
Bunnaman would likely make the playoff lineup in other seasons for the Flyers – or for lower-seeded teams –, but this year they have a deep group that keeps him out. He’ll likely only play if there are multiple injuries to the Flyers’ many centers.
Mark Friedman is in a similar boat as Bunnaman.
Friedman will be the Flyers’ eighth defenseman in the bubble. With Shayne Gostisbehere healthy, Myers back from his injury, and Robert Hagg having a much-improved season, Friedman is on the outside looking in.
He held his own during six games this season, so he’s a good option to have in case something happens.
In case of emergency/black aces
The rest of the Flyers with no playoff experience will almost certainly not see the lineup.
Alex Lyon certainly has professional playoff experience, making 94 saves to win the longest game in AHL history in 2018, but he’s the Flyers’ third-string goalie for the playoffs.
There’s a chance he dresses if one of Hart or Elliott suffers a minor injury or needs a game off, but the Flyers’ Stanley Cup chances drastically decrease if Lyon has to shoulder the load. Crazier things have happened, though.
It’s been great to see Egor Zamula in summer camp and during the exhibition game against the Penguins, but he’s in the bubble for the experience and to be a black ace.
Ustimenko is the Flyers’ fourth-string goalie in the bubble. It’s good to see him rewarded for a strong season in the ECHL, but he’s a few years away from being ready for the NHL.
The Flyers will rely heavily on their usual core led by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier, but the group of young guys making their playoff debuts will have a lot of sway as well. The up-and-coming core of Konecny, Provorov, Sanheim, and Co. will bridge the gap as the Flyers look to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup.