The Philadelphia Flyers are off to a 2-0 start to the season after sweeping a two-game set against the Pittsburgh Penguins. While they are undefeated in terms of their record, they suffered a loss early in Friday night’s game in the form of Sean Couturier.
Couturier left Friday night’s game early in the first period and it was announced on Saturday that he will miss at least two weeks with a Costochondral separation.
The Flyers are one of the deepest teams in the league, particularly at the forward position. However, Couturier is one of a select group of players whose absence could swing the Flyers in the wrong direction. The Selke winner plays in all situations for the Flyers and is one of their most valuable players.
The bad news is that Couturier is out. That’s obvious. The good news is that he avoided a more serious injury – even if he has to miss three or four weeks – and that the Flyers have a prospect waiting in the wings for his shot.
With Couturier out, the Flyers had to make a decision on who to replace him with. Kurt went through three options on Saturday, and he turned out to be correct in his analysis. He called putting Morgan Frost into the lineup the “slam-dunk option.” Frost was kept on the roster as the 13th forward and he’ll get a shot to show how he’s progressed over the past year-plus.
It turns out that the Flyers won’t have to change up their lines too much with Frost replacing Couturier. Alain Vigneault inserted Frost between youngsters Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny in practice on Sunday. That keeps their other lines intact, with the other two top-nine lines likely shouldering more of the load. Frost’s line will be the “third” line, or as Vigneault called the top three lines: 1A, 1B, and 1C. The Flyers’ depth is going to be tested without Couturier, but Frost provides a pretty nice cheatsheet.
Frost will get a great opportunity on a line with Lindblom and Konecny. He played with Konecny (and Giroux) on the top line for 90 minutes last year, and the trio did pretty well. They posted a Corsi-For Percentage of 58.37 and Expected Goals-For Percentage of 54.98. Granted, Lindblom is a downgrade from Giroux, but they should also be playing against lesser competition.
It also helps that the first two games for this line are at home against the Buffalo Sabres. Not only will Vigneault have the benefit of last change, but the Sabres are one of the lesser teams in the East Division as well. Vigneault should be able to shelter the line and deploy them to his liking.
Lindblom and Konecny have built some chemistry over the past two seasons. Last year, they played 188 minutes together (177 centered by Couturier). In those minutes they had strong possession numbers with a 58.36 CF% and 54.37 xGF%. Again, Frost is a pretty obvious downgrade from Couturier, but the wingers are only getting better and sheltered usage will help them.
Frost was one of the more noticeable players in the intrasquad scrimmage just over a week ago and he has been able to practice with the team. Hopefully, his progression will continue and he’ll play his way into the lineup even when Couturier comes back. But that’s still ways away and anything can happen between now and then.
For now, let’s focus on the opportunity that Frost has in front of him. Not only will he be centering two of the Flyers’ top wingers, but he also practiced on the top power-play unit on Sunday. The kid is going to get a great chance at both even strength and special teams to show off his skills.
A trio of Lindblom, Frost, and Konecny brings a lot of skill and speed to the table. Lindblom had 17 goals in 81 games two seasons ago and was on pace for even more with 11 through his 30 games last year. Frost averaged 1.77 points per game in his final two years in junior hockey, recorded eight points in five games at the 2019 World Juniors, and posted 29 points (13 goals) in 41 games last season. And we all know what Konecny can do with three straight 24-game seasons and a hat trick on Friday night.
When that line is on, they will be on. However, there are a few concerns that may crop up with the trio. First of all, I can already sense people complaining about the line not having enough size. Lindblom stands the tallest at 6’1”, 191 lbs, but Frost and Konecny are 5’11”, 185 and 5’10”, 175, respectively. But I don’t think that should be too much of an issue, especially in today’s NHL where speed and skill reign. It will still be something to watch, though, considering Frost’s need to bulk up and bolster his two-way game after last season’s short stint in the NHL.
Another thing I’m going to be keeping an eye on is Frost’s faceoffs. He won 47.3% (44 of 93) of his faceoffs last season, but now he doesn’t have Giroux as a winger to take those tougher draws. He did go 9-for-10 against the Capitals in one of his last games of the year but also struggled in a few (1-for-8, 1-for-5, a few 2-for-6s). He’s come up throughout his whole career as a center so it shouldn’t be a huge issue, but the NHL is just a completely different level.
Frost has been chomping at the bit for his chance to stick with the Flyers since last training camp. Joel Farabee beat him out for a roster spot, but Frost has been working to get that next chance. This year, he earned a spot on the roster as the 13th forward out of camp and now he’ll get that chance in the top nine. He is in a great position to succeed and this could be the start of a great season for Frost.
Stats via Natural Stat Trick