It’s back! Christmas Day may have been a bit over a week ago, but Training Camp opening is just as good for hockey fans, right?
The Philadelphia Flyers will open Training Camp on Monday, just nine days prior to the start of the season on January 13th. It’s going to be a whirlwind week leading up to a 56-game regular-season slate.
The Flyers are bringing back most of the same personnel and coaching staff from last season as they look to take that next step. There are going to be a lot of questions and things to watch in camp. How does Alain Vigneault prepare his team for a shortened season, how prepared are the players, what impacts the schedule may have, and many more. But for now, let’s focus on three specific questions and things to watch in training camp.
Who will join Ivan Provorov on the top pair?
All eyes will be on the top pair during Training Camp after Matt Niskanen unexpectedly retired early in the offseason. Ivan Provorov has shown us what he can do as a top-pair defenseman, but that was with Niskanen. He’ll now be the guy on the top pair with the Flyers likely rotating in options alongside him, at least to start camp.
There are a few options for the Flyers to use on the top pair with Provorov. One of the most interesting – and possibly likeliest – options is Philippe Myers. The 6’5” right-handed defenseman progressed well on the second pairing with the 6’4” Travis Sanheim last season. The duo were actually probably the team’s best pairing during certain stretches. Alain Vigneault and Co. now have a decision to make: keep that big, young pair together, or split them up with Myers on the top pair.
Myers and Sanheim are two of a handful of defensemen that could get a look on the top pair during camp. Justin Braun was re-signed around the time Niskanen announced his retirement. He fills the “steady veteran” role of Niskanen, but it was clear in the playoffs that he isn’t a top-pair defenseman. Maybe he gets a chance if they want to keep the Sanheim-Myers pair and have a 1A-1B pairing?
However, there is a defenseman on the roster that played effective top-pair minutes with Provorov in the past: Shayne Gostisbehere. Yes, Gostisbehere has fallen out of favor due to his struggles and injuries in recent years, but there is some history there. If Gostisbehere can find his game – even just some of his game – and confidence, maybe that’s worth a shot as well.
While there are several players vying for the top-pair role, it isn’t the typical roster battle. There is a gap that needs filled, but filling it won’t be purely about the top pair. It will be about figuring out the best way to utilize the six (or seven) defensemen in the lineup on a nightly basis. Having a strong second and third pair is just as important as the top pair. Depth is key.
How do Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick look?
OK, this is technically two separate things to watch. Oh well, just go with it.
Oskar Lindblom was one of the most inspiring stories in the NHL and all of sports last season. The fact that he was able to skate with the team later in the season, let alone play in two elimination games in the playoffs, was incredible.
Lindblom is coming into camp looking to get back into full-time game action and hopefully pick up where he left off last December. He started the season with 18 points (11 goals, 7 assists) in 30 games prior to his diagnosis. He now has his diagnosis behind him and it’ll be exciting to see him continue to develop as a person and hockey player.
Lindblom “had a tremendous offseason,” Chuck Fletcher said back in December. “He’s been able to rebuild his body, if you will, and regain some of the muscle mass he lost during his treatments last spring and summer. He’s in really good shape physically.”
If he returns to form, Lindblom will give the Flyers that much more depth in the top six. He clicked well with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny last season. That line could be reunited, or Lindblom could see time with Kevin Hayes if the top line (Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek) remains intact. It’s going to be great to see Lindblom back in action no matter what happens.
Nolan Patrick is another young Flyers forward looking to get back into regular-season action. It was announced that Patrick had been diagnosed with a migraine disorder in September 2019, and he has been working toward a return ever since. However, his issue of a head ailment isn’t as simple as some others to rehab. Patrick spent the offseason playing in some scrimmages with other NHLers – namely former Flyer Ryan White.
Patrick showed some promise during his first two years with 13 goals in each season. However, his health caused him to miss a year and it could be an uphill battle for Patrick. Still, Fletcher said that Patrick “looked great” and that “he’s an amazingly talented young man” after watching him skate in December.
“I think we’re in a good shape going into camp and we’re excited to get these two players back,” Fletcher said on December 23rd.
If the Flyers can in fact get both Lindblom and Patrick back, it’ll do a lot for their depth. Lindblom could slide in as a middle-six (if not top-six) left winger, as mentioned above, and Patrick could solve the Flyers’ third-line center conundrum.
Can Sam Morin actually play left wing?
Everyone was caught by surprise on New Year’s Eve when Fletcher began his press conference with an announcement about defenseman Sam Morin. Well, Sam Morin was a defenseman. Now he’s transitioning to left wing.
It’s not completely unheard of for NHL players to switch positions, particularly with big, physical defensemen moving to forward, and hopefully Morin can make the jump. But can he, really?
Well, that remains to be seen. Morin has played in just 28 games since the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. He played 17 (two AHL) in ‘17-18, seven (five NHL) in ‘18-19, and four (one NHL) games in the past three seasons. If there’s ever a time for a change, it might be now.
Morin played forward “a couple years in minor hockey,” he said on Thursday. He was initially caught off guard, but “figured out it was something that I need to try in this situation right now,” he said. Morin has been working to become a left wing for a few months, but acknowledged that he needs some ice time before getting back to his pre-injury self.
Moving Morin to left wing is about the Flyers’ need for a physical forward. Vigneault mentioned the lack of physicality in the playoffs, especially against the Islanders, the new left winger said.
It’s not completely out of the box to think that Morin could become the fourth-line left winger that the Flyers need. Morin has always been a physical player and he is a strong skater given his size. Those three things are the makings of a great bottom-six grinder. He’ll be able to use his size in the corners, lay hits along the boards, and use his speed to his advantage. He just needs to get that forward-thinking hockey sense.
Given the Flyers’ lack of depth at the left wing position and need for a physical forward, I could see Morin getting some time on the fourth line this season. At the very least he’ll be a great guy to have on the taxi squad as a flex player if the Flyers want to have a guy that can move from forward to defense (or vice versa) if needed.
The Flyers have less than two weeks to prepare for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the season opener on January 13th. Let’s get it started.