You’re never supposed to read too much into the forward lines and defense pairings early on in Training Camp, especially when the coach specifically says he’s going to experiment a bit.
But screw it, we’re going to do that anyway.
Alain Vigneault has moved his personnel around during the first three days of on-ice sessions. The first two days he seemed to put a few pairs of players together with younger guys. Those weren’t really any lines to look into. However, that all changed on Wednesday when there were several lines and pairs that would definitely work for the regular season.
I’m sure Vigneault is going to switch things up again for the final three on-ice days of camp, but there were just so many exciting things about the lines on Wednesday that we have to at least acknowledge them and wonder, what if?
Here are the NHL-group lines and pairings from Wednesday:
Oskar Lindblom – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny
Claude Giroux – Kevin Hayes – Joel Farabee
James van Riemsdyk – Nolan Patrick – Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl – Scott Laughton – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov – Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim – Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg – Erik Gustafsson
Egor Zamula – Justin Braun
There are a lot of good things here. The forward lines look like they could work for the season opener and beyond if Vigneault wanted, and those combinations don’t even include a few players vying for a roster spot.
Connor Bunnaman, Morgan Frost, Sam Morin, and Linus Sandin are a few candidates to be the extra forwards. Bunnaman and Frost were on a line with Wade Allison, which would make a pretty good top AHL line if that ends up happening. Meanwhile, Morin and Sandin were on the same line with Andy Andreoff at center.
Let’s take a closer look at the lines and pairings.
Lindblom – Couturier – Konecny
This is an exciting line combination that could be the first or second line. In fact, this line did play together early last season. In 177 minutes together, they had a 58.39 Corsi-For Percentage and 54.46 Expected Goals-For Percentage. They were clicking and the Lindblom-Konecny duo was one of the best young pairs in the league. Having Couturier center them brings a world of possibilities.
Giroux – Hayes – Farabee
This isn’t a line that the Flyers have tried before, but it could work. Giroux and Hayes played together a bit last season (116 minutes at 5-on-5), while Hayes and Farabee have some chemistry with over 308 minutes together at 5-on-5. They were usually joined by Konecny on the right side, so having Giroux there – on the left side instead – should work, too.
van Riemsdyk – Patrick – Voracek
This line would be the Flyers’ third line, but it could really be a top-six line on some teams in the NHL. Voracek is a top-line winger that would help carry play with JVR and Patrick. JVR is probably going to end up in the bottom six simply due to the team’s depth, but he’s still a 20-goal forward (in a regular 82-game season) and should put up around 15 goals this season.
Patrick is the wild card in the middle. If he’s truly healthy and ready to go, he could be the key down the middle. Playing him on a third line with two veteran wingers like Voracek and JVR certainly won’t hurt.
Raffl – Laughton – Aube-Kubel
Hoo boy. What a fourth line this would be. Raffl, Laughton, and Aube-Kubel are all great two-way players that could easily be in the top nine. Having just one of them on the fourth line with two other plugs makes the fourth line bearable to watch. Having all three? They’re going to give opposing teams fits.
These four forward lines are something to get excited about. The Flyers have one of the deepest forward groups in the league and this shows it. Any one of the top three lines could carry the Flyers on any given night. Hell, even the fourth line could be the trio that makes the difference in a win.
Now, as I said at the top, these are just the forward lines for the third day of Training Camp. Even in an abbreviated camp, the third day is early. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see completely different combinations on Friday. But that’s just how it goes.
The main point to take away from these lines is the Flyers’ depth. They were pretty deep last season, but there was always that winger missing from the middle-six, or a lackluster fourth line (especially later in the season). This group of forwards gives Vigneault and Co. plenty of options to mix and match to make four strong lines.
Like we see in the lines from Wednesday, they may not necessarily have a “top” line, but they’re going to have a great top six and top nine. Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek made up the Flyers’ first line for most of last season. Having the ability to split all three of them up on effective lines can have a huge impact. It will make the opposition choose which one of the three lines to focus on, and one line will have a field day against teams that don’t have three good defensive pairs (or lines) to match up with.
Having four lines that a team can truly use to roll all four lines is incredibly valuable. It’s going to be even more valuable during a shortened season with eight back to backs and several tough stretches.
Let’s move on to the defense.
Provorov – Gostisbehere
If Shayne Gostisbehere is healthy and 100% for the first time in a while, he could save his stock in Philadelphia. I don’t know if he’ll get a prolonged look on the top pair or if this was about the lower pairs, but it’s going to be fun to see how it works out.
Provorov’s partner on the top pair is probably the team’s biggest question heading into the season. Wednesday gave us a glimpse at Ghost up top, but I’m sure the weekend will bring at least one or two more combinations on the top pair.
Sanheim – Myers
This is the pair that could stick together. Sanheim and Myers have come up through the system together and formed quite the duo last season. They are both still a bit raw and make rookie-type mistakes at times, but they usually have the speed and skill to make up for it.
Myers could end up on the top pair, but the Flyers could want to keep this young pair together. If I had to say, I think that they’ll stick together to start the season with Myers moving up to the top pair if whoever is there struggles.
Hagg – Gustafsson
A third pair of Hagg and Gustafsson has the potential to work. It’s a defensive defenseman with a more offensive defenseman. Hagg can do the heavy lifting in the defensive zone while Gustafsson can get the puck moving in the right direction and jump up into the rush if the opportunity presents itself.
I don’t know if this pair is going to stick together simply because I think Justin Braun will have to be in the lineup somewhere, but this gives the Flyers another look if Braun is moved up to the top four.
Zamula – Braun
It was Egor Zamula, not Mark Friedman, who joined the Flyers’ “A” group on Wednesday. This may have been due to the fact that Zamula is left-handed and Friedman is right-handed, but it’s still worth reading into. Zamula may be closer than we thought to joining the Flyers, or at the very least he could be eyeing up a spot as an extra defenseman on the roster or taxi squad.
Braun is going to be in the Flyers lineup. He was re-signed to help replace Matt Niskanen and Myers is the only other right-handed defenseman in this group. It’s possible that he slides right in to replace Niskanen on the top pair, or I could see a Hagg-Braun defensive pair behind Provorov-Gostisbehere (or Gustafsson) and Sanheim-Myers.
Having eight defensemen in one group and there still being a semi-snub (Friedman) speaks to the Flyers’ depth on defense as well. Unfortunately, there isn’t a wealth of top-four defensemen, but rather a few guys vying for a spot on the third pair or as an extra. But hey, it’s always a good thing to have too many defensemen.