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Flyers 2020-21 Player Grades - The top six

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Let’s have a looksee at the forwards who we saw the most this year.

New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the 2020-2021 season in the immediate past for the Orange & Black, it’s time to continue our player grades series and review the performance of the components of this roster. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the forwards that saw most of their action in the top six; for the articles concerning the bottom six, defense, and goaltending, click the links here, here, and here respectively.

Claude Giroux

It’s hard to describe just how good Claude Giroux was this year given context. A man of his age in the NHL playing top line minutes with minimal support is one thing, but for him to have a decent scoring year (65-point pace, with 43 points in 54 games) while continuing his exponential improvement on defense was exceptional. Giroux is evolving as a player before our eyes to compensate for the maladies of aging within this sport, becoming less flashy and more driven by his transcendent hockey IQ as his speed begins to decrease. Among all skaters in the NHL this year, Giroux finished ninth in GAR, a metric that attempts to measure a player’s approximate value. The captain also finished seventh among forwards in this stat, asserting that he’s still a highly valuable asset even as he ages; not bad for a 33-year-old forward with some serious injury history.

It cannot be understated how impressive the improvement Giroux’s defensive game has seen is. This season was one of only a few where his impact in his own end has graded out as positive by GAR, and it put him among some recognized names like Aleksander Barkov and Sidney Crosby. This is even more outstanding when you consider the significant amount of time he spent at center (a more physically demanding position) and working with less than stellar support. The numbers reflect an Yzerman-like change in him, and that’s the easily projectable career arc from here forward. Giroux will likely be one of the most well-rounded players in the game until he decides to hang ‘em up. It was a fantastic year from him that might go unnoticed due to his declining scoring, and fans need to appreciate it.

With all of that positive stuff out of the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t lay some of the blame for this season at the feet of the captain. He works harder than almost anyone in the league and wants to win badly, and anyone who says otherwise is just full of crap; that said, this team was rife with miscommunication in the locker room, particularly between the coaches and the younger players. Giroux can only do so much, but he does have to shoulder some of the blame for that discord and the overall failures of this year, even if it’s not particularly fair to place that grievance on him. I also can’t ignore the lack of success the team saw on the power play, although again that seems to be more of a product of his environment (looking at you, Michel Therrien). For the aforementioned reasons, I’m giving Giroux a B+, although this could possibly be an A- as well. He was the best player on the team in 2020-21, so he gets the highest grade.

Poll

How would you grade Claude Giroux’s 2020-20201 season?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    A
    (290 votes)
  • 43%
    B
    (310 votes)
  • 11%
    C
    (84 votes)
  • 2%
    D
    (17 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (17 votes)
718 votes total Vote Now

James van Riemsdyk

Ah, Jimmy van Roofdaddy. The most polarizing figure in the Flyers community during the 2019-2020 season saw a resurgence during the pandemic year, scoring at a career pace (43 points in 56 games put him on pace to tie his career high of 62 points) while taking his 200-foot game to new heights. Jimbo van Rimbo was fifth among all Flyers in xGF% at 5-on-5 and had a very similar overall profile to Giroux. Where I have to knock JVR is for his consistency; goal scorers not named Alex Ovechkin are notoriously streaky, but the highly paid winger gave new meaning to that term with an eight game and five game pointless streak towards the end of the year to pair with a 17-game goal drought.

When JVR was at his hottest early in the season, he was arguably Philadelphia’s best player and was among the league’s leading scorers. However, the full body of work is more reflective of what he will be for the remainder of his productive time in the NHL: a low end first line scorer who’s a bit of a rollercoaster and highly reliant on a productive power play when it comes to scoring goals. The good news? A hefty contract once considered to be a clearly negative asset has become much easier to move, particularly thanks to the development of van Riemsdyk’s execution of the “little things” coaches are rightfully enamored with. This was one of the most complete seasons of JVR’s career even if it was marred by stretches of ineffectiveness, and for that he earns a solid B.

Poll

How would you grade James van Riemsdyk’s 2020-2021 season?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    A
    (76 votes)
  • 61%
    B
    (403 votes)
  • 22%
    C
    (148 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (12 votes)
651 votes total Vote Now

Joel Farabee

What a great season for Farabee, who at just 21 years old is the youngest Flyer to lead the team in goal scoring since Eric Lindros. There was a lot to like about the breakout campaign from the young Boston University product, but I think the biggest upside here is that he projects to be a play driving winger with scoring touch and only half of that puzzle is complete. If Farabee’s underlying numbers begin to line up with what we’ve seen on the ice, he’ll likely develop into a quality first line player. Will he ever become a star who scores 40 goals in a season? Highly doubtful, but the upside here is certainly present thanks to the skilled winger’s incredible hockey IQ, tenacity, and willingness to work on his forechecking, defensive positioning, and all the other less glorious aspects of the game that have made players like Crosby and Bergeron great.

There were certainly a few problems within Farabee’s campaign, specifically his drop in scoring and overall impact as the season wound down. It’s important to note that Farabee still hasn’t been able to play an entire 82 game season thanks to circumstances out of his control, and coming into an insane schedule where the breaks between games were minimal this could have had an impact. In totality, though, you have to be happy with the way Farabee showed out in 2020-21. In an interview with Notre Dame defender, Predators prospect, and former USNDTP teammate Spencer Stastney, Stastney mentioned how prior to being drafted, teams asked him who they ought to pick; his answer was Farabee, even ahead of guys like Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras, and Alex Turcotte. So far in all of their respective careers, that’s been the correct pick. Farabee ties Giroux for the highest grade among all players with a B+ this season.

Poll

How would you grade Joel Farabee’s 2020-2021 season?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    A
    (399 votes)
  • 36%
    B
    (241 votes)
  • 3%
    C
    (20 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (3 votes)
665 votes total Vote Now

Jakub Voracek

Despite his point production remaining among the team’s best, this was a decided step back for Voracek, particularly when compared to his improvements in 2019-20. The scoring totals for Voracek this year are a bit deceiving to begin with, as he posted the highest percentage of his points from secondary assists in his time as a Flyer to this point; for a player reliant on passing to score, you’d like to see the usual ratios of primary assists to secondary ones holding up. It was also clear that the leaps in defensive effort witnessed last year had faded with time, with Voracek going from being middle of the pack in terms of xGA/60 to among the worst players on the team (near the likes of Nate Prosser and Carson Twarynski).

If Giroux’s season alleviated concerns about how his game would age, Voracek’s added significant questions. If his play is maintained next year, it’s fair to anticipate a decline in scoring to coincide with a physical decline that we’ve already seen slowly creeping in. For a player whose career has been built upon speed, skill, and brilliant passing, to see the skill that’s likeliest to age well (passing) have a down year at age 31 isn’t ideal. This would be fine if there was evidence that Voracek was capable of/willing to evolve into more of a two way player, but by all accounts he’s always been someone with the mentality of “my game works, so I’ll play my game.” This season gave the Flyers a glimpse of what that might look like as he ages.

Still, as hard as I’m being on Voracek, I can’t completely blast someone who was among the team’s leaders in scoring. I feel a C is appropriate given Jake falling short of expectations, but would be willing to go as high as a C+ instead.

Poll

How would you grade Jakub Voracek’s 2020-2021 season?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A
    (16 votes)
  • 25%
    B
    (162 votes)
  • 52%
    C
    (340 votes)
  • 15%
    D
    (100 votes)
  • 4%
    F
    (27 votes)
645 votes total Vote Now

Kevin Hayes

Here’s where things get interesting. Kevin Hayes undeniably looked worse by the eyes this year than he did last year. There was none of the fancy skating, dazzling puck protection, or penalty killing impact that we saw last year, and to make things worse Hayes wasn’t scoring game winning goals like a maniac. However, when looking at his year from a pure numbers perspective, Hayes was actually... better than he was in 2019-20? In terms of more advanced metrics, Hayes improved in xGF%, xGF/60, and xGA/60, with declines in GF/60 and CF/60. When looking at scoring pace, the big pivot was right in line with his career numbers as well as his 2019-2020 run, producing at around a 46 points per 82 games rate as compared to 48-per-82 last year. When considering the significant impediments suffered by Hollywood (a lengthy COVID absence and a lower body injury that hampered him most of the year), it’s tough to reconcile the steep drop in positive emotional impact he had over the past year.

The incongruence between Hayes’s numbers and the eye test can largely be explained by a few things, but the major point I’ll make is that he wasn’t used as a transitional fulcrum like he was last year, and it hurt his visual impact. In 2019-20, Hayes stood out because he freewheeled around all three zones, particularly on the penalty kill; whether this year’s absence of that sort of play is due to injury or some other unknown cause, it’s impossible to say. The bottom line is that this wasn’t the gigantic step back for Hayes that many Flyers fans (myself included) felt it was, but it also wasn’t as progressive a year as the numbers indicate. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth of his season, so he deserves a middling grade. Hayes gets a C for his performance.

Poll

How would you grade Kevin Hayes’s 2020-2021 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (3 votes)
  • 7%
    B
    (51 votes)
  • 41%
    C
    (267 votes)
  • 40%
    D
    (261 votes)
  • 8%
    F
    (57 votes)
639 votes total Vote Now

Travis Konecny

This is maybe the hardest grade I have to give out, purely because it’s difficult to hammer Konecny. One of the biggest reasons the 2019-20 season was so fun was the emergence of TK as the team’s leading scorer while remaining a God-tier shit talker. After a lackluster playoff run devoid of scoring, Konecny had a lot of people to quiet coming into this season, and they deservedly never shut up. After tallying goals and assists at around a 75 point pace in 2019-20, Konecny dropped off to second line production with 34 points in 50 games. There were long stretches of the season marred by Konecny being invisible or worse, although it should be noted that he had a late season surge. Still, in a year where the Flyers needed their young players to either take another step or maintain their success, Konecny was a massive letdown. He’s getting a D+ for a year that brought expectations crashing back down to earth, even if he rounded back into form a bit later on.

Poll

How would you grade Travis Konecny’s 2020-2021 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    B
    (30 votes)
  • 36%
    C
    (227 votes)
  • 46%
    D
    (295 votes)
  • 11%
    F
    (73 votes)
628 votes total Vote Now

Sean Couturier

Closing things out, we have the team’s number one center and the reigning Selke Trophy winner. It was a tough year for Couturier, much like the entire team, but much of his regression from his excellent run of production can be chalked up to lingering injuries and poor support. Coots didn’t look like Coots after returning from a hip issue, particularly when it came to his pivoting speed; he was still quite good by analytics, particularly when it came to shot attempt differential, and his scoring remained around his usual clip (41 points in 45 games). However, despite the numbers reflecting another high end season from everybody’s favorite gap toothed wonder, the eye test didn’t quite agree, and I don’t think people will dispute that this was the weakest year on Couturier’s recent resume.

Going into 2021-22, Sean Couturier is still the preeminent 1C on this team and clearly possesses the ability to be the Flyers’ best player. The lingering questions here will almost entirely be about health, longevity, and upcoming contract negotiations as the team prepares to lose one of the best contracts in the NHL. A solid B feels about right for Couturier, although I wouldn’t mind putting him in the same echelon as Giroux and Farabee. These grades are partially dictated by prior expectations, hence the lower grading here.

Poll

How would you grade Sean Couturier’s 2020-2021 season?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    A
    (196 votes)
  • 55%
    B
    (351 votes)
  • 11%
    C
    (73 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (5 votes)
628 votes total Vote Now