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Points allowed during 1st quarter this season by Penn State

Flyers preview: Growing pains possible

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 3

Let’s not overstate the Flyers’ youth.

They aren’t riding bicycles with training wheels, they don’t need their food cut for them and they can legally drink alcohol in Pennsylvania – well, at least most of them can.

The fact that a few of the Flyers haven’t reached the legal drinking age demonstrates the youth and inexperience that will be on the ice this season.

Center Nolan Patrick, the second overall selection in this year’s NHL draft, turned 19 last month. Forward Travis Konecny, a late first-round pick in 2016, is 20, as is defenseman Ivan Provorov, coming off a terrific rookie campaign. The defense is particularly young. Travis Sanheim is 21 years old, and both Sam Morin and Robert Hagg are 22.

With so many young players, there is a lot of uncertainty this season.

Let’s take a look at the roster as the Flyers try to return to the playoffs after missing them in two of the past three seasons.

CENTER

The Flyers are so deep at center that Claude Giroux is starting the season on the wing. The Flyers’ captain will start the season on the wing of Sean Couturier, the last player before Patrick to make the team out of training camp in the year he was drafted. Couturier, an outstanding defensive player, had a plus-12 plus/minus rating last season, a remarkable number for a player with just 14 goals and 34 points. By putting Couturier on the top line, the Flyers clearly are counting on more points from Couturier, a 6-year veteran who won’t turn 25 until December.

Patrick will also be at center, most likely on the second line. It will be interesting to see how Patrick (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) handles the rigors of the NHL. If he plays well, it will bode well for the Flyers’ success.

Valtteri Filppula is likely to be the third-line center. When the Flyers acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for defenseman Mark Streit, there was an uproar about wasting a roster spot for an older player. But I said that Filppula, 33, can be a valuable player for the Flyers this year while he plays out his contract.

The fourth-line center is Scott Laughton, the Flyers’ first-round pick (20th overall) in the 2012 draft. After failing to crack the lineup, Laughton reinvented himself as a defensive-minded center last season with the Phantoms. That’s the role he is expected to play with the Flyers, centering the fourth line and killing penalties.

The Flyers don’t have a superstar at center, but they have plenty of depth. With the exception of Filppula, all three centers are 24 years old or younger.

FORWARD

The Flyers have enough depth at center that they have to push some of their centers to the wings. Giroux, who scored the same amount of goals (14) as Couturier last season despite playing on the top line and on the top power play, has moved to wing. He will start the season on the top line with Jakub Voracek (20 goals) and Couturier.

Wayne Simmonds-roadWayne Simmonds (left) led the Flyers with 31 goals last season. He and Patrick could be joined on the second line by speedy Jordan Weal, who scored eight goals in 23 games after being called up last season.

Konecny and veteran Dale Weise, who had a disappointing first season as a Flyer, will likely be the forwards on the third line. Weise could also be bumped down to the fourth line, with the versatile Michael Raffl, veteran Jori Lehtera or speedy Tyler Leier, who made the final roster with a strong preseason,  moving up to the third line.

The Flyers will be counting upon their forwards to produce the bulk of the team’s goals. A big step would be getting Giroux and Voracek heated up on the top line. The Flyers must also make up for the loss of Brayden Schenn’s power-play production when he was traded to the Blues in a draft-night trade.

DEFENSE

The Flyers will start the season with three rookies – Hagg, Morin and Sanheim – on defense. Once Shayne Gostisbehere is out of the woods with an “upper body” injury sustained Sunday in the preseason finale against the Islanders, one of the young defensemen may be sent to the Phantoms. But the Flyers are starting the season with eight defensemen.

The team’s best defenseman is Provorov. Teamed with veteran Andrew MacDonald for most of last season, Provorov made a nearly seamless transition to the NHL. Gostisbehere experienced a sophomore slump, but he is determined to come back stronger than ever this season.

Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning add a physical element to the Flyers defense. That physical element will be enhanced if Morin remains on the roster.

The defense is a young group that could experience growing pains. Flyers fans must be willing to put up with some pain while this young group develops.

GOALIES

The Flyers replaced Steve Mason, who was allowed to leave via free agency, with Brian Elliott, a 10-year veteran who spent last season with Calgary after five seasons with the Blues. If Elliott plays well, the young defense will have time to get comfortable with their roles. If not, the Flyers will turn to Michal Neuvirth, who has been injury-prone and mediocre during his Flyers career.

OUTLOOK

If the Flyers receive respectable goaltending from Elliott and Neuvirth, they could steal a playoff series. With their young defense, however, it appears more likely that the Flyers will experience growing pains. Also, I’m not sure where all the scoring will come from up front. A lot has to go right for the Flyers to make an impact in the incredibly competitive Metropolitan Division. Missing the playoffs for the fourth time in six years is a legitimate possibility.

The real question is whether the Flyers are making progress this season. Missing the playoffs will be more palatable if the young players are improving. Prediction: The Flyers barely squeak into the playoffs and then are eliminated in the first round.

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