An Early Picture of the Flyers Lineup

Could French import P.E. Bellemare be the next Raffl?

Could French winger P.E. Bellemare be the next Michael Raffl?

At first glance it may appear to casual observers as if Flyers rookie General Manager Ron Hextall has done little to alter the club during his inaugural summer at the helm.  After all, this is a franchise famous for their affinity towards splashy, headline-grabbing moves.  But even though things were uncharacteristically quiet on Broad Street this off-season that doesn’t necessarily mean the Flyers won’t be different in 2014-2015.  Of course, change doesn’t always guarantee success.

The most noteworthy modification for the orange and black happened in the front office where longtime GM Paul Holmgren was “promoted” to team President, while Ron Hextall assumed control of all hockey related decisions.  This reshuffling of the company deck was probably done for two reasons: the first of which was so that owner Ed Snider could save face by not having to fire a true company man in Holmgren- 9 years as a Flyer forward, 5 seasons as Flyers coach, and 14 more as a team executive.  And the second, and most important factor, was so that another organization would not poach Hextall away.  After all, the Flyers new GM is one of the brightest young executives in the game.

In a short time since the change the organizational philosophy has shifted dramatically.  Whereas Holmgren focused primarily on quick fixes with big-name acquisitions, Hextall has made it abundantly clear that the Philadelphia Flyers will now approach the future with a renewed focus on prospect development.  Unlike his predecessors, the former Philadelphia goaltender has refused to deal away blue chip prospects or high draft picks for established veterans.  This cautious, more deliberate direction is the reason behind the least-eventful summer in recent memory.  Though a lack of cap space has also handcuffed the Flyers, to a degree.

Kimmo Timonen's hockey career appears over following the discovery of multiple blood clots.

Kimmo Timonen’s hockey career appears over following the discovery of multiple blood clots.

Unfortunately, the organization begins this new era with the unenviable task of supplanting two longtime stalwarts.  Acquired in the same trade with Nashville prior to the 07-08 season, both winger Scott Hartnell (trade) and defender Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) find themselves unceremoniously on the outs.  The longtime fan favorites and close friends will not be easily replaced.   The Flyers also said goodbye to the likes of Erik Gustafsson (D), Hal Gill (D), and Adam Hall (F).

In their stead the team made several  low-profile acquisitions.  First, in the Hartnell trade, the Flyers recouped a player who originally began his career with this organization: R.J. Umberger.  Though slightly less productive than Hartnell, the 32-year old forward is more mobile and far more versatile.  Umberger can play all three forward positions, kill penalties, and contribute on the power-play.  As a last minute replacement for Timonen, following his surprise health scare, Hextall tapped 24-year old former Ranger standout, Michael Del Zotto.  Del Zotto, though coming off two sub-par campaigns, has potential upside as a puck-moving, offensive defenseman.  Brought in beyond those two was veteran rearguard Nick Schultz (Columbus), rough-and-tumble center Ryan White (Montreal), and, intriguingly, french import Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

And since Ron Hextall has made it clear that the future of the franchise starts with the farm system, it should come as no surprise that several prospects have a shot at the opening night roster.  Even if those shots are quite long.  At the top of the list is 2012 first-rounder, center Scott Laughton.  At 20 years of age, and following his third straight highly productive season with the Oshawa Generals, Laughton will either win a spot with the Flyers or report to the Phantoms for seasoning in the AHL.

So where do these changes leave the Flyers roster for the upcoming season?  Let’s first take a look into the potential forward arrangements:

1st line: (LW) Michael Raffl, (C) Claude Giroux. (RW) Jakub Voracek– The combination of Giroux and Voracek has been the clubs most dangerous for two seasons now.  And before his departure, Hartnell was often found on the lines left side.  With Hartnell now serving the division rival Blue Jackets, one of the main candidates to fill the vacancy is Raffl.  The 25-year old Austrian didn’t show a ton of offensive pop in his rookie campaign (9 goals) but he was also adjusting to the North American game and has exceptional defensive instincts.  Playing alongside two elite setup-men, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Raffl could step up and produce 18-20 goals while still maintaining his important defensive role.

2nd line: (LW) Brayden Schenn, (C) Vincent Lecavalier, (RW) Wayne Simmonds– This is where things start to get tricky for head coach Craig Berube.  Last season Lecavalier’s poor play outside of the center spot proved that he must be in the middle to come anywhere close to living up to his paycheck.  Unfortunately, Berube demands defensive accountability, which isn’t Vinny’s strong suit.  It’s probable this line gets switched around a lot throughout the season but for now this is an okay bet.  Schenn finally reached the 20-goal plateau a season ago, but he left plenty of room for improvement.  Simmonds was an absolute warrior (29 goals, 6o pts) a season ago and should produce similar numbers, no matter the line.  Dealing Lecavalier would be ideal but as long as he’s in orange and black he should be given a look in the top-6.

3rd line: (LW) R.J. Umberger, (C) Sean Couturier, (RW) Matt Read–  Read and Couturier have proven to be one of the top two-way duos in the entire NHL.  Add in Umberger, who has a similar skill set, and the Flyers could have one of the best shutdown lines around.  Couturier, just 21, is already a Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) candidate.  If his offensive game catches up he could be the next Patrice Bergeron.  Read can be penciled in for 20+ goals and plenty of PK/PP time.  Umberger may be used on the 1st or 2nd line, because of his versatility, but he projects as an excellent option for this trio.

4th line: (LW) P.E. Bellemare, (C) Ryan White, (RW) Zac Rinaldo– Berube and Hextall have a lot of choices for the 4th line.  It will be tempting to give Laughton the center job but he’d be better served playing more than 8-10 minutes a night.  That leaves White as the leading candidate.  He’s an irritating presence, a good hitter, and a solid face-off man.  At right wing, Rinaldo should be the guy.  Two seasons ago he was a disruptive ball of energy who managed to draw more penalties than he took.  This past season he fell into his old, undisciplined ways and it made him far less effective.  If he wants to continue being the Flyers main pest he must return to his 12-13 form.  Like I said above, Bellemare is a real wildcard.  He’s 29-years old, has never played in North America, and doesn’t do anything exceptionally well.  However, he’s a solid two-way winger with good speed and above-average offensive upside.  If he doesn’t win the job it could go to someone like Jay Rosehill, an old-school, goon-type.  But that’s hardly ideal.

As complicated as the forward picture may look, it might be just as difficult to figure out the defensive pairings.  Losing a presence like Timonen, along with having only one right-handed shot (L. Schenn), leaves some questions for Berube to answer.  In order for the Flyers to be successful their weak D-corps must be assisted by the forwards and probably bailed out by goaltender Steve Mason.  Anyway, here’s a potential look at the Flyers top-six defenders:

1st PairingAndrew MacDonald- Brayden Coburn– Without Timonen, Coburn is arguably the Flyers top shutdown defenseman.  And that’s hardly a  comforting thought.  Coburn has an exceptional size-speed combination but he’s never been able to be a complete package.  He’s extremely streaky and sometimes makes mind-numbing decisions under pressure.  Still, he’s the best they have.  Despite the advanced stats community berating MacDonald as one of the league’s worst, he is an above-average blueliner.  He turns the puck over too much but he brings necessary mobility to the blueline.  He can play both PP and PK minutes, however the more he’s on the ice the more he can be exposed.  This clearly isn’t an ideal shutdown pairing but Berube has been quoted as liking these two together.

2nd PairingMark Streit- Nick Grossmann– Streit was probably the only Flyers blueliner who lived up to his paycheck a season ago.  He can be a defensive liability but he is their best offensive defender and will take over for Timonen as the #1 PP quarterback.  The Swiss-born Streit should post similar numbers (10 goals, 44pts) to a year ago and help to fill the leadership void.  Opposite Streit will most likely be Grossmann, who is literally his opposite.  Grossmann is a hulking (6’4” 230) defensive presence with poor mobility and little offensive game.  Still the big Swede is the clubs best crease-clearer, a heavy hitter, and a quality shot blocker.  Since Berube likes to go with one puck mover and one stay-at-home player on each pairing, Streit and Grossmann are a solid tandem.

3rd PairingMichael Del Zotto- Luke Schenn– During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season it appeared as if Luke Schenn had finally started living up to his billing as a top-five draft selection.  However, last season he regressed and went back to making the same tentative mistakes that cost him during his Toronto days.  With limited mobility he must be far more consistent with his positioning.  When he’s in the right spot he usually makes the right play.  Schenn is a hitting machine and he must use that skill to help clear the front of the net far more than he has in the past.  Opposite Schenn is Michael Del Zotto, a former Rangers first round pick who has either been very good or very bad during his five NHL seasons.  MDZ isn’t a great skater but he is easily an upgrade on Timonen’s mobility (or lack-thereof) and brings impressive offensive instincts.  New York and Nashville stopped using Del Zotto on the PP, which severely reduced his productivity.  The Flyers will (hopefully) not make the same mistake, as he is easily the team’s 2nd most dangerous offensive blueliner.  He should get every opportunity to run the point on the 2nd PP unit.  Most NHL defenders don’t usually develop consistency until they’re 26-28 and both of these players are still just 24.  There’s a good amount of upside on this bottom pairing.  Veteran pickup Nick Schultz can step in if needed.

Steve Mason was the Flyers rock during this past season.

Steve Mason was the Flyers rock during this past season.

Unlike the rest of the club the goaltending picture is completely clear.  Steve Mason proved that he has what it takes to start 60+ games for this team, which is a luxury not seen consistently in this town for many years.  Behind Mason is Ray Emery.  Here is an in-depth evaluation of the Flyers net presence:

StarterSteve Mason (33-18-7, 2.50GAA, .917sv%)–  When Mason was first acquired at the end of the 12-13 season there were snickers from fans around the league.  After all, this was a player who had followed up his Calder Trophy winning season with 3+ miserable years in Columbus.  But since his arrival in Philadelphia it’s been a renaissance for the 26-year old.  For someone who stands 6’4″, Mason has remarkable athleticism.  He carried his teammates for long stretches last season and almost stole the Rangers series by himself.  In order for this team to be legitimate contenders they need an even better season from ‘Mase’.

BackupRay Emery (9-12-2, 2.96GAA, .903sv%)– ‘Razor’ is a mid-level NHL backup with deteriorating physical skills.  For spot starts he is a respectable option but if Emery is needed for an extended stretch the Flyers are cooked.  At 32, and with a history of serious hip issues, Emery has lost almost all of his lateral quickness.  If teams get him moving post-to-post he’s very beatable.  If Emery is injured or can’t live up to the job requirements, Hextall will look to longtime European vet Rob Zepp or 20-year old, top prospect Anthony Stolarz for relief.

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Mason Carries Club To Huge Game 4 Victory; Series Tied 2-2

Mason, returning from injury, recorded 37 saves in a 2-1 win.

Mason, returning from injury, recorded 37 saves in a 2-1 win.

We see it all the time in the NHL playoffs: a hot goalie stealing a game, series, or even occasionally the Stanley Cup for his respective team.  And on Friday night in Philadelphia it was 25-year old Steve Mason stepping up to rob the New York Rangers of what would have been a crushing 3-1 series lead.  Instead the series stands tied 2-2 following the crucial 2-1 victory.

The game started off in familiar fashion as the Rangers jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on a 1st period goal by Dominic Moore.  But the Flyers, desperate for a home win, turned to a man who had not started a playoff game in five years, since he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  And Mason answered the call, shutting down New York for the final 55 minutes of the contest.

It certainly wasn’t an easy game as the orange and black were outshot (38-25) and out-chanced by a wide margin.  But the goalies were the obvious difference.  Lundqvist, though solid, was clearly playing second fiddle as he made 23 saves on 25 shots.  He allowed the tying goal to Matt Read in the first period, then was beaten for the game-winner by a Jakub Voracek deflection in the second.  From that point on it was the Mason show as he beat back a barrage of Ranger shots, including a diving stick save on Ryan Macdonagh to preserve the win.

The match-up continues on Sunday at noon (on NBC) as the series shifts back to New York for game 5.  If the Flyers want to pull out a series victory they would be wise to provide their starter with a little more support in the next few contests.  Mason cannot be expected to replicate his sterling .974 save percentage, but he should atleast allow his teammates more leeway than Ray Emery (who started games 1 through 3).

Notes:

  • Claude Giroux still has not scored a goal during the 2014 postseason.  Despite his play not showing up in the score sheet much during the series, the captain was not invisible during game 4.  He played solid two-way hockey and was able to draw a penalty that led to Voracek’s game-winning goal.  Still more is expected of the captain going forward.  But atleast he made good on his guarantee that the Flyers would tie this series up.
  • Speaking of stars not showing up, the Flyers have quite a few of them.  We aren’t seeing enough out of Hartnell, Lecavalier, Timonen, Simmonds, and Schenn.  Still, with the series tied at 2-2, it’s important to note that we still have not seen the Flyers play their best hockey.  If their goaltending can keep them competitive then their deep forward group should be able to grind out a few goals.
  • The Flyers aren’t the only club with key players not playing to their potential.  Rangers star Rick Nash has been essentially invisible through 4 games.  The guy has too much size, skill, and speed to stay silent, however, so the Flyers better be prepared for #61 in game 5.
  • Defenseman Nick Grossmann was lost during the second period after he went awkwardly, feet first, into the boards in the Flyers zone.  He limped off the ice and missed the rest of the game.  It remains to be seen whether or not he will miss Sunday’s game.  If he is indeed out then coach Craig Berube must choose between Erik Gustafsson and Hal Gil.  Gustafsson is the favorite to fill the void.

 

Big Day for Orange and Black

Fresh off a National Championship, star defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere signs on.

Fresh off a National Championship, star defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere signs on.

April 15th, 2014 has been an especially eventful day for your Philadelphia Flyers.  With game one of the Flyers-Rangers opening round playoff series just two nights away, not much was expected of this rainy Tuesday.  Instead, several important stories dealing with past, present, and future have come down the shoot.  First, past-wise, remember that hit goaltender Steve Mason took in Saturday’s win over the rival Penguins? Well, now it appears as if the resulting injury might be more serious than anticipated.  More on that in a minute.  As for the present, to the surprise of most, deadline acquisition and former Islander defender Andrew MacDonald will be staying a Flyer for the foreseeable future, as he inked a 6-year, $30 million extension.  Pricey, I know, but most likely necessary.  And finally, NCAA Frozen Four MVP, and 2012 Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostibehere has inked his entry-level contract instead of returning to Union College for his senior campaign.  Some good, some bad, but important news nonetheless.

Now here’s a closer look:

  • Steve Mason:  Mason has had his ups and downs this season but he’s also clearly established himself as the Flyers unquestioned #1 netminder.  Unfortunately during Saturday’s overtime victory against the Pens, Mason was run over in his crease by Pittsburgh’s Jayson Megna.  While the hit didn’t look especially serious, Mason laid in the net for an extended amount of time before returning to action.  He then was unable to finish the contest, which the Flyers front office referred to as a simple precaution.  However, it now appears that our #1 goalie, and backbone of the team, is questionable for Thursday nights opener at Madison Square Garden.  Now, backup Ray Emery is no stranger to playoff hockey (he backstopped the ’07 Senators club to the Cup Finals), but most Flyers fans would probably sleep a lot better knowing Mason is ready to go.  Especially after third-stringer Cal Heeter’s performance (6-5 SO loss) in the season finale against Carolina.  As of right now Mason is questionable, so keep your fingers crossed.  It’s very unlikely that this Flyers team could run the postseason table without their most important player (outside of Claude Giroux).
  • Andrew MacDonald:  6-years, $30 million, quite a price-tag for a guy who’s never put up more than 28 points in a season.  But those who have watched the 27-year old since his arrival in Philadelphia will understand that MacDonald’s importance goes far beyond his scoring statistics; the guy is an intelligent, mobile, two-way threat.  And he’s probably better than any free agent defender that would’ve been on the market.  Defense has become the premium position in the NHL over the past decade and when you find a good one, you hold on tight.  Did GM Paul Holmgren overpay? Absolutely, but that’s just the current economic landscape in the NHL.  Many “experts” laughed when the Flyers gave Mark Streit his contract; well 10 goals and 44 points later it appears as if the Flyers front office has had the last laugh.  MacDonald will never put up that kind of offense but he’s a much needed steadying influence, with the ability to escape trouble in tight spaces.  And he’s already had an amazingly positive effect on the game of Luke Schenn.  Schenn looked lost before he was paired with “MacD”, but since then MacDonald’s mobility has allowed him to play his physical, shot-blocking game.  Don’t think of this as just a $30 million investment in one player, but rather as an important investment in the entire team defense.  Maybe it’s a mistake, but only time will tell.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere: If there’s one Flyers prospect that is seriously exciting scouts it’s this kid.  On display in Philadelphia this past week for the NCAA’s Frozen Four, the Union College junior defender out-shined his competition (and that includes “Johnny Hockey”, Johnny Gaudreau) in leading the Dutchmen to the National Championship.  And instead of returning to school for his senior campaign, the slick defenseman decided the time was right to turn pro; a decision that the Flyers front office couldn’t be happier about.  Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, little was known about the 5’11” 160-lb string bean blueliner.  But a whole lot has changed in three seasons.  In fact, this season he was even a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award, the college hockey equivalent to the Heisman.  He’s been most often compared with Torrey Krug of the Boston Bruins.  With electric speed, soft hands, and a booming shot, expect to see “ghost” (as he is called) in the NHL sooner rather than later.

Flyers Take Game One in Huge Home-and-Home Series

Read notched two big goals in today's 4-0 win over the Pens.

Read notched two big goals in today’s 4-0 win over the Pens.

With the Flyers clinging to a tenuous hold on a playoff spot in the East’s tight race, they entered the weekend facing the daunting task of a back-to-back match-up with the hated Pittsburgh Penguins.  It’s never easy when these cross-state rivals meet and the road team has dominated the series over the past few seasons.  Luckily for the Flyers they bucked that trend today with an immensely important (and impressive) 4-0 win over the injury plagued Pens.  It was perhaps the clubs most impressive 60-minute effort of the season.

The win catapults the orange and black from the final wild card spot back into third place in the Metropolitan Division.  Now, let’s take a closer look at the upset:

  • Matt Read played an amazing two-way game.  Not only was he a part of a penalty kill that held the Pens top ranked PP at 0/5 on the day, but he scored a shorthanded goal on one of these kills.  His two goal effort gave him 18 on the season (1 of 7 Flyers with atleast 15 goals).
  • Sean Couturier seems to always find a way to raise his game against Philly’s most-hated rival.  Today, he did a solid job frustrating any Pittsburgh line he matched up with.  And he also added two key assists, both to Matt Read.
  • Much like Couturier, Flyers captain Claude Giroux seems to relish the battles with the Pens all-world talent.  In this game he managed two more assists while also laying a big hit on Russian sniper Evgeni Malkin.  Just like a captain should, Giroux set the tone for the entire club and helped lead them to a much-needed win.
  • Steve Mason stopped all 25 Penguins shots for his 27th win of the 13-14 season and his 4th shutout of the campaign.  Mason has been a steadying influence all season and it was no different today.
  • The Flyers overall team defense was beyond impressive.  Yes the Pens were missing Kunitz, Neal, and Letang, but they’re still stocked with Crosby and Malkin (who were a combined -5 in this game) up front.  Not only was the Flyers defense corps constantly in the face of the Pittsburgh forecheck, but the forwards backcheck was equally dominant.  It’s amazing how good Steve Mason looks when the guys in front of him are actually supporting him for an entire 60 minutes.
  • Michael Raffl continued to play like a longtime vet, rather than a rookie import.  The 25-year old Austrian was all over the ice, in all three zones.  He dished out a few nice hits, continued to be a key penalty killer, and had several close calls in the offensive zone.  As his offensive game continues to develop, Raffl projects to be a Matt Read-like player.  And that’s an exciting possibility for the future.
  • Super pest Zac Rinaldo made his return from injury and instantly made an impact in the first period by drawing a high sticking call on Pens defender Simon Despres.  Scott Hartnell then scored from his wheelhouse on the subsequent PP.  Rinaldo, hated by opposing fans, continues to show why he’s an integral piece of this organizations forward corps.

It’s difficult to emphasize just how well the Flyers performed today, but tomorrow’s nationally televised rematch in Pittsburgh will be equally as important.  If this team can find a way to somehow sweep the home-and-home it would be a great step towards securing a playoff spot.  And the schedule doesn’t get any easier this week as the orange and black take on Blackhawks on Tuesday and the Stars on Thursday.  Tune in at noon on Sunday to see round two of the NHL’s best rivalry.

Olympic Break Report Card: Part I

Kimmo Timonen takes part in his fifth Olympic tournament.

Kimmo Timonen takes part in his fifth Olympic tournament.

Just over a week ago there were many Flyer fans in panic mode; their beloved orange and black had just lost four straight games, bringing the division to a six-team deadlock, and clouding the clubs future before a crucial West coast swing.  Now, with the Olympic break on hand, the team is singing a whole different tune.

Winners of four straight (5 of 6), including today’s 2-1 win over Calgary, the Flyers head into their forced hiatus with a solid grip on a playoff position.  Steve Mason’s new contract jitters appear to be a thing of the past, while backup Ray Emery came up with a stellar 32-save performance against a pesky Flames team this afternoon.  The offense is clicking, the defense is battling, and organization is on the upswing.  The only thing slowing this red-hot team down now is current, forced hiatus.

While five Philadelphia Flyers (Timonen, Meszaros, Raffl, Voracek, and Streit) head off to Sochi, the rest of the guys will take some time off for some much needed rest and relaxation.  So while the professionals take care of business on and off the ice, here is a breakdown of how our boys in orange and black have done over the first few months:

Netminders:

  • Steve Mason:  While many casual observers will tell you that #35 has had an up and down campaign, those who have watched every one of Mason’s starts would point to his questionable defense as the reason for his fluctuating statistics.  Over the entirety of the season no player has been more important to Philadelphia.  His statistics (23-14-5, 2.49 GAA, .918SV%, 3 SO’s) are impressive, but become all the more awe inspiring when considering the defense he plays behind every night.  With a new 3-year extension “Mase” should provide the stability this organization has been looking for since Ron Hextall was in his prime. “A-“
  • Ray Emery: When Emery re-upped for his second tour of duty in Philadelphia he was coming off an amazing Cup-winning campaign with arguably the best team in hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks.  So no one realistically expected him to replicate the 17-1 record he recorded in 12-13, but they also didn’t expect him to struggle so much early on.  The Flyers defense is nowhere close to as talented as Chicago’s so that is certainly a contributing factor, but overall, early on, Emery just wasn’t good enough.  But lately the 10-year vet has turned it around and provided a calming influence.  His stats (6-9-1, 3.03GAA, .897SV%) still aren’t up to snuff, but he’s certainly getting better.  And he’s a solid insurance policy in case (god forbid) anything happens to Mason. “C”

Defense:

  • Kimmo Timonen:  Much like the rest of the Flyers blueliner’s, Timonen’s season has not been all that he has wanted.  Close to 39-years of age, it’s obvious the longtime vet isn’t what he used to be; he can no longer chase down quicker opponents or fight through injuries that used to roll right off his back.  But with age comes experience and savvy; and you’d be hard-pressed to find many defenders who understand the game as well as this old Finn.  This may very well be Timonen’s last NHL season, but he’s the type of player who could will himself through 3 or 4 more campaign’s, whether his legs are working or not.  “B-“
  • Braydon Coburn:  Since the departure of Matt Carle, via free agency, Coburn has easily filled in as the fanbase’s de-facto whipping boy.  Standing 6’5”, with a cannon shot, and legs like a gazelle, far too much is expected Coburn.  Sure he makes his fair share of turnovers, finds himself out of position too often, and even deflects the puck in his own net sometimes (several times this season), he’s still an unsung hero on a 30-win hockey club.  Coburns outlet passes are crisp, his puck-carrying is usually impressive, and without his recovery speed the Flyers might not currently be in playoff position.  So with a player like this, you have to take the the good with bad.  And 29 other GM’s would agree.  “B”
  • Nicklas Grossmann:  There’s nothing, and I mean NOTHING, flashy about this big Swedes game.  With Grossmann it’s all about keeping his man in front of him and then forcefully forcing him into the boards.  He’s a crease-clearing, shot-blocking, body-checking machine.  And that’s it.  If you expect more, you’re expecting too much.  And that’s where I think Flyers fans get disappointed in the 6’4” Grossmann.  He’ll take the occasional penalty, make a mistake here or there, but it’s all about simplicity with this guy.  And I see no problem with having him as a key cog in the Flyers top-6. “B-“
  • Erik Gustafsson:  When it comes to “Gus” there are two main problems: health and confidence.  When he’s playing with both he looks like a young Kimmo Timonen.  When he’s on the shelf or self-conscious he’s more like Bruno Gervais.  Luckily for the Flyers brass and this young man, 2014 has been solid campaign.  In 26 games so far this season he leads the club with a +/- of 11 and has 10 points.  He’s shown speed, quick decision-making, and a physicality that truly rounds out his game.  Gustafsson’s development has been a godsend on this defense-needy roster.  “A-“
  • Luke Schenn:  For most Flyers fans it’s painful to look up north and see James VanRiemsdyk thriving in Toronto (as they were traded for eachother), but there’s still hope in Schenn’s game.  Despite looking stellar at the end of last season, Schenn entered the 13-14 season in a major funk.  He looked out of place, slow, and indecisive.  But over the past month or so, the other Schenn has started to come around.  At just 24 years or age there’s still time for #22 to become an important cog in Philadelphia system.  Don’t give up on this kid just yet.  “C-“
  • Andrej Meszaros:  On the surface Meszaros’ stats look impressive (especially considering the time he’s sat out), but he’s truly a one-dimensional defender anymore.  Before his series of injuries, Mez was a physical two-way force.  Since his return he’s been an offensive shell of himself.  16 points in 35 games is stellar for a defenseman, the issue is that defense is no longer one of Meszaros’ interests.  He’s been abysmal around his own crease and can easily be pushed around by stronger competition.  With an expiring contract, GM Paul Holmgren should be actively pursuing a trade partner for this blueliner.  “C+”
  • Mark Streit:  Along with Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit was one of the Flyers main off-season acquisitions.  The Former Islanders captain was billed an offensive-defender with a penchant for defensive mistakes- and that billing fits him to a T.  Streit started off the season terribly.  He wasn’t producing points while simultaneously giving up plenty.  But recently his play has been a revelation.  He’s now up to 8 goals and 21 assists in 59 games, leading all Philly defenders.  He’s still prone to the occasional mistake, but the Swiss blueliner is now a key cog, especially on the 2nd Power Play unit. “B”

Next post we’ll take a closer look at the main strength of this team, the forward corps.