Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome Your 2021 Philadelphia Flyers
Those are the words Flyers PA announcer Lou Nolan has bellowed every opening night since 1972. He’ll do the same this year, but it just won’t be the same. Blah blah, pandemic, blah blah, no crowds, blah blah, we all miss hockey so much.
But the good news is that today, hockey is back. The National Hockey League’s 56-game, realigned divisions, taxi squad season starts in just a few hours. This pandemic has interrupted a lot of things. Something that thankfully remains intact is the excitement that remains on opening night. Thirty-one teams begin play in the next few days, all knowing this could be the start of something special. Granted, some don’t have much hope, and only one team’s Cup story is about to begin. But it’s still an amazing feeling.
The Flyers have been in one step forward, one step back state for almost a decade. The club hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons since a run from 2008-2012. However, stability in goal, an exciting young core, and a strong cast of veterans seemed poised to break that mold.
GM Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault’s first full seasons here saw the Flyers take a major step forward. Philadelphia was 4th in the East and 6th in the league, playing at a 106-point pace. They won their first playoff series since 2012. Their seven playoff wins were the most in a year since a run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. In order to keep fans happy and meet expectations, the Flyers need to build on this new height.
In order to win the Stanley Cup, you need to have a great team and the right team. Last year’s Flyers were one of the tightest groups in recent memory; it’s a huge reason why the team improved so much. The core is all running it back, but there are a few new pieces. Some of the younger players will be counted on more. But just who exactly are the 2021 Philadelphia Flyers?
I’m glad you asked. While their legacy is yet to be determined, the Flyers have their group for this season. Some questions remain, and these are the players that will have to answer them in order for this to be a successful season. Without further adieu, here are your 2021 Philadelphia Flyers… in three sentences or less.
#11 RW Travis Konecny – 19-20: 24 G, 37 A, 61 PTS in 66 GP
Delivered his true breakout year, scoring at a 30-goal pace and improving his two-way game. Struggled mightily in the more physical playoffs, but seems ready for revenge. I’ve got to be nice to him or he’ll chirp me to death.
#14 C Sean Couturier (A) – 19-20: 22 G, 37 A, 59 PTS, Won Selke Trophy
The league’s best two-way forward; man, does that feel good to say! They call Coots “the doctor” because he instantly fixes everyone who plays with him. Couturier scores at a 70-point pace, plays a ton against top competition and puts up incredible underlying numbers – not bad for a $4.33 million cap hit.
#93 RW Jakub Voracek (A) – 19-20: 12 G, 44 A, 56 PTS
Quickly got out of AV’s doghouse after a slow start last year. An incredibly gifted playmaker and offensive talent who takes (sometimes a bit too many) risks. Surprisingly not on the first power-play unit to start this season.
#28 LW Claude Giroux (C) – 19-20: 21 G, 32 A, 53 PTS
The captain started slow last year thanks to being forced to play center and wonky power-play formations. Once things stabilized, so did his production (18 points in last 18 games). Most important thing for Giroux may be to improve playoff performance – he’s combined for 1 goal in the Flyers last 28 playoff games (since 2016).
#13 C Kevin Hayes (A) – 19-20: 23 G, 18 A, 41 PTS
Scored a ton of clutch goals and instantly became a fan-favorite in the first year of his mega-deal. That makes the fact his underlying numbers weren’t anything special surprising. Looking to defend his crown for best goal celebration on the team.
#25 LW James van Riemsdyk – 19-20: 19 G, 21 A, 40 PTS in 66 GP
“He’s washed,” the old-school fan who saw the declining goal totals and playoff healthy scratchings. “He’s still good,” counter the stats people who see dramatically improved underlying numbers and a below-average shooting percentage. Will he be a Kraken next year?
#9 D Ivan Provorov (A) – 19-20: 13 G, 23 A, 36 PTS
Pulled off a major bounce-back year that makes the 6-year deal he signed, but how much of that was due to his strong partnership with the now retired Matt Niskanen? Justin Braun seems like his most likely partner to start the year, but Shayne Gostisbehere, Phil Myers, and maybe Travis Sanheim could all receive reps with Ivan the Great. This Russian machine’s iron-man streak is currently 315 games.
#19 C Nolan Patrick – 18-19: 13 G, 18 A, 31 PTS in 73 GP (19-20: DNP)
Returning to the ice from migraine disorder for the first time since April 2019. If Patrick can get back to 30-point, good defensive mode, the Flyers will address their biggest weakness from last season. If he’s better – watch out.
#56 D Erik Gustafsson – 19-20: 6 G, 23 A, 29 PTS in 66 GP (for CHI/CGY)
His salary replaces Niskanen, but his ice-time and role won’t. Gustafsson can move the puck very well (he scored 60 points in 2018-19 for a reason), but is a mess in his own end. If Shayne Gostisbehere doesn’t bounce back, I’d like to see Gus get a crack at PP1.
#21 C/LW Scott Laughton – 19-20: 13 G, 14 A, 27 PTS in 49 GP
His point pace has quietly crept up from 20 to 32 to 45 (though he only played 45 games last year) in the last three seasons. Patrick’s return drops him down to the fourth line, where he’s best suited. For his team’s sake, let’s hope he’s not the Flyers leading goal scorer in the playoffs this year.
#6 D Travis Sanheim – 19-20: 8 G, 17 A, 25 PTS
Settled into the role of “really good number 3” rather than true top-pair option last season. Good puck skills and pretty responsible in his own zone. A lack of power-play time could prevent the pending RFA from breaking the bank in the summer.
#86 LW/RW Joel Farabee – 19-20: 8 G, 13 A, 21 PTS in 50 GP
It took Farabee all of four AHL games to earn a call-up last year, and he made the most of it. Farabee bulked up about 10 pounds in the offseason, which should pair excellently with his great hockey IQ. Gotta admit, I’m not sure about his new number though.
#12 LW/RW Michael Raffl – 19-20: 8 G, 12 A, 20 PTS in 58 GP
The ultimate Swiss Army knife (even though he’s Austrian)’s eighth year in Philly could be his last. Raffl is still a strong fourth liner and penalty killer. He was one of the most consistent Flyers in the bubble despite playing hurt.
#61 D Justin Braun – 19-20: 3 G, 16 A, 19 PTS in 62 GP
His first year in Philly was best case scenario – solid advanced numbers, steady in his own zone at 5-on-5 and the PK. But it would’ve likely been his only year in Philly if Niskanen was still around. Could the floor drop out quickly, especially if a demanding top-pair role?
#23 LW Oskar Lindblom – 19-20: 11 G, 7 A, 18 PTS in 30 GP
Beat the crap out of cancer and already made his triumphant return in the bubble. Lindblom’s 11 goals through 30 games pre-diagnosis were tied for the team lead. His incredible flow is also starting to come back.
#5 D Phil Myers – 19-20: 4 G, 12 A, 16 PTS in 50 GP
Quickly swept aside a rough training camp to make the roster in November and never looked back. His pairing with Sanheim has incredible potential, but they were overwhelmed at times. Myers’ gaudy skillset — smooth skating, good puck-mover, and physicality — could pair well with Provorov sooner rather than later.
#62 RW Nicolas Aube-Kubel – 19-20: 7 G, 8 A, 15 PTS in 36 GP
Arguably last year’s biggest pleasant surprise in Philly. A plethora of injuries cracked the NHL door open, and Aube-Kubel kicked in. An outstanding forechecker with sneaky skill that should fill Tyler Pitlick’s spot admirably.
#8 D Robert Hagg – 19-20: 3 G, 10 A, 13 PTS in 49 GP
He’s the anti-van Riemsdyk; stats people hate him, old school fans love him. Hagg does throw the body and block shots a lot, but that means he spends lots of time in his own zone. The Flyers’ ceiling likely involves him sitting in the press box, but it remains to be seen if the team can reach that.
#53 D Shayne Gostisbehere – 19-20: 5 G, 7 A, 12 PTS in 41 GP
Last season was the worst of his career, leading to frequent health scratchings and a bevy of trade rumors. Seemed likely to start the year with Provorov, but a terribly timed (but hopefully not too serious) injury has him on the shelf to start. If Ghost can get 75% of his rookie or 2017-18 form back, the Flyers could be really scary.
#48 C Morgan Frost – 19-20: 2 G, 5 A, 7 PTS in 20 GP (AHL: 29 PTS in 41 GP)
Got our hopes up by scoring three points in his first two NHL games, but put up just four assists in his last 18. Frost has gobs of skill and speed and is getting better at working in the dirty areas. That skill also means he’s unlikely to play on the 4th line, and with the top-nine locked down, Frost’s true time to shine may be next year.
#3 D Mark Friedman – 19-20: 0 G, 1 A, in 6 GP (AHL: 18 PTS in 45 GP)
Looked solid in a 7-game cup of coffee last year. Eighth on the depth chart means he probably won’t see a ton of action, but the 24-year old will be looking to show he can be the future of the Flyers third pair. He’s got a long way to go to catch Rob Blake as best defenseman to come out of Bowling Green.
#79 G Carter Hart – 19-20: 24-14-3, .914 SV%, 2.42 GAA
Going one, going twice, sold, CAHTAH HART! The 22-year old was great in his first year as a full-time starter, and should be a rock in goal for years to come. I’m not too concerned about his drastic home/away splits (.857 SV% on the road last year), but it’s something he needs to get under control.
#37 G Brian Elliott – 19-20: 16-7-4, .899 SV%, 2.87 GAA
The 36-year old’s save percentage dropped eight points last year; If that happens again this season, it might be his last in the NHL. That being said, Elliott performed better than the numbers suggested for most of last season, especially early. Four full years was the amount of time similar net minders Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth lasted in Philly — will it be the same for Moose?
#10 LW/C Andy Andreoff – 19-20 (AHL): 11 G, 7 A in 39 GP (NHL: 14 GP)
Only played 14 games with the Flyers last year, but his AHL scoring totals took a bit of a nose dive. Sounds like a randomly generated player from an EA Sports game. An uninspiring but useful choice if/when the injury bug hits.
#81 LW Carsen Twarynski – 19-20 (AHL): 7 G, 5 A in 31 GP (NHL: 15 GP)
Was a feel-good surprise story in last year’s camp, but just wasn’t NHL ready. He’s a feisty, tenacious winger who could replace Raffl on the fourth line someday. I said three sentences OR less, OK?
#39 D Nate Prosser – 19-20 (AHL): 1 G, 9 A in 59 GP
Probably the most surprising member of the taxi squad. The Flyers needed at least one defenseman for this thing, so Fletcher opted to keep the 34-year old that he originally signed as an undrafted free agent in Minnesota. Top prospect Egor Zamula will get this spot once he gets a little bigger and stronger.
#82 C Connor Bunnaman – 19-20 (AHL): 6 G, 3 A in 29 GP (NHL: 21 GP)
Was a feel-good surprise story in last year’s camp, but just wasn’t NHL ready — at first. Bunnaman looked like a legit fourth-liner in his second stint, which lasted 20 games until he was replaced with the inferior Nate Thompson. How much do we need to pay him to change his name to Bunnyman? (answer: more than $750K)
#34 G Alex Lyon – 19-20 (AHL): 32 GP, .913 SV%, 2.69 GAA (NHL: 3 GP)
Lyon’s been third on the depth chart for the last three seasons, and he’s been decent when called upon in the NHL. The Flyers are hoping they won’t need him this year, but he’s around just in case. I’m rooting for Lyon to get his shot… just not here this year.
D LW Samuel Morin – 19-20 (AHL): 0 PTS in 3 GP (NHL: 1 GP)
Thankful to see Morin return to the ice after missing almost all of the last two years with torn ACLs (yes, that’s plural, unfortunately). Stunning to see the 6’6” former 1st round pick move from defense to left wing, where the Flyers depth isn’t as strong. If any opposition takes a dirty look at the kids, we know who to send after them.
Opening Night Lines
|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||Justin Braun|
|Travis Sanheim||Phil Myers|
|Robert Hagg||Erik Gustafsson|