Last week, I took a look at how Travis Yost of TSN sees the Philadelphia Flyers wingers heading into the 2022-23 season.
In short: with Joel Farabee potentially absent to start the season, he likes the right side much better than the left, which he flags as one of the weaker groups in the league.
Now, let’s dig into his assessment of Philadelphia’s centers and defensemen.
Center Is Soft
Down the middle, Yost ranks the Flyers in the fourth of his five tiers. It’s a category he calls “Underperform.”
Here’s how Yost projects the Flyers’ centers to start the season:
If Couturier and Hayes come in healthy and at the top of their games, the Flyers should be in good shape down the middle. But that’s a big ‘if.’
Knock on wood, Hayes should be in top form. After a 2021-22 season that saw him deal with multiple injuries and the emotional toll of losing his brother Jimmy, Kevin finished the season strong. He returned from his final adductor injury on March 5. In the Flyers’ final 28 games, he led all forwards on the team with 19:25 of average ice time. He was also Philadelphia’s leading scorer through that stretch, with 22 points. That would project to 64 points over a full season, which would be a career-best for the affable 30-year-old.
John Tortorella could also be the perfect coach to get the most out of Hayes. It’s not a stretch to imagine the two Boston-area natives clicking with each other.
Tortorella should also appreciate the disciplined two-way play of Couturier. He’s a two-time Selke Trophy finalist and took home the award in 2020. He’s also a strong offensive weapon.
As Yost correctly points out, the biggest question about Couturier is whether he’ll be able to come back at 100% after undergoing back surgery last season. And even though he doesn’t turn 30 until December, there are already a lot of miles on Couturier’s body. Despite missing 53 games in the 2021-22 season, Couturier’s 721 games played ranks him second in his 2011 draft class. Only Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, at 738, has played more.
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Down The Depth Chart
Last season, Morgan Frost was in a tough spot. The first-round pick from 2017 was still waiver exempt, and was coming back after missing nearly an entire season following shoulder surgery.
As a result, Frost started the season in the AHL and was shuffled back and forth throughout the season. He ended up playing 24 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, where he recorded 19 points. And he got into 55 games with the Flyers, picking up 16 NHL points.
But Frost did improve as the season wore on, and found some chemistry with new arrival Owen Tippett after he was acquired in March. Frost’s final recall of the year came on March 11. After that, he averaged a career high 15:04 of ice time per game and logged nine points in his last 25 games.
No longer waiver exempt, Frost will have a locked-in roster spot on the big club this season. And he’s on a one-year ‘prove it’ contract worth $800,000, with plenty of incentive to prove that he deserves more.
Last season, Patrick Brown was effective in the fourth-line center slot — when he was healthy. Injuries limited him to just 44 games, but the right-shooting Brown was particularly effective in the face-off circle, where he won 58.5% of his draws.
Further down the depth chart, Tanner Laczynski and rookie pro Elliot Desnoyers will be available in the middle as needed. Scott Laughton can also handle center duties. He finished second on the Flyers in faceoffs taken last season, behind only Claude Giroux.
Defensive Depth Is Concerning
Ellis, of course, managed just four games with his new team. He missed most of last season with what has been called a ‘multi-layered’ injury in his core area. There’s no indication yet that he’ll be ready to go this fall.
For that reason, Yost also grades the Flyers’ blue line in the fourth of his five tiers, “Underperform.”
Here’s how he sees the depth chart:
For his grading purposes, Yost says that he “overweights” each team’s top four. He puts less emphasis on the third pairing, which is typically more fluid and sees significantly less ice time.
If Ellis is healthy, it gives the Flyers tremendous depth on the right side. New addition Tony DeAngelo shines brightest on the offensive side of the puck. Rasmus Ristolainen is at his best when he’s striking fear into the hearts of opponents. His 230 hits last season led his team by a mile.
Justin Braun’s return flew under the radar this summer, but is also a positive. Though he’s now 35, he punched above his weight in a top-pairing role with Provorov for a good part of last season. He could also be an excellent and steady mentor for Cam York, a promising first-round pick who should get back onto his natural left side this fall after seeing some time on the right late last season.
Further down the depth chart, switch-hitter Nick Seeler will once again be the next man up when the inevitable injuries arise. Righty Ronnie Attard should get some time to hone his game in Lehigh Valley after coming out of Wester Michigan University late last season.
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