The Philadelphia Flyers turned a down 2016-17 season into some good lottery luck, landing the No. 2 overall pick and the chance to claim centre Nolan Patrick at the draft.
The Broadstreet Bullies appear to be halfway between a youth movement and a playoff push, and 2017-18 should provide a bit of clarity as to which one it is.
General manager Ron Hextall was fairly quiet on the free agent market, as he appears to look to some fresh faces to boost the lineup. He did, however, sign a new potential No. 1 goalie in Brian Elliott to replace Steve Mason. Elliott will need to find more consistency in his game if he’s to grab hold of the starter’s job and run with it behind a young defence that could feature some fresh faces in Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg.
UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH
In addition to the Flyers’ young blue line getting even younger (read: 24-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere has reached veteran status), we may see some new blood on offence, too.
Two names to keep an eye on are winger Oskar Lindblom and college free agent Mike Vecchione, but like many Flyers fans, we’ll focus on Nolan Patrick here. (Hey, it comes with the territory of being the No. 2 pick.)
Patrick has the size and two-way talent to make an impact in the NHL, but his health has been the biggest question. He underwent abdominal surgery in June and then was slowed down again by a facial infection.
The centreman is now “100 per cent” — but Hextall says he’s not guaranteed a roster spot. Instead, the Flyers will take the patient approach.
“If he needs time, he needs time,” Hextall told Sam Carchidi of Philly.com. “We’re going to have Nolan Patrick for the next 10, 15 years, not one day or one month or two months. We’re looking at the next 15 years and what’s best for Nolan Patrick. If it’s best to go back to Brandon, then he’ll go back to Brandon. If it’s best to stay here, he’ll stay here.”
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE
The Flyers have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the playoffs over the past five years and they could be ready to jump back in in 2017-18.
But if these Flyers are to break back into the picture, they’ll need their captain in good health.
Claude Giroux underwent hip surgery in May 2016 and while he started off strong last fall, it was clear as the season went on that he was not at the top of his game.
“When you try to make plays that you used to make and you can’t really make them it’s frustrating and confusing,” Giroux told Adam Kimelman back in March, via NHL.com. “… It was new. You’re trying to do the things that you know you can do, it’s just not happening. You try to think a little bit too much about how you can be the player you want to be. It’s not easy. But it’s … you’ve got to work at it. I think it’s more off-ice. You’ve got to go in the gym and make sure your body is feeling good. Mentally before games you try to make [yourself] feel a little bit better and try to go out there and help the team win.”
In 82 games, the 29-year-old managed just 14 goals and 44 assists for 58 points. With a full off-season to rest and rediscover his stride, Giroux should be poised to get back to his playmaking ways — and maybe even help his team get back to the playoffs.
BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION
Is this team good enough to step back into the post-season picture? And, if they get there, is goalie Brian Elliott up for the task?
The Flyers let Steve Mason walk in free agency, and replaced him with a netminder that can be just as streaky. Elliott was brilliant at times during his year with the Calgary Flames (especially in the second half of the season), but struggled, too, and when it came to the post-season, the 32-year-old posted a 3.89 goals-against average and .880 save percentage — not the kind of numbers that translate into playoff success, especially behind a defence as young as Philadelphia’s.
We could see him split starts with Michal Neuvirth, who hasn’t claimed a starting role with the Flyers in his two seasons with the club.
“Having two guys who can go in there and win games is huge, whether it’s an injury or one guy not going [well]; the other guy can pick up the slack,” Elliott told Sam Carchidi earlier this month. “Staying consistent in this league is what gets you in the playoffs.”