The Philadelphia Flyers are less than two weeks away from regular season hockey, and there are plenty of questions still surrounding the roster. One of the biggest questions is the health of former No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick.
Patrick has been missing from on-ice activities at training camp with a week-to-week injury that Chuck Fletcher said they have known about for a little while. He had been skating with the veterans prior to the official start of training camp and has been taking part in off-ice activities since, but his on-ice activity has been limited to individual workouts.
Patrick had been penciled in as the Flyers’ middle-six center — fluctuating between the second line and third line — coming into last season, and had been carved into the third-line center role for the upcoming season after the Kevin Hayes signing. However, with his injury, the Flyers may have to change their bottom-six plans, and the domino effect of that impacts several players.
The Flyers still have several prospects competing for roster spots after Friday’s roster cuts. Isaac Ratcliffe was the only notable forward cut from the roster, with Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, German Rubtsov, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Mikhail Vorobyev and Connor Bunnaman among the players surviving cuts.
Along with the handful of prospects, the Flyers also still have a handful of veteran players competing for a roster spot. Andy Andreoff and Chris Stewart are the two healthy veterans remaining in that competition, with Kurtis Gabriel and Tyler Pitlick both injured.
The Flyers’ top-six — or at least eight of their top nine — are pretty much locks for the roster. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Oskar Lindblom will be in the Flyers’ top nine to start the season. The top line will likely be the first three (Giroux – Couturier – Konecny) with Hayes centering two of JVR, Voracek and Lindblom on the second line. Then it gets interesting.
If Patrick is healthy to start the season, it solidifies things a bit. He is a known quantity as the third-line center and Alain Vigneault can build around that. That would then make Scott Laughton the fourth-line center, with the remaining prospects and veterans competing for the third spot on the third line as well as fourth-line roles.
Here are what the lines could look like with Patrick healthy:
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
JVR – Hayes – Voracek
Lindblom – Patrick – (Prospect)
Raffl – Laughton – (Prospect)
However, if Patrick is not healthy to begin the year, it mixes up the bottom six a bit. The top line would likely remain intact, but the middle six could see wingers swapped so a veteran (JVR/Voracek) could support Laughton and a prospect on the third line.
On top of that, Laughton as the third-line center opens up a hole in the middle of the fourth line. The Flyers could then be more inclined to keep a player with more experience, rather than a fresh rookie, to fill out the roster.
Here’s an example of what those lines could look like:
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
Lindblom – Hayes – Voracek
JVR – Laughton – (Prospect)
Raffl – (Prospect) – (Veteran)
Voracek, JVR and Lindblom are pretty much interchangeable in this projection.
The prospect on the third line may not change, but it could mean that a veteran earns a spot on the roster until Patrick is healthy. It also changes which prospects have a shot at that fourth-line role.
With Patrick healthy, it’s likely that someone like Farabee or Frost would stick on the third line. In turn, a winger could fill out the fourth line with Raffl and Laughton. Ideally it’d be someone like Aube-Kubel — who brings a scoring touch with a hard-nosed, forechecking game to go with it — or Bunnaman — who has an outside chance to sneak onto the roster — but that could change with Patrick out.
The centers remaining in camp behind Couturier, Hayes, Patrick and Laughton are mainly prospects with varying levels of experience.
The three top candidates for that role would be Vorobyev, Rubtsov and Frost.
Vorobyev won the roster spot competition last year out of training camp, but failed to impress in his first month, resulting in a demotion in late October. He is now a year older and stronger, but zero points in his final 13 (of 15) games last year, including an eight-game span after being recalled in late January, may not bode well for him. Granted, he got just over seven minutes of ice time a game after his first five NHL games.
Rubtsov has been deemed a “bust” by some after being selected in the first round in the 2016 NHL Draft. The No. 22 pick toiled in Russia and the QMJHL before becoming a pro last year. His rotten luck continued, however, with an injury after 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his first 14 games. Now he’s being tested with three games in four nights by the Flyers, which could be a good sign for his roster chances. He was a bit fatigued on Thursday night, but that’s to be expected for anyone playing that much.
Frost dealt with an injury of his own at the start of preseason game action, but just an injury of the day-to-day variety. However, impressed on Thursday night against the Bruins, getting a chance to play with JVR and Voracek on the second line. He should’ve had a goal, which would have more people talking, but he was absolutely robbed by Jaroslav Halak. If Frost were to make the roster it’d ideally be on the third line, but he could get a shot at the fourth-line center role. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as long as he gets enough playing time, otherwise, it may be better for his development for him to play top minutes in the AHL.
Out of those three, Vorobyev may have the inside track if Patrick is injured, simply due to his experience, but Rubtsov and Frost will have a chance to show the Flyers brass that they deserve a roster spot with preseason games on Saturday night against the Rangers and Monday night in Boston.
If a prospect does take the fourth-line center job, it may be more likely for an experienced veteran to join them on the fourth line. Stewart was forgotten about heading into camp, but his toughness won’t go overlooked and on a professional tryout, the Flyers may give him a roster spot. The same can be said for Andy Andreoff, who has a $750,000 cap hit on a one-way contract. Pitlick would likely be in that role, but he is week-to-week after having wrist surgery.
A veteran taking the fourth-line winger role would mean a prospect winger misses out on the roster. That would most likely be Aube-Kubel, but it could have an impact on Frost or Farabee.
Hopefully Nolan Patrick will be healthy sooner rather than later, but a week-to-week injury with the season opener less two weeks away isn’t ideal. It may be time to look at what the Flyers’ lines will look like without him, and that means a bottom-six shakeup.