Now is when the real battles begin.
On Friday, Renaud Lavoie reported that the Philadelphia Flyers waived Phil Varone, Mark Alt, TJ Brennan, Will O’Neill, Greg Carey, and Corban Knight with the intention of sending them to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. With that news, the Flyers are left with just 18 forwards battling for 13 roster spots.
There are many tiers within the roster, so we know who the competition will come down to. Most of the forwards are locked into their roster spot, but a handful will have to battle it out over the next 11 days to figure out who will be on the opening night roster on October 4th.
Let’s breakdown the remaining players in camp, starting with the 18 forwards.
The captain is ready for a bounce-back season. He looked fresh in his preseason debut on Thursday night and he will continue to ramp up the intensity as we get closer to the season.
Voracek is a lock for the roster, but expectations for him have varied for some. He received some blame in overtime against the Bruins and hasn’t lived up to his 81 point campaign in 2014-15. He increased his point total from ’15-16 to ’16-17, and should continue that trend with at least 61 points this season.
Filppula is one of the two that could be argued against as a lock. However, his contract as well as his performance in March and April with the Flyers is enough for him to make the roster. He will either provide depth down the middle, or give support on the wing.
Couturier has been due for a breakout season for a few years now. He’s one of the best two-way centers in the game and if he’s given skilled wingers like Voracek, Konecny, or even Giroux, we could see his point totals finally top 40.
Simmonds is one of the best all-around players on the team. He will be a top-six, or at the very least a top-nine, winger for the Flyers after back-to-back career years.
Raffl is the other forward that could have been argued against, along with Filppula. But his great performance on Sunday put any talk of that to rest. Raffl can slot on the left side up and down the lineup, and can even fill in down the middle if needed.
Weal was the talk of the town before the Flyers re-signed him this summer. He showed off his skill in a short-stint this spring, and is going to have to prove that he can do it over a full season. But he’s a lock for the roster.
Konecny was battling hard for a roster spot one year ago, but now he is solidified in the lineup and is looking for a big sophomore season. He had a full offseason of training and is geared up for the season.
Kids proving themselves (2)
Lindblom is the lesser of he and Patrick to make the roster, but they’re both near-locks after four preseason games. Lindblom has been playing with top-six players throughout the preseason and got a chance on the top power play unit (in the middle) on Thursday night.
He hasn’t shown off his offensive exploits just yet on the scoresheet, with just a lone secondary assist, but he has had a solid performance in each of the four preseason games. His tenacious two-way game should earn him a spot on the roster.
Patrick is making the Flyers roster. He has been down the middle and making plays on nearly every shift of the preseason. You hear his name every time he is on the ice. He’s a strong, two-way center that focuses on his defensive game to spark the offense. His assist on Gostisbehere’s game-winning goal is just a glimpse of things to come for Patrick. He has had several other great passes, including a few behind-the-back passes to Wayne Simmonds and Oskar Lindblom to create scoring chances.
Patrick has already ingratiated himself to most Flyers fans, and will sell himself on the rest once he finds the back of the net. It will come soon. He’s going to be the second or third line center for the Flyers on October 4th in San Jose.
Still battling (5)
Lehtera seemed to be an intriguing acquisition in the offseason. He was the secondary (or tertiary, including the other first-round pick) piece in the Brayden Schenn trade, and finds himself in the logjam of forwards on the Flyers roster. He has primarly played center so far and has showed off his vision and ability to create chances for his teammates.
It’ll be interesting to see where he falls come opening night. He is on the bubble but being able to play both center and wing helps his case. Lehtera is a tough guy to get a read on right now, but my guess is that he will be the 13th forward or in the AHL.
Read and Lehtera are in similar positions. They are both veterans, with relatively high cap hits, looking to secure their roster spot. Read has played well in the preseason, but hasn’t done anything to stand out. Even Lehtera has had a few highlight-worthy passes. His veteran presence and familiarity with the guys on the roster will help him, but Read will likely be a fourth-liner at best.
Weise disappointed last season after being one of the few free agent additions in the summer of 2016. His high cap hit didn’t help, nor did the fact that most of his points, and his best play, came at the end of the season.
He’s a grinder that can fit in on most team’s third or fourth line, but the Flyers have so many players that can already do that and then some. He will likely make the roster, but it wouldn’t be a shock if it’s only as a 13th forward or even if he gets sent to the AHL.
Laughton has grown a lot in the past 12 months. He seemed to be in the doghouse a bit last year, but battled out of it with a good season in Lehigh Valley. The Flyers protected him in the expansion draft which speaks to how they value him. He is now waiver-eligible which gives him a leg-up on the competition.
He is the one out of these four with the best chance to make the roster. He is a solid fourth-line center and can shift to the wing if needed.
Leier has fallen victim to the numbers game year after year. He just misses the roster by a man or two, but he finally got a decent chance during last season. He impressed in limited time with the Flyers. He has had two straight fantastic preseason games, moving him up the chart.
He’s still battling, but right now it looks like he’ll be back in Lehigh Valley.
Headed to Lehigh Valley (3)
Vecchione likely expected to be in the Flyers lineup this season, but the offseason changed that. He will get bigger minutes in the AHL where he doesn’t have to clear waivers. He should be one of the first forward call-ups during the season.
Bardreau has been mentioned time and time again by Ron Hextall, but is a darkhorse to make the roster. He’s a pesky grinder that will head back to the AHL.
McDonald is better than a lot of people give him credit for. He would’ve been great on the fourth line last season instead of Chris VandeVelde or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, or Roman Lyubimov, but was a good veteran presence in Lehigh as captain. He’ll take that same role this season with a lot of young guys on the Phantoms.
Predicting the final roster
With eight locks and two kids likely making up 10 of the forwards on the final roster, that leaves three spots (unless the Flyers elect to go with 14 forwards, which is unlikely) up for grabs. The five forwards still battling outlined above will have a healthy competition for the final three spots.
Two forwards will have to be cut, along with the three that are likely headed to Lehigh Valley. At this point I would have to say that Taylor Leier does not make the opening night roster. He still has some things that he can work on in the AHL, while the veterans are mostly finished products.
That leaves one more forward to cut, and it’s a really tough call. I think Dale Weise makes the team, with Scott Laughton also making it as a fourth-liner due to him being protected at the expansion draft. That means they’ll send down a veteran.
As much as I hate to say it, I think Matt Read will be the final cut, if he isn’t traded. Jori Lehtera has made a good first impression and can play on the wing or at the center position. It’s nowhere close to 100%, but that is the way it’s looking right now.
This coming week will be a big one for the players battling for roster spots. The Flyers play three games in four nights, starting on Monday night against the Rangers. There will certainly be cuts made by the end of the week, so this is the last chance for the guys to prove they deserve a spot on the opening night roster.
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