The injury bug has bitten again.
The Philadelphia Flyers are already without forward James van Riemsdyk for 5-6 weeks, and now they will be without second-line center Nolan Patrick for 7-10 days due to an upper-body injury. Patrick was injured on a hit during the first period of Wednesday night’s win in Ottawa.
With Patrick on the shelf, the Flyers will need a new second-line center. There are quite a few candidates on the roster that could replace him.
Let’s take a look at a few potential candidates to center the second line.
One of the bottom-six forwards that has impressed the most this season is Scott Laughton. And the coaching staff has noticed.
Laughton has done a good job on the penalty kill and on even strength as well. He was promoted to the third line for the game in Ottawa, and he only got better.
He scored a pair of goals against the Senators, albeit one was an empty-netter, and had five shots on goal. He also took 10 faceoffs, winning six of them, as he chipped in on the penalty kill and helped out Mikhail Vorobyev on draws.
Laughton carved out a niche for himself last season as the team’s fourth-line center after falling out of favor with the organization. He has shown his offensive chops this season and has the defensive awareness to be responsible in his own end.
The promotions could keep coming for Laughton if Dave Hakstol and the Flyers decide to use him as the second-line center, which seems like a decent option.
Jordan Weal has gotten opportunity after opportunity to earn a spot in the lineup and he’s come up small in each one. He had a chance on the third line for the home opener, but didn’t do much. The former-AHL star has shown flashes of brilliance when confident, but he seems to get lost in his head when it’s not going so well.
He had 12 points in the final 19 games of the 2016-17 season, playing mostly with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. He has 21 points in his 88 other NHL games
Weal was in competition for the third-line center role in training camp, so he could get a chance at filling in for Patrick for a few games. He has played well with top players in the past, but his defensive ability at center could be a liability.
Given the options on the roster, Weal will most likely be back in the lineup on Saturday. He could be the second-line center, but it’s more likely that he’s in the bottom six.
The Russian diamond in the rough worked his tail off to earn a roster spot and has played well in his first few NHL games.
Slotted in as the third-line center, Vorobyev had a strong first game with JVR and Wayne Simmonds on his wings. That line has regressed a bit with JVR’s injury, but Vorobyev still has a strong skillset that is necessary for an NHL centerman.
The only thing that could hold Vorobyev back is experience. His line may be used more as a ‘2B’ line than a third line with Patrick out, but he could also be moved up to center the second line.
One of the less popular options to man the second line would be Jori Lehtera. However, given the usage of Valtteri Filppula and Lehtera last year, including in the playoffs, it wouldn’t shock me.
Lehtera has the experience, and therefore “veteran presence” that Hakstol could want on the second line. But even then I don’t think that is the direction he will go.
Last, and the opposite of least, is the captain. Moving Claude Giroux back to center for a few games would help avoid a top-heavy lineup.
If Giroux were to move back to center, the Flyers would have Sean Couturier, Giroux, Vorobyev, and Lehtera down the middle still. They would then be able to mix and match with Travis Konecny, Jake Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, and Wayne Simmonds as the top-six wingers.
That would give the Flyers two strong lines at the top, while not necessarily making the bottom six too weak. Laughton, Vorobyev, and Weal could make up the third line, with a fourth line of Michael Raffl, Lehtera, and Dale Weise remaining intact.
I’m not sure if they’ll want to move Giroux off the wing (or break up the top line) for just a few games, but it’s an option that Hakstol has.
We will likely see later this morning what Dave Hakstol decides to do. The Flyers are set to practice in Voorhees, where we should see the line combinations; unless it’s an optional skate.