Breaking Down Final Cuts and Flyers Opening Night Roster
We've almost made it, Flyers fans.
After over 5 months of waiting, through the draft, free agency (which was pretty exciting for once), training camp, preason, a mascot reveal, and a drug scandal, we have nearly reached the moment we have been waiting for. Say it with me, Flyers fans - it's October 1st, final cuts have been made, and Jori Lehtera is still a Flyer!
And so is Dale Weise!
I promise it gets better. Mainly because it would be physically impossible for it to be worse.
Don't forget about Andrew MacDon-
Since there's been a whole four pre-season games since I wrote about part one of the preseason, let's look back at some of the storylines for those games before we move on towards the Flyers final roster.
Mikhail Vorobyev Makes the Team
The Flyers youth movement continues on, albeit not as emphatically as in the past few years, with a new face ready to make his NHL debut on Thursday - center Mikhail Vorobyev. A 2015 4th round pick of the Flyers, Vorobyev put up a respectable 29 points in 59 games with the Phantoms in his first season in North America. Vorobyev's strong advanced numbers and two-way style, combined with the departure of Valterri Filppula, made him a candidate to make the Flyers with a strong camp.
Make no mistake, Vorobyev was far from gifted a spot in the Flyers lineup. Competiting with both existing veterans like Lehtera, Scott Laughton, and Jordan Weal, as well as prospects Morgan Frost and Mike Vecchione, Vorobyev stood out. The Russian center never had a moment where he looked out of place, playing a very hard-nosed style that Dave Hakstol has been known to like. Vorobyev finished the preseason at a point per game pace (2 goals, 5 assists in 7 games), proving he can score at this level as well. While other prospects like Phil Myers and Carter Hart will have the opportunity to be called up and excite later in the season, Vorobyev is the only rookie to make the Flyers this year.
Myers, Hart Sent Down
Speaking of Phil Myers and Carter Hart, as I just mentioned both will start the year with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. However, two of the organization's top prospects got there is a little different.
Hart came into camp with the pressure of being the Flyers savior-I mean goalie of the future, although most fans, myself included, acknowledged he was likely to receive AHL time, especially given Ron Hextall's timidness with promoting prospects.
However, Hart did almost everything in his power to avoid that step. Hart stopped 55 of the first 57 shots he faced over his first 2 preseason appearances (rookie game excluded), looking poised and calm in the net. Given the unexpected injuries to Alex Lyon and Michal Neuvirth, Hart was suddenly thrust into a battle for the backup role with Anthony Stolarz. However, Hart was a bit shaky in the Flyers final home preseason game, allowing 3 goals on just 17 shots against the Rangers. The first 2 goals weren't Hart's fault, but the 3rd goal especially suggested that Hart may not be ready for the show just yet. Still, there's a decent chance we'll see him in orange and black before the season ends.
Myers, on the other hand, took a bit stranger path. Needing a strong performance to make camp as of early September, Andrew MacDonald's "six week" injury suddenly thrust Myers into a potential starting shot, at least for the first 10% of the season or so. However, Myers only had a fair preseason, looking timid at times and making some "rookie" mistakes, most notably a gastly turnover in the slot that lead to an instant goal against the Bruins. Myers was sent down, but then recalled on Saturday for the final preseason game, but struggled there as well, and was sent down along with Hart and fellow defensive prospect Mark Friedman (who had a strong camp) to the AHL. It's not ideal, but the extra development can only help Myers, who is still likely first in the pecking order barring a long-term injury on the backend.
Twarynski Surprises in Good Way
Oh, what a difference a year makes. A breakout 44-goal season in the WHL last year for 2016 3rd round pick Carsen Twarynski put him on the radar of many fans and earned him an ELC with the club. In pre-season, given astronomically long odds to make the team, Twarynski nearly defied them. Along with forward Tyrell Goulbourne, Twarynski showcased his strength on and away from the puck on numerous occasions, recording a goal and an assist in five preseason games and drawing plenty of attention. While his darkhorse bid may have fallen short, this camp certaintly bodes well for Twarynski's NHL future.
Danick Martel Claimed By the Lightning Off Wavers
When you have as many talented young players as the Flyers it's only a matter of time before you simply run out of room. Prospect Cooper Marody being traded to the Oilers last spring was the first example of this, while the latest example camp last week when Martel was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Martel got off to a crazy hot start with the Phantoms last year, operating at around a goal-a-game rate for about 2 months before earning a brief four-game callup. Martel looked solid and put up good advanced numbers but failed to register a point in his time with the Flyers. His numbers inevitably dropped off, with Martel scoring 25 goals and 40 points in 59 AHL games, but added 8 in 13 playoff games to end the season on a high note. Unfortuntely, Martel was never going to get much of a look with the Flyers, and while the Lightning have plenty of forward depth as well, they have had success growing small, young, diamond-in-the-rough forwards into impact NHLers (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Marchessault, and Yanni Gourde to name a few). Nothing but the best to Martel.
Jori Lehtera Alleged of Being in Cocaine Ring in Finland
It wouldn't be the Flyers (or Philly sports in general) without something completely out of the ordinary happening, and this certaintly qualifies as that.
At least now we know why he was so slow last year.
Flyers beat reporter Bill Meltzer translated an article from a Finnish news outlet that accused Lehtera of being one of 23 members of a cocaine ring in his native country of Finland. Lehtera's cottage was raided during the summer, with 7 members of the alleged ring arrested, but Lehtera was not home at the time of the raid.
Lehtera was certaintly not a all-star with the Flyers last year (unless he was around the boards, according to Bill Clement). And few players of Lehtera's caliber can get away with such a scandal. If found guilty (which is a BIG if), Lehtera's contract could be terminated, giving the Flyers an extra $4.7 million in cap space, which doesn't matter too much considering Lehtera only has 1 year left. As of Monday the 1st, Lehtera is still a Flyer, and hasn't even been placed on waivers (we'll get to who was in a moment), but that could change at anytime. It's important to remember he's innocent until proven guilty however, so we'll get to any further complications with Lehtera if necessary.
Final Cuts: Leier, Weise Clear Waivers; Leier Sent Down to AHL
On Monday, the Flyers announced that two of three spare fowards remaining in camp were placed on waivers - one expected in Weise, the other a bit of a shock in Leier. With Corban Knight out 3 weeks with an upper-body injury, the 4C position became a bit more complicated, with Jori Lehtera's ability to play center likely the only thing saving him from demotion for the time being.
As expected, both Leier and Weise cleared waivers, therefore remaining with the organization. However, the Flyers elected to keep Weise as the team's second spare foward, demoting Leier (who started opening night last year on the top PK unit) to the Phantoms. Yes, they kept Lehtera AND Weise. And this team wonders why the fans question their decision making so much.
In reality, this is probably not as big of a deal as it will be made out to be - the 13th and 14th forward spots on a team never are. You can even make the argument that consistent playing time for the 24-year old Leier may allow him to develop better than sitting in the press box for 40-60 nights. However, the danger for Dave Hakstol to trust zero-dimensional players like Weise and Lehtera because of their "veteran presence" is what should really scare Flyers fans here.
Flyers Claim G Calvin Pickard from Toronto
Lost in the shuffle of the Neuvirth and Lyon injuries and Carter Hart's demotion was a feel-good return to the NHL for Anthony Stolarz. After putting up good numbers in a brief trial run in the 2016-17 season, Stolarz missed basically all of last season due to knee surgery. So while it wasn't optimal, it was nice to see that Stolarz had found his way back to the NHL, even if it was only briefly.
Apparently his stay is a lot briefer than we all thought.
The Flyers claimed Calvin Pickard, a 26-year old goaltender, off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs (one of two goalies the Leafs lost to Metro teams on Tuesday). Pickard was a 2nd round pick of the Avalanche in 2010 who posted strong numbers in his first two years in the NHL as a backup before struggling alongside the historically bad 2016-17 Avalanche, posting just a .904 save percentage. Pickard was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, but never played a game before being waived and then traded to the Maple Leafs, where he spent the majority of last year backing up Garrett Sparks (the Leafs current backup and one of the best goalies in the AHL).
Pickard isn't as good as the .932 save percentage in his rookie year, but isn't as bad as the .904 he put up with the god-awful 2016-17 Avalanche. He's probably a true solid backup at the NHL level with a small chance of being something more than that. While I'm certaintly not against the acquistion, at least in the short-term, there have been plenty of Flyers fans clamoring for the team to acquire Pickard over the last 2 years, especially when the Flyers goalie situation fell apart last February. Now they have their wish - let's see if it's a good one.
Projected Opening Night Roster
Based on everything we've seen in the preseason and practices, this is what I believe (as of Tuesday night) is the most likely opening night lineup for the Flyers.
By the way, one weird note - Pickard isn't technically on the team right now. He's on Non-Roster Reserve, a status which he will likely leave on noon Wednesday assuming the Flyers waive Anthony Stolarz. So without further adue:
Scratched: Weal, Weise, Folin
*Number Changes: Lindblom - #23 (was #54), Vorobyev - #24 (was #46)