Grading the 2019-20 Flyers Forwards
Until it was put on hold due to coronavirus, the 2019-20 season was a promising one for the Philadelphia Flyers. A new coaching staff and an aggressive summer combined with the old core and emerging young talent led the Flyers to the sixth best record in the NHL this season, leaving Philly just one behind Washington for first in the Metro.
While this season was an undeniable success for the Flyers as a team, each individual player has their own story to tell. Some players rose above the pack, surprising fans in a positive way. Others disappointed, failing to meet expectations. Most are somewhere in the middle.
With the Flyers next game likely not being for at least a few more months, now seems like a perfect time to see where everyone stands. This will be the first in a two part series. Part one will take care of the forwards; part two, the defensemen and goaltenders. Every skater who played at least twenty games in the NHL this season (whether they were for the Flyers or not) will receive a mention, and since the Flyers didn't use eight goalies like last season, I'll give analysis on all three that did suit up this season.
I'll be taking several factors into consideration to come up with the grades. Points and traditional stats will play a major role, as will analytics. Specifically, Corsi and Expected Goals For% will be the two main fancy stats I take into account, since they show how well a player is driving play, which is what leads to goals, which is what leads to wins. Veteran presence and intangibles may not be quantifiable, but if a player goes above and beyond in that area, it can give them a little boost.
Grades will be given relative to a player's expectations and cap hit. AHL work of players will also be considered for players that suited up for the Phantoms this year, although that won't be a major factor in the final grade. Keep in mind that the Flyers only played 69 games this season compared to 82 last year when looking at point totals. Now, let's see who made the grade and who will be trying to hide their report card from their parents (half this team is under 25, don't tell me their parents won't be all over them if they get a bad grade).
C Sean Couturier
2018-19: 33 G, 43 A (76 PTS), 52.96% Corsi, 52.41% xGF
2019-20: 22 G, 37 A (59 PTS), 56.25% Corsi, 55.54% xGF
No Flyer is a more complete player than elite 1st-line center Sean Couturier. For the third straight season, Couturier at a 70-point pace, led all regular skaters in 5-on-5 Corsi, won over 52% of face-offs (a career-high 59.63% success rate this season), and will almost certainly finish in the top-six for Selke voting. In fact, Couturier was the Pro Hockey Writers Association's mid-season pick to win the award, and since he showed no signs of slowing down, there's a very good chance he'll be the third Flyer to bring home the award for best defensive forward. My last article here goes over Couturier's candidacy for the Selke, so make sure to check that out.
Couturier is both an easy and a difficult player to analyze because there isn't really a hole in his game. He scores at a first-line rate, drives play, creates chances without giving them up, faces top competition, plays a ton (19:50 per game, leading all Philly fowards), plays in all three situations (PP, PK, and of course, even-strength). Oh, and he scored three shootout winners this year, an area where Flyers shooters have been historically inept (and he added an OT winner, to boot). There isn't much to say about Coots that hasn't been said already. He is one of the best centers in hockey, and the Flyers are extremely lucky to not only have him on their team, but have him at an incredible contract - $4.33 million for the next two seasons.
RW Travis Konecny
2018-19: 24 G, 25 A (49 PTS), 50.32% Corsi, 46.41% xGF
2019-20: 24 G, 37 A (61 PTS), 54.77% Corsi, 54.58% xGF
As the team's lone All Star and leading scorer, there isn't much doubt about Konecny's grade. After two seasons as a solid second-line level scorer, TK burst through the ceiling this year, establishing himself as a top-flight winger. Konecny tied his previous career-high in only 66 games this season, a 30-goal pace over a full season. The Flyers have lacked a legitimate sniper since Jeff Carter left in 2011. The Flyers though James van Riemsdyk would take that role back when he returned in 2018, and though JVR has been solid, it's actually Konecny that's taken over the go-to goal-scorer role.
Part of Konecny's breakthrough is due to a career-high 17% shooting percentage; he averaged 13.4% during the last two seasons. However, the biggest difference this season for TK is power-play time. TK spent most of his first three seasons on the Flyers second PP unit, which was generally ineffective and lacking finish. This season, Konecny averaged 2:52 of power-play time this season, a huge upgrade from the combined 1:34 average over the last three seasons. The result was 23 power-play points for TK, nearly double his career power-play point total entering this season (12).
The biggest thing to be excited about when it comes to Konecny (other than his team friendly contract, which has 5 years left at a $5.5 million cap hit) is the uptick in his advanced stats portfolio. TK was more of a complementary piece to a scoring line entering this season. Konecny's biggest successful stint in the NHL entering this year was the second half of the 17-18 season, which he spent alongside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, two elite play-drivers who had to carry a younger Konecny at times
This season, Konecny showed that he can carry a line when needed, a rare trait for a winger. Last season, Konecny was around break even at winning the shot attempts battle, and while he generated a lot of offense, the Flyers were gashed for .56 expected goals against per game. This season, that number was down to .49. It might not seem like a huge drop, but that adds up to about five fewer goals against during a full season. Overall, Konecny became a more complete and mature player this season, earning him the trust of the coaching staff, which led to more ice-time, which led to a breakout campaign.
LW Claude Giroux
2018-19: 22 G, 63 A (85 PTS), 52.09% Corsi, 49.77% xGF
2019-20: 21 G, 32 A (53 PTS), 54.42% Corsi, 53.89% xGF
If you look strictly at points, this season is a bit of a disappointment for Giroux. After scoring over a point per game each of the last two seasons, Giroux fell to a 63-point pace this season, his third-fewest points in a full season. However, as any hockey fan will tell you, there's more to hockey than points (and it's not like 63 isn't a lot). Giroux is still one of the most important Flyers, and overall, he had a good season.
There are two obvious reasons that explain why Giroux's point totals fell. It's no secret that for most of the season, the Flyers top power-play unit wasn't nearly as good as it's usually been the last decade. New power-play coach Michel Therrien spent basically the entire first-half trying to re-work the Flyers' man advantage, and no one suffered more than Giroux, the Flyers leading power-play scorer each of the last eight seasons. Giroux was taken from his familiar home on the left boards to the opposite side of the ice. The switch completely neutralized Giroux's one-timer, preventing him from reaching anywhere close to the 36 power-play points he scored in 17-18.
The other explanation for Giroux's points decline is the captain had to move back to center for extended periods this season. Giroux moved to the middle for 14 games from mid-October to mid-November, centering James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee for his first NHL games. Giroux was put back at center between JVR and TK for another half-dozen games in late-January and early-February. Giroux scored 14 points in those 20 games (.7 points per game), compared to 39 points in 49 games at wing (about .8 points per game). Additionally, the extra minutes and responsibility probably caused a little fatigue as the season progressed.
During the final 15 games of the season, when Giroux was on the left boards on the power-play and playing left wing, Giroux scored 18 points - a 98.4 point pace in a full season. You often hear about players having to adjust to new coaches, but in Giroux's case, it seems like it took the coaching staff a while to adjust to him. Once they did, Giroux took flight, and he was still a quality player even when faced with adverse circumstances.
RW Jakub Voracek
2018-19: 20 G, 46 A (66 PTS), 48.4% Corsi, 50.11% xGF
2019-20: 12 G, 44 A (56 PTS), 53.1% Corsi, 52.01% xGF
Voracek did not exactly have a dream start to the season. Even though he scored at a pretty consistent pace, Voracek was demoted to the third line for a half-dozen games to start November. He seemed to be in Alain Vigneault's doghouse, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. Vigneault had the Flyers dumping the puck in more than ever, especially early in the season. On the other hand, Voracek has always relied on his hands and playmaking and loves to carry the puck into the zone. The clash of styles was pretty huge, and Voracek's "money in the bank" was running low.
But then, as every other Flyer did, Voracek began to adapt to Vigneault's system. To be clear, there was never any reason to believe that Voracek didn't believe in Vigneault and was intentionally disobeying his teachings or anything like that. It's just the adjustment was much greater for him than a Scott Laughton-like player, who is used to dumping the puck. On the surface, this year was the typical Voracek. Mid-to-high sixties in scoring (on pace for 66.5 in a full season), with frustrating turnovers mixed with highlight reel helpers. Voracek is still a great playmaker and his offensive ability is still top notch.
However, Voracek made strides under the hood. Everyone agrees that Voracek broke out for good in 2014-15, when he scored 81 points (tied for fourth in the whole league!) However, savvy fans already noticed that Voracek, in addition to now being a prolific scorer, was also a play-driving beast. Both Voracek's Corsi For and Expected Goals For% were over 53%, which was actually a small drop from his outstanding 13-14 season. However, just two seasons later in t̶h̶e̶ ̶F̶l̶y̶e̶r̶s̶' ̶s̶e̶a̶s̶o̶n̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶l̶ 2016-17, Voracek was barely winning the shot attempts battle, and the Flyers were actually out-chanced with him on the ice. His numbers didn't improve very much in 17-18 despite scoring a career-high 85 points, and last season, the Flyers were out-shot at 5-on-5 with Voracek on the ice for the first time in his career. Approaching 30, it was fair to wonder if Voracek's best days were already behind him.
"Not so fast my friend," Voracek theoretically said. Jake's underlying numbers bounced back to highs not seen since 14-15. Once the transition to Vigneault's system was complete, Voracek saw major dividends. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the revolving door of power-play personnel and formations probably hampered Voracek's power-play output, as Voracek scored just 11 fewer even-strength points this season than 17-18, when he was tied for third in the league in assists. This year was encouragement that Voracek will age well under his hefty contract (four more years at $8.25 million), rather than becoming an albatross to the Flyers already tight cap situation. With the Seattle expansion draft coming in 14 months, Voracek's days as a Flyer may be numbered, but it's clear he still provides a ton of value to the Orange and Black.
LW James van Riemsdyk
2018-19: 27 G, 21 A in 66 GP, 46.53% Corsi, 45.5% xGF
2019-20: 19 G, 21 A (40 PTS), 52.95% Corsi, 55.6% xGF
There are two ways to analyze James van Riemsdyk's 2019-20 season, and the truth to how good it was probably lies somewhere in the middle. James van Riemsdyk was, is, and always will be a goal-scorer, and a 23.6 goal-pace for a $7 million goal-scorer is a little underwhelming. After all, van Riemsdyk managed 27 goals in the same amount of games he played this year and 36 the year prior. At 30 years old, it seems fair to question whether or not JVR might be starting to decline.
But those concerns are largely alleviated when you look at van Riemsdyk's advanced stats profile. JVR was a play-driving and defensive liability last season, as the Flyers were routinely losing the shot and chance battle with him on the ice. Making such a big jump (+6.42% Corsi, +10.1% xGF) in one-year for someone as old as JVR is extremely rare. Vigneault's system and JVR's buy-in to it have made him a much more complete player. You could definitely make the argument that van Riemsdyk was more valuable to the Flyers this season than last despite the much lower point totals, because nearly every other aspect of his game was better. And it's unlikely JVR developed Matt Read syndrome and lost his finish overnight.
But why didn't van Riemsdyk score more? The answer is mostly just bad luck, or at least less good luck. JVR scored on a career-high 16.2% of shots last season. This year, that number dipped down to 12.6%, not too far off from his career average of 11.9%. van Riemsdyk also averaged 12 seconds less PP time per-game; not a dramatic drop-off, but it does add up. For someone who relies on the power-play to produce, the constantly changing and often ineffective power-play also hurt JVR's totals (just like it did with Giroux). He also spent time on the fourth line early in the season he was in AV's doghouse, which certainly didn't help. If van Riemsdyk plays as well as he did this season next year, there's no reason he can't approach 30 goals once again.
C Kevin Hayes
2018-19 (NYR/WPG): 19 G, 36 A in 71 GP, 50.59% Corsi, 52.26% xGF
2019-20: 23 G, 18 A (41 PTS), 49.35% Corsi, 49.61% xGF
The price-tag on Kevin Hayes is steep. No one is disputing that. But for the Flyers, at least for now, it seems like a price worth paying. With Nolan Patrick missing the entire season (so far) with migraine disorder and Morgan Frost unable to stick full-time, the Flyers would have been in huge trouble without Hayes. Either Giroux would have played center full-time or Scott Laughton would've regularly been on the second-line. Both of those options make the Flyers legitimately worse than having Hayes at 2C, which is what he was for basically the entire season.
Kevin Hayes is an incredibly fun player, and that's something I (and most people) didn't realize when the signing was made. He's clearly made a positive impact on the locker room in a short period of time; he's worn an "A" on his sweater for road games all season for a reason. Whether it's interviewing teammates about the Super Bowl, enlightening us that he used to be a ref, hanging out with his roomie Gritty, or the plethora of smiling cellies he's pulled out this year (none better than the championship belt after his OT winner in Columbus), Hayes is a treat to watch.
Even though Hayes spent four of his first five NHL seasons under Alain Vigneault, it took him a while to get used to Philly, as he went on a ten-game scoreless drought basically from Halloween to Thanksgiving. However, even when he wasn't scoring, Hayes still provides value with his physicality and stellar penalty killing. His four short-handed goals are tied for the league-lead, and all four were huge goals; two were game-winners, and the other two were insurance markers that stretched a one-goal Flyers edge to two. He also had two goals in overtime and a shootout winner, solidifying himself as a player who can be counted on in the clutch.
When you look at the numbers, the Flyers got about what they expected out of Hayes. He is on pace for just under 50 points in a full season, but his play-driving numbers are just ok. In fairness, Hayes dealt with a revolving door of wingers and never played alongside Sean Couturier, the Flyers best play-driver. After all, Couturier earned the nickname "Dr. Coots" for his ability to make his linemates better, a luxury Hayes never experienced since he and Couturier are full-time centers. On the whole, Hayes had a solid first-year in Philly. But is that enough to make him worth the hefty price? A chance to make or break his season in the playoffs would sure help answer that question.
LW Scott Laughton
2018-19: 12 G, 20 A (32 PTS), 44.22% Corsi, 47.83% xGF
2019-20: 13 G, 14 A (27 PTS), 47.45% Corsi, 46.63% xGF
It's been six years since Scott Laughton scored an impressive 87 points in 54 OHL games for the Oshawa Generals, giving fans hope the 20th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft could be an impact scorer. Those hopes have not, and likely never will come to fruition. After a frustrating next two seasons, Flyers management changed the course of Laughton's career by sending him to the AHL for basically the entire 16-17 season, telling Laughton to re-work his game to become a bottom-six, penalty-killing forward.
To his credit, Laughton took the change in role to heart and became a darn-good bottom-six forward for the Flyers each of the last two seasons, setting him up as an RFA last summer. Though both sides discussed a longer-term deal, Laughton ultimately chose to bet on himself, signing a 2-year contract to walk him into unrestricted free agency.
Laughton only played in 49 games this season due to a groin injury and broken hand, but so far, Laughton's gamble is looking like the right one for him. Laughton scored at a 45-point pace for an 82-game season while still being an effective shut-down forward used against top competition. He played center and the wing, and was occasionally used on the second-line (most notably in the two weeks after the trade deadline), and held his own in the higher role (his Corsi and xGF% were roughly the same as his season average).
The only knock on Laughton's game is his suboptimal advanced metrics, but there's a reason for that. Laughton has always leaned towards dumping the puck and forechecking in the NHL, which goes in line with the "keep in simple" style the Flyers instilled in him. Dump-ins produce a shot about one every three times, half as effective as controlled entries. This mentality puts Laughts at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to driving play. But coaches are always willing to accept simplicity from their bottom-six, and Laughton does more than enough in other areas to make up for his Corsi being two-to-three points lower than optimal.
RW Nicolas Aube-Kubel 2019-20 (AHL): 5 G, 3 A in 26 GP, 54.04% Corsi (+3.02% Rel)
2019-20 (NHL): 7 G, 8 A in 36 GP, 50.47% Corsi, 54.52% xGF
In November, it seemed like Aube-Kubel might never be able to make an impact for the Flyers. Despite a solid 18-19 season that saw him earn a 9-game NHL cup of coffee and produce well for the Phantoms, he slid down the depth chart rapidly. Aube-Kubel cleared waivers in September and wasn't scoring a ton with the Phantoms. A plague of injuries led to NAK's promotion in mid-December. Most people thought it wouldn't be a long one.
Instead, there may never be another demotion for Aube-Kubel. It didn't take long for NAK's tenacity and relentlessness to win over the coaching staff. Aube-Kubel seemlessly stepped into the Flyers lineup, filling the role of a bottom-sixer perfectly. Not only did he score at a decent rate, but Aube-Kubel was one of the best advanced stats players on the team. It's no surprise; Aube-Kubel has driven play at every level in the pros. Even during that 9-game stint last year, Aube-Kubel's Corsi was over 55%. He has a knack for hunting down the puck, and once his team gets it, they don't lose it easily.
Looking forward, Aube-Kubel's upside is probably very good third-liner. He doesn't have the high-end skill, speed, or shot to be an elite scorer, but he could push 40 points if everything goes right (over 82 games, he was on pace for 34 this season). Think Scott Laughton as the type of player he could become. NAK is a player every team wants, and one the Flyers are lucky to have.
LW Joel Farabee
2019-20 (AHL): 3 G, 1 A in 5 GP, 69.14% Corsi (+17.55% Rel)
2019-20 (NHL): 8 G, 13 A (21 PTS), 49.11% Corsi, 46.86% xGF
Farabee became the first player to make the Flyers in his draft plus two season since Konecny and Provorov in 2016. After blowing off the doors in the AHL with three goals in as many games, Farabee was quickly promoted to the Flyers. Though he would return twice to the Phantoms briefly, once for cap reasons and the other to keep him active while the Flyers sorted out Grant and Thompson's roles, Farabee proved himself to be a legitimate NHLer at just 19.
Of course, Farabee still has work to do in order to reach his ceiling, which is probably around the level of a Mark Stone if everything works out perfectly. Even if it doesn't, Farabee has the hockey IQ, defensive ability, and tenacity to be a quality third-liner at worst, though he's expected to at least be a full-time second-liner once his development is finished. After all, third-liner is overall what Farabee was for most of the season, and again, he's only 19.
Farabee is too good for the AHL already. His gaudy 69.14% Corsi, over 17% higher than his average teammate, is insanely impressive. At the NHL, he wasn't a dominant play-driver, but Farabee certainly has the toolkit to be that once he becomes stronger and more confident. Farabee's offense dried up at times (he went on a 16-game goal-less drought around the turn of the calendar year), but he showed flashes, like a 6-game point streak that immediately preceded that aforementioned slump. Farabee had a promising rookie campaign; it will be exciting to see where he goes from here.
C Morgan Frost
2019-20 (AHL): 13 G, 16 A in 41 GP, 51.29% Corsi (+3.98% Rel)
2019-20 (NHL): 2 G, 5 A in 20 GP, 51.55% Corsi, 48.66% xGF
Morgan Frost's rookie season wasn't quite as good as the other Flyer taken with a 1st acquired for Brayden Schenn (Farabee). It took Frost longer to earn an NHL audition, and unlike Farabee, Frost was unable to stick. He did return briefly, but was sent down again, although had more to do with the outstanding play of literally every other forward rather than Frost being ineffective.
Frost's NHL career could not have gotten off to a better start. After scoring 12 points in 16 games with the Phantoms, Frost earned his chance in mid-November. He became the first Flyer since Jason Akeson in April 2013 to score a goal in his NHL debut, then followed that up with a shortie and an assist the very next game. However, Frost tallied just four helpers in his next 16 games before being sent down just after Christmas. He also didn't score in his brief two-game re-call in February.
Overall, though, this was a solid first pro season for Frost. His AHL numbers are solid; a 46-point pace in a full AHL season (76 games) and 28.7 in a full 82-game NHL season. While Frost had his struggles, he never looked truly overwhelmed by the pace of the NHL game, which was supposed to be one of his biggest issues. His play-driving numbers are solid, especially for a 20-year old, and his playmaking ability is legit. Frost should make a strong push for 2020-21 third-line center (or wing, depending on Nolan Patrick's health).
LW Michael Raffl
2018-19: 6 G, 12 A in 67 GP, 45.88% Corsi, 44.59% xGF
2019-20: 8 G, 12 A (20 PTS) in 58 GP, 49.29% Corsi, 48.49% xGF
Even though Raffl has fallen down the depth chart on the Flyers roster the last few years (though that's more a comment on the team's improvement rather than Raffl's decline), the Austrian Rocket still had a pretty good year. In fact, you could argue he was the most complete player of any bottom-sixer (Laughton, Pitlick, Grant, Bunnaman, NAK, Thompson, etc.) this season.
Among that group, only Laughton scored at a higher-rate. Raffl missed 11 games with a broken right pinkie, putting him on pace for 28 points in a full season (his career-high is 31 in the 14-15 season). Most of the bottom-six struggled by advanced metrics, and though Raffl is still under break-even in Corsi and xG, he's the best play-driver of the bunch. The only player who beats him in those areas is Aube-Kubel, who played 19 of his 36 games on Raffl's line. Add in versatility, as Raffl began the year at center, his first stint down the middle in years, and his stellar PK work (a common trait among the Flyers depth pieces), and you have a quality fourth-line forward who is also an extremely popular fixture in the Flyers locker-room.
Next season will probably be Raffl's final one in a Flyers uniform. He'll be 32 at season's end and the Flyers will have a tight cap situation. Maybe he comes back on a short-term pay-cut, but if not, Raffl will go down as one of the most under-appreciated Flyers in recent memory. He spent most of his first half-decade with the club playing way higher in the lineup than he should have due to the team's lack of quality forwards, yet always performed admirably. At his peak, Raffl looked like he belonged on any line against anyone the opposition threw out. Like Yegor Zamula was for Ron Hextall, Paul Holmgren left the Flyers one heck of a parting gift when he signed an undrafted Raffl out of Allsvenskan in 2013. Who would've though he still be producing here seven years later?
C Derek Grant
2018-19 (PIT/ANA): 16 G, 13 A in 56 GP, 48.29% Corsi, 49.4% xGF
2019-20 (ANA): 14 G, 6 A in 49 GP, 40.58% Corsi, 38.9% xGF
2019-20 (PHI): 1 G, 4 A in 7 GP, 37.42% Corsi, 40.39% xGF
I was very concerned when the Flyers first acquired Grant. Among qualifying players, Grant was bottom-ten in the entire NHL in both 5-on-5 Corsi and Expected Goals For%, which is impressive, in a depressing way. Part of that comes from playing with the Ducks, who had a 48.43% Corsi (21st in the NHL) and 46.75% Expected Goals For% (26th) at the time Grant was dealt. However, the individual numbers were still concerning, and while some of that was offset by his respectable scoring numbers, I was still a skeptic.
Grant's advanced stats with the Flyers are nothing to right home about it. But seven games is an extremely small sample size to judge a player. And Grant's first game as a Flyer should probably be expelled from the record since he played the game after hopping on a red-eye flight, practicing in the morning, and having a shorter than usual pre-game nap. Hockey players are creatures of habit, and when you mess with their routines, it usually throws them off. Grant's first game as a Flyer was easily his worst, posting a 31.82% Corsi and 21.7% xGF. Over his next half-dozen games, however, and the numbers rise to 38.35% and 42.57%, respectively. It's not much of a jump, but it is still better.
For what it's worth, Grant looked good to my eyes. He scored at an outstanding pace in that small sample size and it rarely felt like he was being hemmed in or failing to keep pace. His offensive creativity was miles ahead of what I was expecting, highlighted by an incredible kick-pass in the middle of a net-front battle to set up a slam-dunk goal and a slick backhand-forehand goal against the Rangers, just moments after he set up a two-on-one shortie. If the season had concluded as scheduled, I think Grant's analytics would have continued to improve as he got used to his new teammates and system. The scoring would have eventually curved off, but Grant was looking like an effective rental that gelled with the Flyers on and off the ice.
RW Tyler Pitlick
2018-19 (DAL): 8 G, 4 A in 47 GP, 47.9% Corsi, 47.97% xGF
2019-20: 8 G, 12 A (20 PTS), 46.77% Corsi, 47.78% xGF
Expectations were pretty low for Pitlick when Fletcher acquired him from Dallas. After all, the biggest reason for the trade was Pitlick's contract; he only made $1 million, about half as much as the guy he was traded for (Ryan Hartman) would sign for. By the stats, Pitlick had a pretty typical season. He was on pace for 26 points (his career-high is 27; last year, he was on pace for 21). His advanced stats weren't anything to right home about. On paper, there's nothing special about Tyler Pitlick.
But the numbers never tell everything about a player, especially a bottom-sixer like Pitlick. The Pitsy/Pitjet/Pitlick Party experience was much more enjoyable than I ever imagined. Pitlick is a good penalty killer and great forechecker with a sneaky good wrist shot, as Anders Nilsson and Sergei Bobrovsky can attest to. Every goal he scored led to Tweets like this:
This one might be my favorite:
The Flyers have certainly acquired higher profile, flashier players than Pitlick over the years. But in just 63 games, Tyler Pitlick made a positive impact on the Flyers and the fanbase, which is easier said than done. He was a cult legend, a folk hero, the quality depth player the Flyers had been lacking for so long bottled up and given to us just before we died of an overdose of Corban Knight and Phil Varone. Because of the tight cap situation, I don't think Pitlick will return next season, which is a shame, because I'll miss him. I hope we'll have another #PitlickParty to celebrate.
C Connor Bunnaman
2019-20 (AHL): 6 G, 3 A in 29 GP 47.75% Corsi (-0.4% Rel)
2019-20 (NHL): 1 G, 1 A in 21 GP, 47.85% Corsi, 50.01% Corsi
You might have forgotten, but Bunnaman actually made the Flyers out of training camp this season. However, he was sent down to the Phantoms after five unimpressive games. It seemed like he would stay in the AHL for the rest of the season, especially because he wasn't particularly amazing for Lehigh Valley, actually taking a bit of a step back after a solid first pro campaign.
However, Bunnaman was given a second chance in the NHL in January, and this time, he ran with the opportunity. The Flyers fourth line of Bunnaman centering Michael Raffl and Nic Aube-Kubel was outstanding at puck possession and by advanced stats. They didn't score a lot, but that's to be expected of a fourth line. Their strong play kept Bunnaman in the NHL for over a month before the acquisitions of Thompson and Grant sent him back to the Phantoms, though Bunny was slated to replaced an injured Thompson before the league shutdown.
Bunnaman didn't wow anyone in the NHL during entire trial. He did look like a competent fourth-line center though, which puts up ahead of a lot of 21-year olds. His analytics weren't amazing in the NHL, but he wasn't a drag on his teammates, either. Bunnaman is a smart player and plays a responsible two-way game, which bodes well for his future. He'll likely never be a star, but Bunnaman could take Michael Raffl's role as versatile bottom-sixer in the near future.
C Nate Thompson
2018-19 (LA/MTL): 5 G, 7 A (12 PTS), 46.48% Corsi, 46.02% xGF
2019-20 (MTL): 4 G, 10 A in 63 GP, 48.66% Corsi, 47.95% xGF
2019-20 (PHI): 0 G, 1 A in 7 GP, 41.96% Corsi, 49.26% xGF
Like Grant, I was concerned about Thompson's ability to drive play and keep up with the modern day NHL. And like Grant, I don't want to read too much into Thompson's numbers in Philly, since he only played seven games as a Flyer. But overall, Thompson really does seem like a generic fourth-line grinder. There's nothing wrong with that, but in today's NHL, that usually leaves you in the press box on a team as deep as the Flyers, and once the club got healthy(ish), all signs were pointing to the Game 1 lines being as follows:
Thompson didn't really impressive very much after an intriguing initial showing in his first game as a Flyer. He didn't create much offense and even though his play-driving numbers were a little better than Grant's, I felt like he was hemmed in at times and he never impressed me with any aspect of his game. His penalty kill work was his best work, as he seemed to adjust nicely in that area, and like every other Flyers center (#1 in the league in face-off percentage two years in a row!), Thompson can be counted on in the dot. But overall, Thompson looked like a decent in-case-of-emergency-break-glass option, not a legitimate fourth-line center for any extended stint.
LW David Kase: C
LW Carsen Twarynski: C-
C German Rubtsov: D+
C Mikhail Vorobyev, C Andy Andreoff, RW Chris Stewart: D
Ok, I'll cave any provide some quick analysis on the rest of the Flyers forward group. Kase impressed me in his first brief call-up. His tenacity on the forecheck and ability to create offense give me hope that he can overcome his small stature (most coaches prefer their bottom-sixers to be bigger than Kase's 5'10'' frame) to be a full-time NHLer someday. He has enough skill to project top-9 upside.
Twarynski had a solid start to the season, making the team out of camp after a second straight impressive training camp. He scored first his NHL goal against All-Star goalie Jacob Markstrom in Vancouver in game 3 of the season, but it was all down hill from there. The work ethic is there, but Twarynski doesn't have much skill and struggled to keep up at times. He could be a nice fourth-liner in the near future, but he's not ready yet, and with the Flyers luxurious forward depth, they can afford not to rush him.
As for the last three, Andy Andreoff probably wins the award for most forgettable member of the 2019-20 Flyers. He had some good games but was most unimpressive strictly as a fourth-liner, tallying one assist in 14 games. That's still better than Chris Stewart (1 assist in 16 contests). NHL Network's Behind the Glass special hyped Stewart as a physical fourth-liner who could be more than enforcer. Unfortunately, the latter part just isn't true. His willingness to drop the gloves and popularity in the clubhouse were the only things he had going for him. Stewart's Corsi was sub 35% and his xGF% barely above 25%. He just can't keep up with the modern day NHL. Stewart had a good NHL career - 322 points in 668 games is nothing to scoff at, but it seems almost certain he's reached the end of the line.
German Rubtsov was just as invisible as Andreoff in the four games he got into. I'll give him a bit of a pass since he probably began the season a little banged up after needing shoulder surgery last November, but it's a concern he put in 13 points in 42 AHL games this year after scoring 10 in 14 a year ago. He's a smart player and has some offensive potential, but there's a ways to go before he puts it all together in my opinion. But again, there's no rush.
Mikhail Vorobyev might be the Flyer I'm the angriest at this season. The Flyers have given him five chances in the NHL over the last two seasons, and by the fifth time, it didn't even seem like Vorobyev wanted to be in the NHL. He had points in his first two career games last season, yet has three in the 32 he's played since. Vorobyev lacks the focus and work ethic any player, especially a bottom-sixer, needs to succeed.
The most frustrating part is Misha is good in the AHL when he's receiving big minutes, but just can't hack it in the NHL, and I don't know if the Flyers can flip a switch in his brain overnight, or even over a year. Vorobyev won't be waiver exempt next season, and I think the best thing for him would be a trade to Ottawa or Detroit where he could maybe receive similar minutes in the NHL to what he's getting in the AHL. That's just not happening in Philly.
But there's one review left. I saved the best for last.
LW Oskar Lindblom
2018-19: 17 G, 16 A (33 PTS), 50.99% Corsi, 53.63% xGF
2019-20: 11 G, 7 A (18 PTS) in 30 GP, 53.36% Corsi, 53.55% xGF
What a season this was for the Philadelphia Flyers. What a season this was for Oskar Lindblom.
Until it wasn't.
Like the team, Oskar Lindblom broke through the glass ceiling this year, making Dave Hakstol look like an idiot for healthy scratching him in Hak's final game as coach. Through 30 games, Lindblom was tied for the most goals on the team. He was scoring at nearly a 50-point pace. His underlying numbers were, once again, sensational, as Lindblom is already an elite play-driver less than 150 games into his NHL career. His attention to detail on the ice is second to none, which adds to his effectiveness at 5-on-5 and the penalty kill. The Flyers and Oskar Lindblom achieved their dream of being an elite team and player, respectively. They were destined for greatness, ready to prove their place among the game's elite.
And then, tragedy struck. For the Flyers, it was the COVID-19 pandemic postponing the NHL season, possibly for good. For Lindblom, it was the diagnosis of Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer most common in people ages 10-25 (Lindblom is 23), ending his season in the blink of an eye. Lindblom has been undergoing treatment at Penn, and while every update has been a positive one, there's no guarantees for Lindblom's future, nor are there any for his team.
If there's one thing to take solace in, it's the outpouring of support from the hockey world. Players on dozens of teams, even Sidney Crosby of the hated Penguins, donned Oskar Strong t-shirts. Thousands of Flyers fans help up "I Fight for Oskar" placards in the Flyers first home game after his diagnosis. Alain Vigneault spoke so fondly of him with the biggest smile anyone could imagine. Oskar has an incredible support group between his family, teammates, and the hockey community. His dreams have been put on hold. So have the Flyers. But there is still hope that someday not to long from now, we return to a better time, a time when we can watch Flyers hockey again and jump out of our seats to hear Lou Nolan belt, "FLYERS GOAL SCORED BY NUMBER TWENTY-THREE, OSKAR LINDBLOM!"
But for now, we dream. And we wait for this dream to become reality. Not all dreams do. Maybe this one, just this one, will.
*All advanced stats are 5-on-5. NHL advanced stats are from Naturalstattrick.com; Phantoms advanced stats are from Brad Keffer's work on Phancystats.com; Salary cap info from Capfriendly.com