Flyers

Is this the spark Nolan Patrick needs?

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Is this the spark Nolan Patrick needs?

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jake Voracek prefers to drive the bus no matter who’s riding on his line. 

He was the driving force on that top unit with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux through the first 26 games of the season before Dave Hakstol elected to move Voracek in an attempt to balance out his lines.

Now, rookie Nolan Patrick is learning how to structure his game by adapting to Voracek’s puck possession tendencies.

“Jake has done a good job of driving his line,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Basically, there’s been three different combinations for him so far this year. For a young guy like Patrick, you got to read a little bit off of Jake. Jake’s a creative player, but I think Patty is a guy that can read that play and can get pucks to Jake at the right time and at the right areas.”

Hakstol elected to move Patrick onto a line with Voracek and Michael Raffl prior to last Saturday’s game at Columbus, following a stretch of games when Patrick showed more urgency to create plays in the offensive zone.  

While the combination of Valtteri Filppula, Raffl and Voracek exploded right away in their first game in Calgary, Voracek believes it will take time to develop with Patrick.

“One practice doesn’t make much,” Voracek said. “You have to play games. Practice is good to stay in shape, but you can’t practice the game situations. It’s hard to do. We had a couple of opportunities in Columbus. Could we do better? Sure, but it’s a process and hopefully, we’ll generate some chances and score some goals today.”

With an average size of 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, one area the line can dominate is down in the trenches with their ability to win puck battles 

“It’s always different playing with different guys,” Raffl said. “Sometimes you need a little time to adjust, but I think he (Patrick) is one of our best centermen. He’s intelligent, he’s really good with the stick and he sees the ice well. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work.” 

Much of that depends on how long Hakstol is willing to keep that window of opportunity open.

The Ghostly confines
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere says he occasionally gets the “stink eye” when he’s asked where he’s from and the response isn’t your typical hockey-hotbed related answer.

The South Florida native, who was born in nearby Pembroke Pines, is proud of how he’s developed into an NHL professional beginning with his days with the Florida Panthers junior hockey program. But he also understands it’s not easy in a non-traditional hockey market and a fan base that doesn’t have the commitment of sports fans like Philadelphia. 

“Florida has been bandwagon state for sports for a while, especially down south,” Gostisbehere said. “I’m pretty sure if you go to any Miami Heat games, they’re not gonna be packed. But a couple of years ago they were. Obviously, when the Panthers were making the playoffs, the rats were coming back. It goes with the even flows of the team. If they’re winning, there’s obviously going to be more fans.”

The Panthers are one of four organizations averaging under 13,000 fans through the first three months of the regular season with a building capacity of 75 percent, and perhaps even below that, as the number is based on ticket sales.  

“It bothers me a little bit,” said Gostisbehere. “I grew up with it. I’ve seen the empty seats. Obviously, I hold them close to my heart and they’re a big part of my hockey career.”

"Ghost" will do his part to fill the seats tonight with his typical ticket requests for friends and family.

Projected lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier

Defense
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goaltending
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With their elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers' third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues pick is top-10 protected, but they only have a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is scheduled for this Saturday in Toronto. 

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.