Flyers

End to End: If Nolan Patrick makes Flyers, where does he best fit?

End to End: If Nolan Patrick makes Flyers, where does he best fit?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: If Nolan Patrick makes the Flyers, where is he best featured in the lineup?

Boruk
Despite the surge of momentum that led to Nico Hischier going No. 1 overall to the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers were more than thrilled that Patrick fell into their lap. Here's a player the organization and its scouts had seen for two seasons playing with Ivan Provorov when the two were teammates with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Sources connected to the Flyers' organization had told me that Patrick's skill set coupled with his size, leadership and hockey sense had him ranked higher on its draft board than Hischier, who may have a little more of a learning curve when it comes to developing into a solid two-way center.

Patrick should make the opening night roster coming out of training camp with the only concern being his health. Will he have any setbacks from the core muscle surgery he had back in June? Assuming he's with the Flyers, there's absolutely no way he doesn't play center, and it doesn't appear Ron Hextall is willing to experiment. Patrick has played only a few shifts at wing, but even he admitted it's not a position he's too comfortable with.

With that said, where do you slot the rookie when you have Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera, whom all primarily played down the middle last season. First, I would like to see the two Finns (Filppula and Lehtera) on a line together, with Lehtera at center since Filppula is a more versatile forward. Couturier is the team's best two-way center at even strength, and if he stays healthy, this could be his breakout year (which seems to be the most repeated phrase over the past three years).

So why not experiment a little during the preseason? How about a Jakub Voracek-Patrick-Giroux line just to see how well they could work together? Giroux has been the opposition's bullseye for the past five years and his body has taken a toll as a result. He led the team in 2010-11 with 76 points primarily playing right wing, so this wouldn't be a novel idea for him. The Flyers need to find a way to extend Giroux's career since he's locked up through 2022. I'm not sure the Flyers have entertained the thought, but during the preseason you have very little to lose.

Where Patrick can really assert himself is on the team's second power-play unit that really struggled last season to contribute anything, especially when the top unit was mired in a drought. The natural inclination would have Patrick replace Schenn on that No. 1 unit, but as long as the Wayne Simmonds-Giroux-Voracek-Shayne Gostisbehere combination remains in tact, Patrick would give the second unit a little more firepower.

Dougherty
This one is simple. It's either second- or-third line center or the WHL. He is not playing wing. He will not be in a fourth-line role. It is as clear-cut as that. I'm a firm believer Patrick will be here in 2017-18. I don't see how he doesn't make the team. Where does he slide into the lineup? I see him as the third-line center.

We can get carried away with labels — first line, second line, third line, whatever. It doesn't matter. You need to be able to roll four lines to be successful in today's NHL. The Flyers should be able to do that. Whether Patrick is on the second or third line, it doesn't matter. For the logistics of this discussion, I'll proceed with how I see it playing out.

I believe Couturier will start the season as the second-line center and play penalty kill with Patrick as the third-line center and seeing power-play time. Couturier will still see top minutes against opponents' top lines and be in a role in which he's proven he can succeed. He'll still make his linemates better and score efficiently at even strength. Everyone will be happy.

Patrick will give the Flyers a formidable third line — a line that could see fellow rookie Oskar Lindblom and the veteran Filppula on his wings. Whether Patrick remains on the third line all season long is another question. I can see him moving up to the second line and Couturier taking over as the third-line center.

The point I'm making is this: With Patrick here, the Flyers will be able to roll out four lines with skill on each one centered by legitimate NHL talent. Giroux, Couturier and Patrick is a helluva one-two-three punch.

Hall
It's important to remember if Patrick makes the roster, his presence is big for the Flyers, but it's also significant developmentally for the teenager.

As an organization, you always want to put your players in spots where they have the best chance to succeed. With Patrick, this might be a special case.

So what does he do best and what makes him feel most comfortable?

By those who know him, Patrick has been lauded for his ability to make others better, and it's not just that sports cliché here. Patrick may not be a dynamic goal scorer, but surround him with talent and he'll thrive by augmenting others.

"If he's playing with some skilled guys, he will get them the puck, he will make plays," Patrick's uncle, James, said to CSNPhilly.com in June. "He's shown that he can do that. Certainly, the last three years in the Western Hockey League, put the best players on the ice with him and they will get chances, and chances all night. I think that's what his offensive upside is."

With that said, Patrick should play in a top-six role. Give him the minutes and setting to make a true impact in which he can develop through playing. Giroux is this team's obvious first-line center. Couturier can center the third unit in which there will be greater offensive depth but still the defensive focus.

So for Patrick, I'd love to see him flanked by Jordan Weal and Simmonds. Both are scorers that finish plays and bring a variety of ways to put the puck in the net. The skill sets of Weal and Simmonds complement Patrick's, while the three would compose a nice mixture of size and speed, a tough-to-play-against second line.

The fun thing is the Flyers should have options — much more than before — depending on roster decisions at the end of training camp. How the lines are constructed by Dave Hakstol will be even more polarizing in 2017-18.

Paone
Let's get something out there loud and clear to start this off: You don't fall backwards into the No. 2 overall pick and arguably the most talented player in the draft only to move him out of position and have him basically start from scratch as a 19-year-old in a new position in the best league in the world.

Patrick is a natural center and will be playing center for the Flyers. No questions asked.

OK, now that we have that issue all tidied up, the question now shifts to where Patrick fits into the lineup when it comes to linemates.

Giroux is still the Flyers' top-line center. Couturier is likely slotted in at the second-line center spot. 

You don't take an uber-talented 19-year-old and put him in a fourth-line, defense-based role where his minutes become limited. He needs as much exposure as he can get on the ice.

Those factors above are why I feel Patrick has the third-line center spot sewed up to start the season, granted he's healthy.

It's a good spot for him because it'll give him time to feel out the NHL game and make the coming adjustment period to this level a little smoother because the pressure to produce won't be as great right away as it would be if he were in a top-six role. There is wiggle room to ease in.

Time for another question shift — who plays alongside Patrick on his wings? It's an important question and it's obviously way too early for Hakstol to even tip his cap yet as to what he's thinking for the Flyers' line combos.

But, if we're just spitballing here with the current roster as of Aug. 5, here's what I believe the Flyers' third line could look like: Filppula-Patrick-Michael Raffl.

Having Filppula alongside Patrick gives the rook a veteran presence who's a natural center himself to guide him when on the ice. That's a valuable intangible. In Raffl, you have a veteran who's not afraid to go into the dirty areas and do the greasy work to free things up for Patrick to make plays. Lindblom is another name to watch for Raffl's spot, but having two rookies on the same line may not be an enticing endeavor for Hakstol, knowing the way he operates.

And of course, if Patrick excels while others in the top-six roles meddle, the door is open to moving up the lineup as soon he's proven he's ready.

And don't be surprised to see him on the power play, either.

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

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Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

Defenseman and prized prospect Travis Sanheim will start playing some big minutes again.

It just won’t be with the Flyers right now.

On Monday, Sanheim was reassigned to AHL Lehigh Valley as the front office also recalled Mark Alt to take Sanheim’s spot on the active roster.

Why?

Trust and development.

With the Flyers playing some of their best hockey of the season with wins in eight of their last ten games and the increased importance of gaining necessary points in an air-tight division (as of Monday morning, the Flyers hold with East's first wild-card spot with 54 points, one behind Columbus for third in the Metro, two behind New Jersey for second and just seven behind first-place Washington), Sanheim had been relegated as the seventh defenseman and had served as a healthy scratch in eight of those nine games.

“He comes out of the lineup and the team plays well,” general manager Ron Hextall said of 21-year-old blueliner. “Like most teams when things are going well, you really don’t want to change too much. If you look at the whole year with Travis, I think he’s played well with us. He’s had his moments, but he’s a young player and that’s going to happen. I don’t like him sitting and coaches don’t like him sitting, and I’m sure he doesn’t like sitting.”

Prior to the Devils/Capitals weekend series the Flyers swept, head coach Dave Hakstol was asked about the possibility of utilizing an 11 forward-seven defenseman combination as Tyrell Goulbourne has been used sparingly since his call-up. But Hakstol made it clear he wasn’t going to make concessions to accommodate one player.

“We’re not going to do anything to get anybody in the lineup at this point in time,” said Hakstol. “It can’t solely be about that. If that’s a scenario that’s best for our team, then we’ll consider it. What’s the right combination for our team to win a game that day?”

Coming out of the Christmas break, Hakstol started shortening the length of Sanheim’s leash. The rookie played 14:42 of the Panthers game (a 3-2 loss) on Dec. 28. Brandon Manning was fully healed and ready to return from a hand injury the next night in Tampa, a 5-3 decision the Flyers took from the league-best Lightning.

After missing the next five games, Sanheim received another chance with the Flyers' playing their first game against the Devils out of the bye week on Jan. 13. All it took was one play where Sanheim stepped up to check his man along the boards. He subsequently lost his stick, and by the time he grabbed it, the Devils converted an easy goal to take a 1-0 lead.

That came during Sanheim’s second shift as he finished the game playing a season-low 6:02, including just one 18-second shift in the third period.

“They’ve got to earn the trust of their teammates and the coaches, and sometimes that’s a process,” said Hextall. “Some of what Travis is going through is good for Travis. There’s a lot you learn out there. Part of it is the life lesson of you have to earn things. Things aren’t going to be handed to you. Just because you’re a first-round pick or a highly paid guy, you have to learn things. You don’t come out of college and become a CEO. You have to pay your dues, and you have to earn what you’re going to get.”

Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere learned those life lessons the hard way last season as both young players were pulled out of the lineup after their performance lagged. Hextall believes Sanheim will eventually bounce back and reflect at his rookie season as a valuable learning experience.

“Sometimes the only way they learn is by missing a shift or having their ice cut back a bit or getting sat out at some point,” Hextall said. “Most players have gotten sat out in their career. If you ask most guys, not at the time, they say it was a good lesson. There’s a lot of things our young guys are learning right now, not only at this level, but at Lehigh.”

Gostisbehere and Konecny are playing arguably some of the best hockey of their careers right now.

Even if Sanheim has more upside and potential than Manning, the veteran has proven to be more reliable defensively and has even been more opportunistic in the offensive end. In a twist of fate, Sanheim's offensive upside is a big reason why Hextall selected him with a first-round pick in 2014. Sanheim has one goal and four assists in 35 games played this season.

“You got to get stronger. You make a mistake and if you can’t rebound from it, you probably not going to be at this level for very long,” Hextall said. “There’s learning curves all along the way. You can’t look at everything in a vacuum. There’s a small picture and there’s a big picture.”

Hextall is right. At this critical point of the NHL season, the bigger picture of winning outweighs the smaller picture of player development.

Samuel Morin's frustrating season continues

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Samuel Morin's frustrating season continues

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Samuel Morin, D, 22, 6-7/202, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
It’s been a roller-coaster season for the 2013 first-round pick for many reasons, and the frustration continued last week for Morin. In the third period of the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Hershey Saturday in the AHL Outdoor Classic, Morin departed with another injury. The injury may have occurred on this poke check, but there was no update post game.

Morin has appeared in 15 of the Phantoms’ 42 games because of injury and a brief two-game cup of coffee with the Flyers. It appeared Morin played well enough to make the Flyers out of training camp and stayed with the big club on the team’s opening four-game West Coast trip but didn’t play. Then on Oct. 29, the Flyers announced Morin would be called up to as a spot opened up, but then discovered he was injured.

We don’t know how long Morin will miss with his most recent injury or if he will miss any time at all. The Phantoms play Wednesday night, but a season like this could harm a young player’s confidence. One, many believe Morin should be with the Flyers, and if you ask him, he’d tell you the same. Add injuries to the mix, and it’s the perfect storm.

Wade Allison, RW, 20, 6-2/205, Western Michigan (NCAA)
Allison’s breakout sophomore season is over. He will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a lower-body injury in the first period of the Broncos’ game on Jan. 13. The 20-year-old was among the initial list of 74 nominees for the Hobey Baker Award. Before the injury, Allison was among the nation’s top scorers with 15 goals and 30 points in 22 games. We’ll see how the injury affects his decision to turn pro next season.

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/192, Quebec (QMJHL)
Laberge, another prospect who’s had an up-and-down season, has trended upward over his last nine games with the Remparts, as he becomes more acclimated to his new club. The 19-year-old had two goals and two assists in three games last week for Quebec to extend his point streak to four games and he’s now averaging a point per game over his past nine games. Laberge’s story is one to root for and this season's been another rocky one for him. He’s battled inconsistency, and a trade, which, compared to the past, seem like small potatoes. But he’s on his best nine-game stretch this season, and we'll see if his recent showing will allow him to finish the year strong.

Quick hits
Morgan Frost saw his 20-game point streak end Friday night but picked up an assist in Sault Ste. Marie’s 4-2 loss to Flint. Frost had 45 points during his point streak. 

Philippe Myers registered his third goal of the season and his first since Oct. 28 last Wednesday night in the Phantoms’ 4-1 loss to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

Myers’ first professional season has been met with injuries, but when he’s been on the ice, he’s making progress. He has eight assists and 11 points in 25 games this season.

• How did Carter Hart respond to allowing three goals on Jan. 14 for the first time since Nov. 10? You guessed right. Hart pitched another shutout Saturday night — his sixth of the season — and then extended his winning streak to 12 games Sunday.

Alex Lyon was excellent in net for the Phantoms on Saturday night vs. the Bears, turning aside 41 of 43 shots. He’s been better since returning Dec. 26 to Lehigh Valley.

• Hamilton’s Matthew Strome is enjoying a three-game goal streak. He has 28 goals in 43 games this season.