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With final cuts looming, Flyers' lineup at practice may give glimpse of roster

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall is still sweating it out.

With three days remaining before the NHL roster deadline, the Flyers elected not to make final cuts prior to Saturday’s lengthy practice, keeping their extended roster through Sunday’s preseason finale against the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center. 

“We’ve got a lot of good players here,” the Flyers' general manager said. “Two players have to go for your roster size, we’ll see how tomorrow night’s game goes, see if we have injuries and then we’ll finalize a couple decisions.”

Hextall said he will the final cuts following Sunday's game.

It seems as though the Flyers will use Sunday’s game as less of a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener Wednesday and more of a final exam for bubble players. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol denied that assumption.

“I wouldn’t read into it,” he said. “We’re going to try to get as close to our game night lineup as we can but we still have some pretty tough decisions to make.”

Hextall also pushed back. 

“You don’t make decisions based on one game,” he said. “It can play a small part of it but not a big part.” 

Either way, the decisions are expected to be grueling on both sides of the ice. 

On defense, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning are expected to make the roster in some capacity, leaving prospects Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim battling for two potential spots. 

“There’s a lot of factors that factor into these decisions,” Hextall said. “It’s not just the obvious of who played best. A lot of things play into it — the future, the past, a role, the type of player we need to finish off our roster. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”

As of Saturday, those things were looking good for Hagg. The 22-year-old was working with Gostisbehere, signaling that the team views him as a regular. Meanwhile, bubble players Morin and Sanheim were matched together as an extra pairing.

“I think I had a pretty good camp so far and seems like the coaches and staff are happy with me,” Hagg said. “I’m still here, so I guess I’m doing something good. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far.” 

At forward, it’s a more complicated picture.

Two of Taylor Leier, Jori Lehtera, Oskar Lindblom and Matt Read will not make the starting roster Wednesday, with 21-year-old Lindblom, exempt from waivers, appearing like the odd-man out. The highly touted winger spent practice on an extra line with Lehtera and Read.

“Everyone wants to play in the NHL,” Lindblom said. “If the coaches want you here, you stay. I haven’t thought about it too much. Coaches decide. Hexy decides.” 

Meanwhile, Scott Laughton centered the fourth line featuring Leier and Michael Raffl.

“That line brings a lot of speed and it’s pretty exciting,” Laughton said. “Raffl gets in there on the forecheck. Leier is pretty good at making plays and finding you, so it felt good out there.”

Leier, who is not waiver exempt, appeared to be the big winner Saturday, working on the fourth line and heading the Flyers' 5-on-3 penalty kill unit. 

“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “Like I’m ready.”

But like many of the young guys pressing for an NHL job, Leier enters Sunday's finale feeling an elevated sense of urgency.

“There’s been anxiety throughout the whole camp,” he said. “That comes with the territory and business we're in. Everyone goes through it, but it’s something you have to push aside and get through.”