Flyers-Islanders rookie game: 5 players to watch

Flyers-Islanders rookie game: 5 players to watch

For an organization that has been recently ranked in the top five in terms of caliber of players and depth, there is much anticipation surrounding tonight's rookie game against the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

This will serve as another test for many of the Flyers' prospects, who dominated at the junior level, to showcase their potential in a game in which their talent and skill level are comparable with their opponents. If you’re general manager Ron Hextall, you want to see players stand out and excel, because if they can’t elevate their game during a rookie game, they’ll obviously have a much tougher time when the veterans report Friday.

So, here are five guys to keep your eyes on for tonight’s rookie game, which can be streamed on the Flyers' official website:

German Rubtsov, No. 63, C
Go back to the 2016 NHL draft and the Flyers had some big, skilled wingers to choose from: Kieffer Bellows, Julien Gauthier, Max Jones and Riley Tufte. Instead, Hextall elected to trade down and select Rubtsov, a natural center who was moved to left wing last season with the Saguenéens of the QMJHL after coming over from Russia midseason. He seemed to adjust without much of a problem. While his quickest route to the NHL may be on the wing, Rubtsov will be centering Oskar Lindblom and Pascal Laberge, two very talented wingers, tonight. This trio could very well be the Flyers' most productive line and I expect they’ll have a number of quality scoring chances.

Oskar Lindblom, No. 54, LW
Hextall's quote following Day 1 of his very first draft as the Flyers' GM was, “We need to hit some home runs with our later picks.” It's one that has been branded into my brain, and Lindblom may be the Flyers' equivalent to the Phillies' Rhys Hoskins. A 2014 fifth-round pick (138th overall), Lindblom could be that home run hitter. Dave Hakstol commented on Lindblom's high hockey IQ, lightning quick release and a player ready to compete with the big boys. Lindblom needs to show he can be dominant at times during this rookie game.

Carter Hart, No. 79, G 
Unless you watched the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships, you probably haven't seen an entire game from Hart, who has been one of the most consistent and steady goaltenders in the CHL playing for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon commented on how fundamentally sound Hart is with positioning and structure inside the crease. The first netminder selected in the 2016 draft, Hart also possesses a maturity and deep knowledge of the goaltending position as he’s spent time studying former Vezina Trophy winners Carey Price and Braden Holtby over the years. You can expect Hart to split time tonight with Alex Lyon, and I’m intrigued to see how composed he’ll be in a game like this.

Phil Myers, No. 61, D
What separates Myers from Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Ivan Provorov? He’s right-handed, and having a right-handed shot has been a real need for the Flyers on their blueline. That doesn’t mean you rush Myers to the NHL level, but it will eventually create some much-needed balance. Myers said he has brought a tremendous amount of confidence into camp, and physically, he has developed as he has filled out over the past year. The emphasis for Myers has been to simplify his game and not think as much, and I think we’ll see that paired with Sanheim tonight.

Morgan Frost, No. 68, C
With three drafts under his belt, it appears Hextall and his scouting staff prefer 18-year-olds who are maybe more developed mentally than they are physically. Frost would fit that description, as the front office raves about his hockey sense, overall intelligence and his ability to incorporate his teammates. While he doesn’t have an explosive offensive game, he’s responsible defensively and reads plays well in the defensive zone. He has the frame of a typical 18-year-old but that will come over time as he continues to develop, adding size and muscle. Plus, don’t you want to get a glimpse of who the Flyers selected in the Brayden Schenn deal?

Anticipated lineup
Oskar Lindblom-German Rubtsov-Pascal Laberge
Connor Bunnaman-Nolan Patrick-Maksim Sushko
Carsen Twarynski-Mikhail Vorobyev-Ivan Kosorenkov
Isaac Ratcliffe-Morgan Frost-Matthew Strome

Travis Sanheim-Phil Myers
Sam Morin-Mark Friedman
Frank Hora-James de Haas

Alex Lyon
Carter Hart

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Replacing Wayne Simmonds on the power play may be one of the toughest assignments in the NHL.

After all, the guy is second to only Alex Ovechkin with 85 man-advantage goals since the 2011-12 season.

So when the predicament actually faced Dave Hakstol this week, the Flyers' head coach turned to … a 19-year-old rookie.

Why Nolan Patrick?

Three components of the decision stand out:

Intelligence factor
Leading up the NHL draft, the overwhelming strength of Patrick's scouting report was his hockey sense.

Those close to him, as well as draft experts, lauded Patrick for comprehending plays before they even happen and being above the ice in understanding spacing.

Those characteristics are crucial when having an extra man.

Patrick has two goals over two games filling in for the injured Simmonds on the Flyers' top power-play unit. Patrick exhibited his IQ with Thursday's game-winner, where he quickly planted himself right in front of the net, had the presence of mind to find the puck and then bury it past Sergei Bobrovsky.

"We told him, just stand in front, if you see a puck, bring it home," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We tried to simplify it for him and he's going to take care of it himself, he's a great hockey player. It's paying off for him."

All about the touch
Patrick has excellent hands.

Put him around the net, and he'll know how to deflect pucks and find holes in a goalie. His vision, skill and finesse are why he's regarded as such an all-around playmaker.

In Tuesday's win, Patrick found immediate success with the first power-play group. Making his way to the middle, Patrick took a Claude Giroux pass and showed off that touch, adeptly going top shelf as Carey Price went low.

Studying Simmonds' net-front proficiency hasn't hurt, either.

"I watch him every game, he's unbelievable there and good at tipping pucks and making plays," Patrick said. "You learn from just watching every day."

Building up the kid
With time, Hakstol and the Flyers have allowed for Patrick to become comfortable instead of putting the world on his shoulders from the get-go.

That's part of Patrick's makeup.

"He almost always wants to be comfortable and then he really starts to exert himself," Patrick's uncle, James, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last June

We're starting to see Patrick let loose.

As the Flyers have gradually upped his opportunity and responsibility, Patrick has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 12 games after putting up six (two goals, four assists) over his previous 34.

Placing Patrick among the team's best talent on the man advantage will only help with his confidence moving forward, in all situations.

The Flyers' power play entered Friday with the NHL's sixth-best percentage at 21.6.

It'll need more of Patrick — but the Flyers couldn't have asked for a much better start to life without Simmonds over the next two to three weeks.