Flyers

Jordan Weal's emergence makes Vinny Lecavalier trade look that much sweeter

Jordan Weal's emergence makes Vinny Lecavalier trade look that much sweeter

When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall traded Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings on Jan. 6, 2016, many applauded Hextall for somehow ridding himself of Lecavalier’s contract.
 
Little was it known then that Hextall acquired a piece from Los Angeles that now has a potential to hit big. No one thought Jordan Weal was anything more than a throw-in.
 
Weal was a player in the Kings’ organization that never found success at the NHL level despite churning out husky numbers in the AHL — 70 points in 2013-14, 69 in 2014-15.
 
“Jordan is at a point where he has been a top American League player and he’s trying to prove himself as an NHL player,” Hextall said after the trade. “He’s gonna have to answer that question. He’s a very dedicated player. He’s got a high skill level.”
 
The Flyers got out from Lecavalier’s crippling contract, L.A. got two veterans for a playoff push while moving on from a 2010 third-round pick, and giving up a 2016 third-rounder.
 
Win-win for both sides. Right? Except now, it appears to be a major coup for the Flyers.
 
On Thursday night, Weal signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension with the Flyers after he went on an NHL tour gauging his interest. He reportedly visited the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Canucks this week but chose to stay in Philadelphia.
 
Weal is expected to have a top-six role with the Flyers in 2017-18. His AHL success finally translated last season when he got the call-up from Lehigh Valley on Feb. 10.
 
The 25-year-old finished the season registering eight goals and 12 points in 23 games. He ended the campaign with eight points in his final 10 games and injected life into the Flyers.
 
The Jordan Weal we saw from Feb. 11 on was a completely different player from the one we saw last training camp and preseason, and in the four games he played here in 2015-16.

Weal was hungrier than we saw in camp and stronger in puck battles. A natural center, where he played with the Phantoms, he found a spot on the wing with the Flyers.
 
“They gave me a great chance last year to play with some great players, and I think this is a group that’s heading in the right direction,” Weal said Thursday. “The way we were playing hockey, it was a good brand, a good style.”
 
Weal spent most of the time last season playing left wing on a line with Wayne Simmonds (207:31) at right wing and either Claude Giroux (119:33) or Valtteri Filppula (107:02) in the middle.
 
He especially clicked with Simmonds. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol kept the pair together even when mixing up his lines to spread the wealth. It’s a good guess Weal and Simmonds will be together next season, but the center of the line is where it gets interesting.
 
Ten of his 11 even-strength points last season came while playing with Simmonds. Three came with Giroux in the middle, three with Filppula and one with Sean Couturier.
 
It sounds like Hakstol expects a much larger role for Travis Konecny in his second season, and it’s fair to speculate that means a top-six role for Konecny too. We know Giroux will be the top-line center, but no one expects Filppula to stay on the second line anymore.
 
With Nolan Patrick in the mix — and yes, all signs point to him being a Flyer next season — and Couturier, Filppula’s best bet is to shift to third-line wing or fourth-line center.
 
Lines will come together in camp, but a line of Weal, Couturier and Simmonds has the potential to be a productive trio. It would certainly satisfy the Corsi community. Weal (55.9) and Couturier (54.5) led all Flyers who played significantly last season.
 
“I think [Weal] can be a big part of where we go in the near future and the long future here,” Hakstol told The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday. “Most importantly on game nights, he’s a guy who goes out and gets the job done. He finds a way to impact and affect the game.”
 
There was some concern over the money. The term wasn’t the issue. The concern was how much would Weal catch on the open market? Could he be another Jonathan Marchessault?
 
But at $1.75 million per over two years, it’s an extremely reasonable contract. If Weal continues to produce like he did last season, it’s a major hit. Weal turns into a 40-plus point player at a reasonable price. The next contract is where he’ll hit paydirt.
 
If Weal doesn’t produce at the same rate, then his $1.75 million cap hit isn’t debilitating, and the Flyers avoid a Ville Leino situation. (Sorry, Buffalo.)
 
As for the Kings? They were bounced in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
 
The Lecavalier trade was already a win for the Flyers.
 
Now with Weal’s emergence, it's lining up to be a major steal for Hextall.

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

VOORHEES, N.J. — It looks as though Travis Sanheim will sit for the second straight game vs. the Panthers tonight (see Flyers-Panthers thoughts)

Now, before you get angry — and fire off a hot take about Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning — understand this isn’t a death sentence for Sanheim.

The Flyers have played all of five games this season. Sanheim has played in three, and after a bumpy NHL debut vs. the Kings, the talented rookie showed growth to round out the Flyers’ season-opening road trip (see Flyers Rookie Report)

“I think that the L.A. game was a bit of a wash, with it being my first game and it not going the way I wanted it to,” Sanheim said Tuesday after morning skate. “But I thought the other two games, you started to see some more of the way I want to play. I thought even into the Nashville game, I got better that night, as well. I think that’s what you want to see with a young guy, is getting better every night and I’ll continue to do that.”

And after watching from the press box during Saturday’s blowout win vs. the Capitals, the Flyers’ top defensive prospect will get his chances ... at some point. 

“I don’t have a number for you there,” Hakstol said of when we could see Sanheim crack the lineup. “But your players have to play. That doesn’t mean they have to play every game, but certainly they have to learn, both off the ice, on the ice, practice, game-wise and continue to grow.”

So Sanheim — who is a minus-two with zero points — has to learn the NHL game. It’s not uncommon for rookie defensemen to struggle with the speed and skill of the NHL in the early parts of their careers.

“The position is a hard position to make the adjustment to and to learn,” Hakstol said. “That being said, I think your players can be successful in making the jump and making the transition.”

If Sanheim needs any inspiration, he simply needs to look a few lockers down at Ivan Provorov. 

Provorov made the jump straight from the WHL (junior hockey) to the NHL last season, and early on, it wasn’t a particularly smooth transition. The then 19-year-old bottomed out at a minus-5 in an October loss to Chicago but blossomed into the team’s No. 1 defenseman in the second half of the season.

Sure, Sanheim has taken his lumps this season, but he hasn’t necessarily been bad. Hakstol even went as far as to say that he’s been happy with the 21-year-old’s play.

“I’ve been very happy with him," Hakstol said. “I’ve been happy with Travis’ play. We want him to keep growing. He’s going to continue to be a big part of our group. He’s got a great attitude and a great perspective in terms of being able to handle all the different situations that come his way.”

Sanheim said the coaching staff hasn’t ordered him to focus on any one aspect of his game, but after Tuesday’s optional morning skate, the rookie stayed on the ice for an extra 30 minutes with the staff and Jori Lehtera — who has been a healthy scratch for all five games this season — working on clearing the crease. 

It all comes down to the numbers. And right now, the Flyers have seven solid defensemen. 

“The other night (Saturday vs. Capitals), obviously I wanted to be in the lineup, but we've got seven good [defensemen] right now and obviously there’s going to be a guy sitting, and it just happened to be me the other night,” Sanheim said. “It was a learning experience. I think I can gain a lot from watching and seeing some of those guys, how they handle themselves in certain situations and I thought I gained a lot from it the other night."

Not convinced? Last season, rookie winger Travis Konecny and second-year D-man Shayne Gostisbehere both served multiple stints in Hakstol’s doghouse — the press box — and have seemingly turned things around to begin this season. This year, Gostisbehere is second on the team in points with eight, while, more importantly, he and Konecny are both a plus-2 on the year — good enough for a tie for third on the team. So, like it or not, maybe there is some good to sitting a young player for a few games. 

“Ultimately, as a young guy, I think there’s a lot of things you need to work on and for me, it's just working hard in practice and getting better every day,” Sanheim said. “I just want to try and establish myself as an everyday player. 

“I’ve been through this before. My first year of junior, I didn’t play right away and I was a healthy scratch for five games there, so I’ve been through the process before and I understand the situation that I’m in and ultimately, it’s up to me whether I want to play every night and I've got to show them that I’m deserving of that and obviously, it's going to maybe take some time but I’m willing to put in the work.”

Projected lines
With only 11 players skating, there was no line rushes or defensive pairings, but coming off an 8-2 win, it’s hard to imagine Hakstol making any changes to the lineup. However, it looks as though Michal Neuvirth will get the start in net. 

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches
Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim