Oskar Lindblom

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

VOORHEES, N.J. — With the Flyers off to a hot 4-2 start, there’s a lot to like about the team. There's been the resurgence of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and the immediate impact of rookies like Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg.

It’s all part of general manager Ron Hextall’s plan, and through six games, it seems to be working.

After Thursday’s morning skate, Hextall spoke at length about the team’s success, the development of the rookies and what to make of Sam Morin and Oskar Lindblom — two young players penciled into the lineup at the start of camp who failed to make the final cut.

Here’s what Hextall had to say about the state of the team:

Giroux's success at left wing
Having an abundance of quality centers forced the Flyers to move one to the wing. And Giroux seemed to be the top option because of his playmaking ability. So far, so good as Giroux is tied for third on the team with nine points (four goals, five assists). 

“It’s pretty obvious that we’d be happy (with Giroux’s success),” Hextall said. “When you’re a smart player, you can play all three forward positions. But G’s a smart player. He has skill, he sees the ice well, he’s gritty, he’s smart with the puck. He’s got all the attributes that he can play all three positions and obviously, that’s a valuable guy because we’re a little loaded up in the middle this year. And then you go, ‘OK, who do we want to move? Who can move? Who’s the best fit?’ There’s a lot of things that go into a decision like that and quite frankly, G had never played left wing in all his life and all of a sudden he’s playing left wing and he’s made a real quick transition. So it’s a credit to him first of all for his buy-in. There was no ‘I want to play the middle’ stuff. Second of all, he’s worked at it and set his mind to it so credit to G.”

Sean Couturier’s hot start
Couturier has long been maligned for his offensive abilities, but the scoring has always been there somewhere. He was the eighth-overall pick in 2011 and scored 96 points in each of his final two seasons in junior. Now that he is finally playing with talent, like Giroux and Voracek — what an upgrade over Dale Weise and Matt Read — Couturier is starting to reach his potential with four goals and three assists this season.

“You never know until you try it, whether it’s going to work, but just the vision and the thought of it, you say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a real stable guy in the middle with two guys on the wings that love to make plays,” Hextall said of the top line. “It’s not like Coots is a poor offensive player. He’s a good offensive player. He’s been in different roles over the years and some of his role hasn’t changed. He’s going to match up against top players, which he’s very good at. Now he’s got two dynamic players on his wings and again, he’s a stabilizer in the middle. So far, so good.”

Balanced lines
Perhaps the biggest upgrade over last year’s club is the depth. The Flyers can now roll four potent, speedy lines to compete with almost any team. Give credit to Hextall for addressing the team’s biggest need by getting rid of guys like Read and Chris Vandevelde and allowing the young guns to come up.

“It helps a lot,” Hextall said of the balanced lines. “There were points last year where — in terms of matchups — we had to be very fine in terms of who you’re going to matchup against another team’s top line or even their second line. Now, I think we all feel comfortable whoever’s out there is not going to get buried by whatever line and that’s a good feeling for obviously the coaches and us, but the players as well. We can put anybody out there on the road and we don’t choose the matchups and feel some comfort.”

Nolan Patrick
One of the reasons Giroux had to make the move to wing was the Flyers’ drafting of Nolan Patrick No. 2 overall. Playing on the third line with Dale Weise and Travis Konecny, Patrick has shown his two-way prowess and oh yeah, he can make plays like this.

“I think he’s been good. I think he’s been real solid, all three zones. I think some people, you expect too much — second overall and all this hype and everything else,” Hextall said. “This is the NHL. And it’s a huge step so I think he’s done a good job for us. He plays a very poised game, he’s not an erratic player, very methodical in his thinking and predictable in a good way. He makes the right reads, the right plays, he’s typically in the right part of the ice. It comes down to maturity, but it also comes down to hockey sense.”

Benching Travis Sanheim
Sick of seeing Sanheim in the press box? You’ll get your chance to see him against the Predators on Thursday, as he rejoins the lineup after watching the past two games. Sanheim has played in three of the Flyers’ six games, but don’t worry, he’s going to play this year, but how short is his leash? Are Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol on the same page with benching young players?

“I think it’s not going to continue, he’s not going to sit on the bench and continue here for long-term, things are going to change so that’s something that I said at the start of the year,” Hextall said. “I don’t believe in young players sitting, nor having a really small role. … But Travis has played well for us and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll evaluate on a day-to-day basis."

Last season, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie winger Travis Konecny each served multiple stints in the press box for poor defensive play. Hextall didn’t seem to mind.

“People made a big deal when a couple young players last year were sat out and those young players have shown an awful lot of growth this year. With the little things that they help along the way, to realize that you know what, ‘I don’t have a secure spot in the lineup, necessarily for 82 games. I gotta be on the edge, I gotta work out, I gotta play well every night.’ There’s little messages that come out of things like that, which is why a young player — I’m not opposed to a young player sitting, especially for development reasons. Sometimes it just needs to happen an that’s not the case with Travis, but along the way, it is so a young player sits out the odd game. There’s things they learn, they realize that, ‘You know what, I can’t be complacent, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ You learn lessons in life and again, I don’t want you players sitting out a lot and certainly not for the wrong reasons. I mean, if they’re making that many mistakes they’re not going to be here.”

Is Lindblom sulking in the minors?
Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, had such an impressive 2016-17 playing in Sweden’s top league that many penciled him in as a lock to make the team this year. But after an uninspiring training camp, Lindblom was sent to the Phantoms, where he is off to a slow start this season. Hextall doesn’t seem worried, though. 

“Big Sam (Morin) was real good, Philippe (Myers) was real good, Oskar did some good things, probably not quite at the level that we want him to get to or that he’s hoping to get to, but he was fine. Those kids are doing well.

“Training camp, it was pretty obvious that, not early but as we got along, that he wasn’t quite ready for this level. That’s OK. He didn’t fail. Oskar is going to be a good player. We like Oskar as much as we did a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. Yeah, he comes in, you say, 'OK, well he’s gonna be one of the guys we look at here’ and he’s just not ready for it. And that’s OK. It’s not a setback. It’s nothing. It’s like, ‘OK, Oskar, go down, play hard’ — and he’s playing hard. … Is he to the level that he can play? No, he’s not but that’s going to come. He’s a young kid, he’s a young player, he’s adjusting to life, the pressure. Everybody’s talking about him, he comes here, there’s all this hype on him. It’s unfair, quite frankly what the expectations that some of these kids come in with.”

Future Flyers Report: Trying to make sense of the Oskar Lindblom cut

Future Flyers Report: Trying to make sense of the Oskar Lindblom cut

The Flyers’ season opens Wednesday night in San Jose, and while a few members of this report have graduated to the NHL, one did not.

It’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects. The Phantoms’ season kicks off Friday night, but we’ll touch on the one player who somewhat surprisingly is headed to Lehigh Valley.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Many expected Lindblom to make the Flyers in his first season in North America, and despite flashing positives in training camp and preseason, the Swede failed to do so.

Let’s try to make sense as to why Lindblom didn’t make it. Throughout the preseason, Lindblom showed his defensive play was most certainly NHL ready. The advanced metrics tilted in his favor too. He was consistently one of the best Flyers in possession.

What may have cost Lindblom was the offense didn’t blossom right away. Lindblom scored his first goal in his last game last Tuesday on a deflection against the Rangers. Overall against New York, I thought he was excellent but it proved to be too late.

"Oskar did a good job in camp and it's the one thing you try to punctuate with young players," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Sunday. "You didn't fail. You had a good camp, but right now, the best thing for you and the team is for you to go up there and play well.

"Oskar is a good player and American League time hasn't hurt one player in the history of professional hockey. When you say high expectations, you are also talking about the kid who came from the big rink, played extremely well, but came from a big rink and all of a sudden, you get into a smaller rink with big guys, fast guys. Oskar played well."

Another potential reason why Lindblom is headed to Lehigh Valley could be his skating, a theory laid out by hockey guru Bill Meltzer, who tweeted Saturday afternoon “word on Lindblom is [he] still needs to work on his feet: quicker Point A to point B at NHL pace.”

This theory makes sense. Lindblom’s biggest knock in his draft year was his skating, an area he’s improved greatly in Sweden since 2014. There is an adjustment to the North American game, and it appears the Flyers want him to work on it with the Phantoms.

"He did a lot of good things," Hextall said of Lindblom. "He didn't produce the way he is capable of — maybe even getting in the proper spots and stuff, and again, he didn't play poorly. … There are a lot of things involved, but usually, young players, when you have to get down to the roster of 23, they have to push you and he pushed us, just not far enough."

Anyway, Lindblom will be a Phantom to start the season. It’s important to note Claude Giroux, in his first pro season in 2008-09, didn’t make the Flyers out of camp but forced his way back by dominating the AHL. Giroux was in the NHL after the Christmas break.

Lindblom had a strong enough camp to survive until the final cuts. How long he stays in Allentown will be dictated by injuries on the big club and how much he asserts himself in the AHL. I do believe we’ll see Lindblom back with the Flyers at some point this season.

"When you are the last player sent down," Hextall said, "that should tell you something right there. Go up there and play well. Call-ups, there is always a fit, but if the fit is you make sure it is you that we are looking at … I am sure Oskar will do that."

Isaac Ratcliffe, LW, 18, 6-6/205, Guelph (OHL)
After a quiet opening weekend for the Storm, Ratcliffe had a productive two games this past weekend. Ratcliffe picked up three points and 10 shots on goal in two games. On Friday night, the 2017 second-round pick had his first two-point game of the season.

In the Storm’s 5-4 win over the Oshawa Generals, Ratcliffe picked up a secondary assist on the Garrett McFadden’s first-period power-play goal. About 10 minutes later, the winger found the back of the net for his first marker of the campaign. Ratcliffe glided into the high slot off the rush before beating Logan Gauthier’s glove with a quick shot.

On Saturday night, Ratcliffe picked up his second goal of the season midway through the second period of Guelph’s 6-3 win over the Saginaw Spirit on a wraparound. Ratcliffe also had a double-minor in the third period for interference and roughing.

Ratcliffe was a minus-4 after his first two games but had a plus-1 weekend. Through four games, he’s a minus-3 with 19 shots on goal and three points. He’s a bit of project with raw skills that 10 years ago would have seen him go in the first round. Still, the Flyers liked Ratcliffe enough to trade up to draft him with the 35th overall pick in June.

Quick hits
• It was a pretty busy weekend for Victoriaville’s Pascal Laberge, who scored in back-to-back games, both power-play goals, and picking up six penalty minutes.

Matthew Strome had goals in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday for Hamilton. He had an assist Sunday. Strome’s goal Friday night was an easy tap-in.

Morgan Frost had a two-assist game Sunday for Sault Ste. Marie after going pointless his previous two games. Known for his hockey smarts, Frost had six penalty minutes in the Greyhounds' 2-1 win over North Bay on Friday.

Anthony Salinitri had a two-assist game in Sarnia’s 6-2 win over the Kingston Frontenacs on Saturday night and then a three-assist effort Sunday against Ottawa.

• Owen Sound’s Maksim Sushko had a two-point weekend. Sushko had an assist in a 4-3 win over Kitchener on Friday and his first goal Saturday in a 6-4 win over Mississauga.

German Rubtsov has yet to play for Chicoutimi this season because of paperwork. Per Jonathan Hudon, those issues should be cleared up this week.

Carter Hart made his first start of the season Friday night, stopping 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 Everett win over Kelowna. He came in relief Saturday night, turning away 22 of 25 shots in the Silvertips’ 5-4 loss to the Tri-City Americans.

Olle Lycksell scored his first goal Sunday for the Linköping HC J20 team.

• In two games last week, Felix Sandstrom stopped 59 of 63 shots for Brynäs IF.

David Kase had another two-point game for Mora IK last week, picking up a goal and an assist in a 5-2 loss to Färjestad BK on Saturday.

Nolan Patrick makes it, Oskar Lindblom doesn't as Flyers have 1 more cut coming

Nolan Patrick makes it, Oskar Lindblom doesn't as Flyers have 1 more cut coming

Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg smiled and exchanged handshakes in the Flyers' hallway Sunday after they were told they had made the team’s opening roster. Both guys described their respective meetings with management as “short and sweet.”

Patrick, the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, becomes the first rookie since Sean Couturier in 2011 to make the team straight out of training camp in their draft year.

“It was pretty exciting to find that out and I’m looking forward to the first game,” Patrick said as he follows in the footsteps of his father and uncle who played in the league as well. “It was really exciting growing up. My goal is to play in the NHL, so to get that news is really exciting. I know my family is pretty excited for me.”

Patrick’s father, Steve, played 250 career games, and his uncle, James, now an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars, endured a 20-year career in the league. While Nolan Patrick has the pedigree, he likely won’t match the production of other players selected second overall. Jets winger Patrick Laine scored 36 goals and 64 points in 2016-17, his first season in Winnipeg.

“I think when I get the first one (goal), I think they’ll come," Patrick said. "It’s a tough thing for me. I always start the year slow on the goals, hopefully, I can get a bounce and get that first one out of the way. My main focus isn’t scoring. I’m just trying to hold onto pucks and make plays and be a good defensive player, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”

Patrick, who wore No. 19 with the Brandon Wheat Kings, is ready to shed the No. 64 he’s worn in the preseason. He says he has another number in mind but didn't elaborate.

Hagg’s path to the NHL wasn’t nearly as direct as Patrick’s. The Flyers' 2013 second-round pick spent three-plus seasons, 202 regular-season games, in the AHL before receiving word Sunday his hard work had finally paid off.

“Pretty happy. I was kinda nervous when I walked in there," Hagg said, "but after the meeting, I was extremely happy to make the team. I’ve just tried to simplify everything and not trying to look for the home run play. I just try to get the puck out of the D-zone as quick as I can and just making sure the puck isn't going in our nets.”   

With Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov mainstays on the left side of the ice, positioning played a major factor in how Hakstol elected to set up his defense pairings. Outside of Radko Gudas, the Flyers' left-handed heavy defensive corps doesn’t have a right-handed shot on the ride side, and that’s where Hagg’s comfortability and flexibility was a key factor in the decision-making.   

“[Hagg's] ability to play the right side or the left side in a 5-on-5 role as well as penalty kill role," Hakstol said, "that versatility is an asset.”

With Patrick and Hagg packing their bags for San Jose, general manager Ron Hextall had to be the bearer of bad news in regards to Flyers' 2014 fifth-round pick, Oskar Lindblom, who has been assigned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to begin the season.

“It’s not tough,” Hextall said on the move to send down Lindblom. “Oskar did a good job in camp, but right now, the best thing for you and the team is for you to go up there (Lehigh Valley) and play well. He was great. He took it very well. Oskar is a good player and American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey.”

As it stands, the Flyers' roster is currently at 24, and management needs to make one more additional move prior to the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline when the cap-compliant rosters for all 31 teams have to be submitted to the league office.

To complicate matters, Gostisbehere left Sunday’s game with 11:30 remaining in the third period and never returned (see observations). Hextall listed Gostisbehere with an upper-body injury while also saying, “We’ll know more in the next day or two.” With that, it’s believed Gostisbehere could be evaluated further for any possible concussion symptoms.

With Gostisbehere’s availability uncertain, the Flyers likely will take eight defensemen on their opening four-game road trip to start the season, including rookies Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim, who were healthy scratches in the team’s preseason finale against the Islanders.

“They’re all going to California, probably," Hextall said. "We’ll see.”

Or the Flyers could place one of the team’s veteran forwards, likely Matt Read or Jori Lehtera, on waivers with the option of sending them to Lehigh Valley in the event they clear.

Decisions. Decisions. It’s been this way for the past month. What’s one more day … or two.