Tom Dougherty

Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

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AP Images

Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

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.

Nolan Patrick, C, 19, 6-2/198, Flyers (NHL)
You might be asking yourself why you’re seeing Patrick’s name in a report about future Flyers. Patrick made the team out of camp and certainly will not be going back to junior, but with the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship approaching, one has to ask if Patrick should be permitted to participate. At 19 years old, Patrick remains eligible for the tournament.

Last Wednesday, Hockey Canada invited 32 players, including Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart, to its selection camp, which takes place Dec. 12-15. Patrick, along with five other NHLers eligible for Canada, were not invited, but NHL teams have until Dec. 19, which is also the NHL’s holiday break roster freeze, to loan players to Team Canada.

Now back to Patrick. On Sunday afternoon, general manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers will not loan Patrick to Team Canada. Since we know the final decision, let's evaluate what the Flyers had to weigh.

1) Patrick’s role with the Flyers
The Flyers have four games during the WJCs, which begin Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 5, 2018. Canada has two pre-tournament games on Dec. 20 and Dec. 22, and if Patrick were permitted to participate, the Flyers would have been without him for seven games. While the Flyers are in a bigger rebuild than expected, they’re not tanking by any means.

Patrick is centering the Flyers’ fourth line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Both Patrick and Konecny’s ice times have dropped during the Flyers’ successful three-game Western Canada trip. We saw Dave Hakstol shorten his bench as he attempted to protect leads and stop the Flyers’ bleeding. In the now, it was the right decision.

The Flyers snapped a 10-game losing streak last Monday in Calgary and then went on to beat Edmonton and Vancouver. Patrick had just two shifts in the third period in Calgary and three Wednesday night in Edmonton. Thursday, in Vancouver, was an improvement in both ice time and play. Still, he played fourth-line minutes.

“You’re seeing a 19-year-old player who needs to become a pro,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told The Inquirer last week. “He’s a kid. He’s played some good hockey for us; he’s [also] played some hockey that’s not up to the level that he’s established even at his age. The consistency part is something he has to get better at.”

2) Would Patrick benefit from participating in the tournament?
It’s an interesting question and it's one many wishes would have an easy answer. But it’s not as easy as anyone would have liked it to be. Patrick hasn’t had the impact many hoped he would, and could benefit from a brief period against his peers.

Before Patrick suffered a suspected concussion, he was flashing his playmaking ability that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, even though he played in just 33 games in his draft year because of two different core muscle injuries. Since returning from his suspected concussion Nov. 16, Patrick still hasn’t had the influence many want to see from him. There have been good games — Nov. 24 against the Islanders was his best thus far in the NHL. But there have been bad games too — Dec. 2 against Boston and last Monday in Calgary stand out the most.

We can argue Patrick is being misused because of his recent ice time, that playing him an average of 8:55 the past three games doesn’t help his development. But that would ignore Patrick has received ample opportunity. Patrick averaged 12:23 in the eight games prior — all losses — and his play didn’t warrant more minutes. There is a fine line between winning and developing, and when the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, Dave Hakstol had to do something. Shortening his bench during the three games in Western Canada wasn’t bad coaching; in fact, it was the opposite.

Patrick doesn’t look like a confident player right now. His advanced metrics are a mess. He has just two goals and six points in 20 games. The truth is, he hasn’t played much competitive hockey over the past year because of his injuries. The World Junior Championships are as competitive as junior hockey gets. Patrick missed last year’s tournament because of injury.

While sending Patrick back to Brandon is still an option — the Flyers have already burned one year of his entry-level contract — it’s not a realistic one. The Flyers felt Patrick proved himself NHL ready in the preseason, and what Patrick needs is to be challenged. Dominating teenagers in the WHL will not help his development.

But the WJCs is a different animal. It’s a collection of the best under-20 players in the world playing for their countries. The competition is as high as it gets in that age group. In that environment, Patrick could have proved to be a man among boys, but he would face a far more competitive atmosphere than he would in the WHL. It would have offered him a chance to regain some confidence and come back to the Flyers with a morale boost.

Conclusion
We know the Flyers are not sending Patrick to the WJCs. It's another sign the Flyers are committed to being as competitive as they can be while they rebuild. Patrick, even in his struggles, is better than the alternative. It's also an indication the Flyers want Patrick in the NHL and learn from what he's going through right now. Patrick needs to be challenged, and since he's not eligible for the AHL, this is what's best for him.

Quick hits
• Another week, another shutout for Hart. Hart picked up his fifth shutout of the year and his 24th career shutout Friday with a 39-save effort in Everett’s 3-0 win over Spokane.

Hart has won his past nine games, including four last week. He allowed two goals in three games last week. Hart is simply unbeatable right now in the WHL.

• With his hat trick Saturday night, Western Michigan winger Wade Allison is now second in the nation with 14 goals and third in the country with 25 points. Allison also had an assist against Miami Saturday night, and another helper Friday night.

Cooper Marody had three assists Thursday night in Michigan’s 4-0 win over Michigan State. Marody has 20 assists, second in the nation. He’s averaging 1.5 points per game.

Morgan Frost had two more multi-point games last week. His seven-game multi-point streak ended Sunday, but his point streak hit eight games with an assist. During his seven-game multi-point streak, Frost gathered 14 points. He has 43 points in his last 23 games, 33 points in his last 17 games, leads the OHL as a plus-33, second in the OHL with 32 assists and third with 47 points.

Tanner Laczynski helped No. 15 Ohio State sweep No. 7 Minnesota. Laczynski had a goal Friday, and a goal and an assist Saturday. He has 23 points in 18 games this year.

• Acadie-Bathurst center German Rubtsov had a goal and an assist in two games last week. Rubtsov is riding a four-game point streak with the Titan.

Oskar Lindblom had a two-goal week last week. He has six goals and 15 points in 26 games with the Phantoms.

• It was a pretty productive week for Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev, who scored Wednesday and had a goal and an assist Saturday night.

Olle Lycksell, while loaned to IK Oskarshamn for two games, had a must-see shootout dangle last Tuesday. Lycksell had an assist and scored twice in the shootout.

• Guelph’s Isaac Ratcliffe had four assists in three games last week.

Linus Högberg has made Team Sweden’s preliminary roster for the WJCs.

Future Flyers Report: Honors, shutouts and more for Carter Hart

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Future Flyers Report: Honors, shutouts and more for Carter Hart

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.

Carter Hart, G, 19, 6-1/177, Everett (WHL)
While nothing is going right for the Flyers at the NHL level, there’s plenty to be optimistic about down on the farm, which many fans don’t want to hear. The hard truth is, the Flyers’ rebuild is bigger than we originally believed and the team can't hide it anymore.

One of the bright spots is Hart, who picked up three honors last week. Hart was named the WHL Goaltender of the Month for November, the WHL Goaltender of the Week and also the CHL Goaltender of the Week. His phenomenal play didn’t go unnoticed.

And Hart continued to be strong in net for the Silvertips last week. Hart stopped 32 of 33 shots Friday in Everett’s 3-1 win over Kamloops, and then pitched his fourth shutout of the season with a 30-save effort in a 3-0 win Saturday over Saskatoon. He’s been so good that even the Saskatoon Twitter account had some fun Saturday night.

All jokes aside, Hart’s numbers are ridiculous. The 19-year-old is tearing up the WHL and words are getting hard to describe it. Hart has won his last five starts and eight of his last nine starts. In his lone loss in his last nine games, he allowed two goals on 50 shots. Hart, in November, had a 1.29 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage. He allowed just 13 goals on the 326 shots he faced in the month.

This season, Hart leads the WHL with a 1.46 GAA, .956 save percentage and four shutouts, and he missed 12 games this season because of mono. Hart already has a CHL Goaltender of the Year award under his belt and probably should have won it again last season. If he keeps this up, it’ll be hard to not give him the award again. If he does get it, he’ll become the first goalie to win the award twice.

Asked about his goaltender prospects last Wednesday, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told NBC Sports Philadelphia that the Flyers have “a couple kids out in junior and in Europe that we’re very high on but that’s in the distant future.”

You can bet Hart is one of those kids. Hart will be turning 20 in August and he’ll turn pro next season. The safe money is he’ll spend at least one year with the Phantoms, but we could be seeing him in the Flyers’ orange and black in 2019-20, though that is a very early prediction.

College prospects
The Flyers have a trio of collegiate prospects making noise — two in their sophomore campaigns and one in their junior season — and last week was another big week.

Let’s begin with Cooper Marody, who shined with three assists Saturday night for Michigan in an exhibition against the USNTDP U-18 team. The Wolverines won, 7-3.

Tanner Laczynski had a goal and two assists Friday night in No. 11 Ohio State’s 5-5 tie with Penn State. Laczynski was pointless in a 4-0 loss Saturday to the Nittany Lions.

And Wade Allison picked up his 11th goal of the season Friday night in No. 10 Western Michigan’s 4-3 loss to No. 6 North Dakota. Allison has 20 points in 17 games this year.

The three prospects are having huge seasons and rank among the best in the nation. Marody has 21 points, tied with four players for fourth in the country. Marody’s 17 assists are second in the nation. Allison and Laczynski each have 20 points, which are tied with two others for fifth in the country. Allison’s 11 goals are tied for third.

Marody is averaging 1.5 points per game, which is fifth in the country. Laczynski is at 1.25 points per game, while Allison is at 1.18 points per game. All three are in the top 20 in the country in that category. It’s been quite the season for these three players.

Quick hits
• Nothing to see from Sault Ste. Marie’s Morgan Frost last week except for another four-point game. Frost missed Friday because of breaking a team rule, but returned Sunday and recorded a two-point game.

Frost has 14 points in his last six games. He has 29 assists and 42 points in 28 games. He leads the OHL with a plus-29 rating and is sixth in points per game at 1.56.

Danick Martel had one assist in three games last week in Lehigh Valley after the Flyers returned him to the AHL.

• Dynamo St. Petersburg goalie Kirill Ustimenko has started 14 straight games and 23 of the team’s last 24 games. Ustimenko stopped 56 of 60 shots last week.

Ustimenko leads the MHL with five shutouts. In 28 games, Ustimenko has a 1.79 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

• After a four-game pointless skid, Mike Vecchione has assists in back-to-back games. He’s third among AHL rookies with 14 assists and fifth in points with 20.

German Rubtsov picked up his third goal with Acadie-Bathurst on Friday night against Val-d'Or and had a two-assist game Sunday against Moncton. Rubtsov now has 11 points in 10 games since the Titan acquired him from Chicoutimi.

• Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon had one of his steadiest weeks this season, though it did include a blooper goal last Wednesday in a 3-0 loss to Binghamton.

Lyon then backstopped the Phantoms to a 7-2 win Friday over Hershey in the first game he’s allowed fewer than three goals since Nov. 8. (The Flyers last won a game Nov. 9.)

Oskar Lindblom had an assist in the Phantoms’ win Friday over Hershey. He has 13 points in 23 games but appears to be inching closer and closer to breaking out.

• Both Samuel Morin and Philippe Myers are out with injuries as the Phantoms’ blue line is quite banged up. It could be a while for both Morin and Myers to return.

Connor Bunnaman’s seven-game point streak ended Saturday. Bunnaman had an assist Wednesday. During the streak, he had seven assists and 10 points.

Matthew Strome had another solid week for Hamilton. Strome had a pair of helpers in the Bulldogs’ 4-3 win Thursday over Saginaw and then a goal and two assists Sunday in a 4-3 win over Mississauga. He has eight points in his last four games.

• Kelowna’s Carsen Twarynski had another big week but saw a five-game point streak end Saturday night. Twarynski had a hat trick last Wednesday and then a goal and assist Friday night. He had 10 points during his five-game point streak.

• Owen Sound winger Maksim Sushko had a three-goal, four-point week. He has 14 goals and 23 points in 25 games this season.

Wyatt Kalynuk had two assists Friday in No. 14 Wisconsin’s 5-4 loss to No. 7 Minnesota. Kalynuk, a freshman, leads the Badgers with 12 assists.

The Flyers are in a big rebuild — and they can't hide it

The Flyers are in a big rebuild — and they can't hide it

They can't win away from the Wells Fargo Center, and they can't win at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers, quite frankly, can’t win anywhere.

The Flyers aren’t who we thought they were. This season wasn’t supposed to go this way. This team was expected to be better. The harsh reality is, it’s not. That much is clear after the Flyers' ninth straight loss Tuesday night, a 3-1 decision to the San Jose Sharks in a game the orange and black didn’t look interested in playing.

What the fanbase is disgruntled with isn’t so much the process; in large part, the Flyers faithful have embraced the rebuild, even though general manager Ron Hextall hasn’t called it what it is. The fans are more so growing miffed with the handling of the youth, and both the head coach and general manager sugarcoating a nine-game losing streak.

Hockey, in the Philly sports landscape, is irrelevant. The Flyers are last in the Metropolitan Division, mired in a downward spiral with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Eagles are the NFL’s best, and Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are must-watch commodities with the Sixers. The Flyers are nothing more than an afterthought.

How did they get here, what needs to change and are we overreacting? These are all questions we have to examine here. We have to take a step back and again evaluate whether we placed too high of expectations on a team we knew wasn’t a contender yet.

“I’ve always said, ‘Talk is cheap,’” Hextall told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon. “It does take time. I think if you look at Chicago and L.A. and do the timeline when they build, it takes time. In saying that, we can be competitive right now. … 

“As much as right now things aren’t real positive — we don’t feel real positive about things right now the way they’ve gone recently — there are some positives.”

Los Angeles timeline
Let’s look at the Kings' because, well, Hextall was directly involved in it. Many have made these connections before, and it’s fair to connect the dots again. It’s a good blueprint for what Hextall is doing here, and in L.A., it took a while to see the results.

After four straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Kings reshuffled their front office in April 2006. Dave Taylor, who had been the general manager since 1997, was replaced with Dean Lombardi. Two months later, Hextall was hired as assistant GM.

We’re using the Lombardi hire as the benchmark, though three major players — Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick — were drafted by the Taylor regime. For the first three years of the Lombardi era, the Kings didn’t qualify for the postseason but did improve each season. By Year 4 — 2009-10 — the Kings were in the playoffs. And then in Year 6, Los Angeles won its first of two Stanley Cups with Lombardi as the GM.

The 2011-12 Stanley Cup team had 13 drafted players and one undrafted free agent, which we’ll include since they had to come up through the ranks. Eleven of those 13 played throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while two other picks also saw time. Three players — Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner — were acquired in trades during the rebuild with draft picks. Of course, Lombardi had some free-agent signings, too, that contributed — Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Simon Gagne, to name a few.

Under Lombardi and Hextall’s guidance, the Kings won a Stanley Cup in six years. They were a non-playoff team in the first three years of the rebuild, a playoff team for two years before finally adding missing pieces via trades and free agency in Year 6, which, again, has to go to the credit of drafting and developing. The Kings were the 10th-oldest team in the NHL when Lombardi took over and by Year 4, they were the youngest team in the league. When they won the Cup, they were around the middle of the pack at 13th.

State of the Flyers
Fans have every right to be displeased with how this season is playing out. When Dale Weise is getting more ice time than Nolan Patrick, like he did last game, there is a reason to be ticked. When Samuel Morin, who many believed should be here along with Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim, is stuck in Lehigh Valley, there is a reason to be upset. When the Flyers scratch Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal for Jori Lehtera and Weise, there’s a reason for fans to yell behind their keyboards. When the Flyers have lost 46 of their last 74 games since their 10-game winning streak last season, there’s a cause for concern.

The fan is the customer, and right now, the product they’re paying for — attending games, tuning in, buying merchandise, it’s all relevant — isn’t satisfying. Philly fans don’t want to hear Dave Hakstol say, “I think in seven of our last 10, we’ve gotten a point” after the Flyers lost their seventh straight, or Hextall say the Flyers “are not playing poorly” after the ninth straight loss. Even if it's true, that's what bothers them.

While the Flyers are last in the Metro, they are within striking distance of a wild-card spot in a jam-packed Eastern Conference. We're just hitting December and there is plenty of time to turn this season around. Playoffs are not out of the picture. Yet. But if there is anything this losing streak has reminded us, it’s this team is not quite there.

It might not even be as close as we believed it was, either.

“We’re a young team,” Hextall said Wednesday. “We have a lot of young kids coming and we’re going to get better. We’re going to play better than we’re currently playing.

“We’re going to get better every year. We’re going to get younger every year and we’re going to be competitive and we’re going to get there.”

Hextall has continually said the Flyers are going to get younger, and since he came back to Philadelphia in 2013-14 as an assistant GM, the orange and black have done just that. When Hextall was the AGM in 2013-14, the Flyers were the fourth-oldest team in the NHL. This season, in his fourth as the GM, the Flyers are the seventh youngest. And they’ll get even younger next season and the following year, too.

With youth comes growing pains, and it might even get more painful. Hextall refuses to put a timeline on when the rebuild will be complete. He says the Flyers will be competitive while they build, and they have been. This team can make the playoffs. But if we use the Los Angeles blueprint and factor into what Hextall inherited as GM — a nightmare of a salary cap situation — we might be looking at three or four more years before this team becomes a legitimate contender.

When discussing the Flyers' nine-game losing streak Wednesday and last season's 10-game winning streak, Hextall said, "You do have to keep a balance, a realistic view of your club."

The realistic view is, this rebuild is just getting started. The Flyers are younger than last season, and they'll be younger next year. For all intents and purposes, Hextall has drafted well. The reality there is, we won't know for a few more years if his picks hit.

Perhaps a little more transparency with what’s currently going on would help with the fan backlash.