End to End: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?

End to End: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?

There’s a case to be made for several players who fall under this category. Travis Konecny has 30-goal potential. Defenseman Travis Sanheim endured an up-and-down rookie season and needs to develop consistency and Oskar Lindblom proved his game can compete at the NHL level.

But there’s one player that’s almost expected to elevate his game next season and that would be second-year center Nolan Patrick, who’s now two months shy of his 20th birthday. Patrick was primed to be my choice even before NHL Network’s Mike Johnson listed the Flyers' center as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season (see story).

Certainly, Patrick’s game may be still evolving, but from February to the end of the season, he was one of the Flyers' top players and clearly showed he had the skills to slide into that No. 2 center role, scoring 19 points over the final 32 games of the regular season. Against the Penguins, Patrick didn’t appear overwhelmed by the intensity of playoff hockey.

This is the first time since the summer of 2015 that Patrick will have a full offseason to recover, train and prepare for the upcoming season (see story). Patrick should enter the season with a ton of confidence and it wouldn’t surprise me if he explodes out of the gates in October. Realistically, expect him to score between 20-25 goals and 55-60 points next season and possibly more, depending on how much time he spends on the top power-play unit.

Scott Laughton found his footing as an NHL player last season as a fourth-line center and left winger, but it appears the Flyers are banking on him to do even more in 2018-19.

Laughton figures to be the early favorite for the Flyers' vacancy at third-line center. While a prospect such as Morgan Forst or Mikhail Vorobyev could grab it in training camp (see story), Laughton has the inside track. With that comes more offensive responsibility.

The 2012 first-round pick has yet to discover a scoring touch in the NHL but realized his path to The Show was responsible two-way play. We know he's a capable fourth-liner.

But can he elevate his game offensively? He'll have to in 2018-19 if he wants a bigger slice of the pie. The prospects are banging on the door and there are only so many spots.

What is in Laughton's corner, though, is versatility. He proved last season he can be effective at either center or wing, which should give him a spot on the team regardless.

The question will be, though, can he anchor the third line with Lindblom and, say, Wayne Simmonds? We'll find out in training camp and preseason, but he's the Flyer who has to take another step forward this season.

General manager Ron Hextall's work this offseason was a vote of confidence for Sanheim.

The Flyers let Brandon Manning walk and signed only Christian Folin, who is viewed as a seventh defenseman.

It was a clear sign Hextall is putting his faith in the 22-year-old Sanheim to make bigger strides. The 2014 first-round pick played 49 games last season, his first in the NHL. He also saw a stint down in the AHL, where he proved he was above the competition.

If Sanheim can start to bring his offensive ability to the table at the NHL level, while using his mobility and size in his own end, the Flyers will take another step. The lefty shot should have a greater leash to learn and play through his mistakes. He should also see more responsibility. How large of a jump Sanheim can make will be one of the more exciting storylines to watch in 2018-19.

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Chuck Fletcher: Flyers are 'bullish on Philippe Myers' upside'

Chuck Fletcher: Flyers are 'bullish on Philippe Myers' upside'

Back when Philippe Myers was called up to the Flyers in February, it was evident general manager Chuck Fletcher liked the 22-year-old prospect.

The Flyers were rolling through an NHL-best 10-game stretch at the time and pushing for the playoffs. Still, Fletcher had no qualms with trusting a kid who had no NHL experience to possibly jump into a postseason race.

"The fact that he's getting the call is a recognition of what he's accomplished and that he's knocking on the door," Fletcher said Feb. 9.

Where are the Flyers now on Myers?

Pretty high.

"We're bullish on Philippe Myers' upside," Fletcher said Saturday in a conference call.

Some of Fletcher's maneuvering with the Flyers' defense over the past two days has revolved around Myers and his ability to jump on a full-time role in 2019-20. The Flyers on Friday traded 29-year-old Radko Gudas in exchange for defenseman Matt Niskanen (see story). On Saturday, they parted ways with Andrew MacDonald, placing the 32-year-old on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract (see story).

While Fletcher's work is far from done, the Flyers' defense is already rounding into shape, with visions of Myers taking a big step forward. The overwhelming point of trading Gudas was to acquire Niskanen, who can benefit the Flyers' defense in a variety of ways (see story). But the move also came to fruition with Myers in mind.

"Radko has been a very effective third-pairing defenseman for us," Fletcher said. "He's been a great member of our organization, he's competed hard and certainly we appreciate everything he did for our organization. 

"Going forward, we feel we have an in-house player in Philippe Myers that can come in and take on some of that role. He's only played [21] games in the NHL, so there could be an adjustment period, but having the ability to maybe slot Philippe into that third slot on the right side, we feel is a real proper place for him to potentially start his NHL career."

Myers, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound righty shot, was rated a top-50 prospect by the NHL Network last season. He's come a long way from going undrafted in 2015. He's quick for his size, a fluid skater and brings offensive qualities, as well.

He showed plenty of glimpses in his 2018-19 showcase.

Here's an early look at the Flyers' potential 2019-20 defensive pairings:

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen

Shayne Gostisbehere-Travis Sanheim

Robert Hagg-Philippe Myers

"Certainly if we can find a guy that can play in our top four that we have the ability to acquire, we'll certainly look at it," Fletcher said. "I will say that we have some really top-end young defensemen here that have the potential to grow into that role. If you look at Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim … Shayne Gostisbehere is a young man that's been very effective in his young career so far, and by bringing in Matt Niskanen, we feel that we have some quality defensemen.

"You're always looking to upgrade if you can, but it will certainly depend on whether we can acquire that player and whether even that player is available.

"In saying our defense corps is young, I do believe it's the strength of our team going forward."

Myers can make it younger and stronger. In just two days, the Flyers cleared him a path, as if to say: Here's a spot, go take it.

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Chuck Fletcher, Matt Niskanen see a Flyers team ready to pop

Chuck Fletcher, Matt Niskanen see a Flyers team ready to pop

At first, Matt Niskanen was "a little surprised" and caught "a little off guard."

He had just been traded by the Capitals, a team with which he won the 2018 Stanley Cup and experienced fond memories, and was now headed to a division rival.

But after Niskanen spoke with Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, his emotions slowly started to shift. Fletcher wanted Niskanen to believe in the Flyers' situation and how the accomplished defenseman could be integral to it taking off.

"He said he likes their team, he felt that they're ready to pop," Niskanen said Friday in a conference call after being dealt to the Flyers (see story). "He kind of feels the same way that I do about the group there — young talent, they're close, just need to add some more pieces along the way. 

"It sounds like he's trying to put together a real good team and we'll see where that takes us. But I'm excited to be there. Trying to be a real solid piece for what they have there already. They have a lot of talent, these guys can play and put up some goals, and maybe get our goals against down — so maybe that's where I come in, to help out with that. I'm excited for that challenge."

From the start, the Flyers fell well short of expectations in 2018-19, which put Fletcher in the team's GM chair. The 82 points were the Flyers' fewest in a full season since 2006-07 and the club hasn't made the playoffs in consecutive years since 2010-12, when it last won a series.

In this league, things can change quickly, though. 

"We're all close," Fletcher said on April 18.

The Flyers went 0-4-0 against the Capitals in 2018-19 and were outscored 18-9, but Niskanen remembered looking at one of his teammates during the regular-season series and saying, "Man, they should be doing better than they are."

Fletcher sees Niskanen as the type of player to change that narrative.

"This is a guy that has played over 1,000 games in the NHL when you factor in his playoff experience," Fletcher said Saturday on a conference call. "He's a guy that commands respect with how he plays and how he prepares, he shows up every day.

"I'll give Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor (former general manager and assistant general manager) a lot of credit here — we have some top-end young talent on that back end, and I think the goal right now is to try to surround them with the right people and add some talent back there, as well."

Niskanen didn't need a whole lot of convincing by Fletcher. The GM's message only helped build the excitement for the former Capital and Penguin who has played 38 career games against the Flyers.

"Over the last few years they've gotten younger. I like their team," Niskanen said. "They have dangerous people, they've added young players with a lot of promise, hard to play against.

"They have good people, dangerous players, talented forwards, a young group of D that can really play — they're just young, I think. They're on the upswing. It was hard to play against the Flyers. Good organization, they play the game hard, they play to win. A lot of promise there. I'm excited about that."

With the Capitals' first-round exit in the 2019 playoffs following their Cup run the previous season, Niskanen said he has been training for over a month now and feels much better physically. He knows about the Flyers' defense. He referred to the group as "young studs" multiple times (see story).

So, yeah, as tough as the trade is, Niskanen believes in Philly.

"I've been fortunate to be on real good teams," he said. "I've been around and I know what good hockey looks like, I know what a good culture looks like. I'm not going to be a rah-rah guy, but I think with my résumé, my words hold a little bit of weight, especially with young players. 

"They have a good team and I'm not going to come in and ruffle any feathers, but I think my word will hold some weight. I'll come in and try to have real good practice habits and have a good attitude, bring a good work ethic, and hopefully I'll be another piece to what they already have there."

And potentially make the Flyers pop.

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