The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October.
In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances.
Today we will be looking at Matt Niskanen.
I’m not going to lie — I fell under the category of not fully understanding the trade for Niskanen during the offseason in a one-for-one deal, sending former Flyer Radko Gudas to the Capitals. At the time, the most appealing aspects about the deal were recognizing the level of veteran experience Niskanen was going to bring to the blue line and his extensive résumé when it came to the playoffs.
Now, with his first regular season as a Flyer officially at an end, it’s safe to say he was an absolute steal. Way to win a trade, Chuck Fletcher.
Not only did he post 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists), making him the second-best defenseman in points on the team, but he elevated his partner Ivan Provorov to new heights in his career as well. The duo built such powerful chemistry on the ice and Niskanen provided the skill set needed to help Provorov hone in on his talent.
There couldn’t have been a better fit for the Flyers and Provorov. Whatever Niskanen’s next steps are in the NHL, let’s hope he wants to stay in Philadelphia for a little while longer.
A+ for Niskanen — not bad for his 13th season in the league.
The Flyers went from averaging the third-most goals against per game (3.41) and a minus-37 goal differential in 2018-19 to then tying for the seventh-fewest goals against in the league and drawing a plus-36 goal differential this season. A major key for that success was Niskanen.
Niskanen had a lasting impact throughout the regular season on special teams. Most notably, the penalty kill, which he helped improve from 78.5 percent in 2018-19 (26th in NHL) to 81.8 percent (11th in NHL). His power play minutes were also impressive as the four goals scored on the man advantage were the highest in his career.
He brought leadership to the blue line and the dressing room and was a steady presence the Flyers and his defensive partner Provorov depended on throughout the regular season.
I give Niskanen an A.
Niskanen, an experienced Stanley Cup-winning defenseman, came to the Flyers via trade for Gudas from the Capitals last offseason. His addition to the team added a veteran leader to the roster as well as a possible mentor for some of the Flyers' young defensemen. In his first season with the Flyers, he did both admirably.
Niskanen’s presence on that top defense pair with Provorov allowed Provorov to open up his game more and become a better overall player. Niskanen is a smart defenseman who is rarely out of position, and this allows Provorov as his defensive partner to freelance a bit more, which is one of the strengths of his game. Niskanen also has great puck skills from the point, getting pucks toward the net by pass or shot and creating opportunities.
No-brainer, Niskanen gets an A.
What an acquisition by Fletcher. In the Gudas-Niskanen swap, the only other hit for the Flyers was salary related — obviously taking on Niskanen's $5.75 million cap hit as well as retaining 30 percent of Gudas' $3.35 million cap hit.
Niskanen made the trade unquestionably worth it for his new club.
Not only did the 33-year-old Stanley Cup champion significantly improve the Flyers at 5-on-5, on the power play and the penalty kill, but he also did wonders for the rebound of Provorov, a 23-year-old who had far too much on his shoulders last season.
Niskanen's winning pedigree has rubbed off on everyone. With eight goals and 25 assists, he also had a chance to crack 40 points for the second time in his well-established career before the regular season was cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak.
A well-deserved A for Niskanen.
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