VOORHEES, N.J. — As Chuck Fletcher watched Philippe Myers push the puck up ice and Travis Sanheim finish with the game-tying third-period goal Monday night, the Flyers’ general manager remembered a key aspect to the organization’s process.
In Fletcher’s first full season as GM, the Flyers have improved and are vying for a return to the playoffs. They entered Tuesday four points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division and holding the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.
They are also very young. They’ve played 11 rookies so far and have given numerous auditions to prospects in hopes of solidifying their bottom six.
Nothing has been set in stone as their depth at forward and down the middle remains up in the air, particularly with the absences of Oskar Lindblom (Ewing's sarcoma) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder).
All of which will make the Feb. 24 trade deadline an interesting time for Fletcher in his decisions to either add to the club or trust its younger internal options.
Fletcher got a tip when he saw the 23-year-old Sanheim and 22-year-old Myers deliver a huge goal in the Flyers’ 6-5 shootout win over the Bruins.
“You go back to that 4-on-4 sequence where you have got a couple young defensemen who have had some ups and downs this year,” Fletcher said Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone. “Sanheim throws the puck to Myers. They are both jumping up there, leading the rush. Myers throws it back to Sanheim. Sanheim goes on a third effort and scores a goal. You kind of get reminded a little bit of the need to be patient with young players.
“That was a tremendous goal. Those are great players on the ice for the Bruins. We’ve got a lot of these kids to grow, so I don’t know that we’re looking to bump too many guys out of key spots right now. Certainly if we can increase our depth, find another guy to help in certain situations, I think we’d be very open to that.”
Cap-wise, the Flyers are not in a favorable position to make a huge acquisition at the trade deadline unless it likely involves current players on the roster, not just draft picks or prospects. The Flyers have only $579,444 in cap space, per CapFriendly.com.
“A lot of teams are up against it,” Fletcher said of the cap. “You have to maybe look at including players in the deal. It’s hard to trade a fourth-round pick for a $4 million player. With our group right now, I don’t know that’s what we’re looking to do. If we can improve our team, we will.
“We're a decent offensive team but the main reason why we're trending better this year is our defensive play."
A couple of in-house players who could once again force the Flyers’ hand — or at least make looking outside not as appealing — are Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost, two of the organization’s top prospects coming into the 2019-20 season.
The 19-year-old Farabee has been with the Flyers for 37 games and plays the right way with an advanced hockey IQ. Currently seeing lesser minutes, Farabee has three goals and 12 points. The 2018 first-round pick is regarded as a point-producing winger. If he can provide a lift in secondary scoring, the Flyers can feel more comfortable pushing forward without external help.
“We've been talking to teams all year to see if that's a way we can improve, that makes sense,” Fletcher said. “But clearly, I think over time, the young guys will get better. I mean, Joel Farabee's got three goals this year. My guess is he won't have three goals this time next year.
“He's obviously going to get better and better. … So young guys tend to take those steps. Will it be this year? I don't know, I think it's going to be a little bit of both.
“The thing with Joel is his game is so much more advanced than the other kids away from the puck and defensively. He's one of our best forwards in terms of puck management and game management.”
Frost gave the Flyers an offensive jolt in November and is now back with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley for further development and to regain some confidence. After scoring two goals and three points in his first two NHL games, the 20-year-old center had four points (all assists) over his final 16 games.
The 2017 first-round pick’s ability to make plays down the middle can potentially help the Flyers both offensively and with lineup flexibility.
“If he's the best player and deserves to be here, he'll be here,” Fletcher said. “We have been trying to balance that long-term development versus short-term help for the Flyers and there's been a lot of juggling.
“Hopefully over the next couple weeks he continues to grow, build that and feel good about his game. You love bringing kids up when they feel good about their game, when they're in a good spot.”
With the deadline nearing, the Flyers won’t lose focus on development, but they will have to find out if their kids are enough to make the present about the playoffs again.
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