Flyers

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

VOORHEES, N.J. — Four games into the 2017-17 season, Flyers captain Claude Giroux acknowledged Friday he is still adapting to his move from center to left wing.

“I enjoy both,” Giroux said. “I enjoy playing hockey. It’s definitely a different game on the left side.”

Now centered by Sean Couturier, with Jakub Voracek on the right side, the Giroux line has certainly had its moments. But those chances haven’t necessarily manifested in a flurry of goals for the Flyers.

Giroux, Couturier and Voracek have totaled two goals and five assists in 5-on-5 situations, while the captain himself has one goal and one assist at even strength.

“I’m still getting adjusted here and just trying to stay in the system and be able to play my game, but I feel like our line, we have more to give,” Giroux said. “Five-on-five, we’re generating some good offense, but we can definitely do more.”

While the switch hasn’t sparked an immediate explosion of scoring for the Flyers’ top line, Giroux isn’t clamoring for a change back. As the 29-year-old veteran notes, he still takes plenty of faceoffs — a team-high 61 — and handles a lot of center responsibilities.

It’s a hybrid role, essentially.

“When we go back in our zone, if I’m the first one back, I’ll be playing low, so I do get some shifts playing center,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I miss it.”

One doesn’t have to watch very hard to see the chemistry developing between Giroux and his linemates. It may be only a matter of time before the experiment pays off and the unit starts to find the back of the net with regularity.

A successful trip in more ways than one
After a four-game road trip to kick off the season, the Flyers are looking forward to finally opening the Wells Fargo Center against the Capitals on Saturday night. However, as several players noted, getting their annual California tour out of the way early has its advantages, too.

“To start off the year in the middle of a long road trip is not the worst thing in the world,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s probably tougher later in the season to go out there and win games like that.”

The Flyers took two of three off the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, sometimes referred to as the “Triangle of Death” when played in succession. They followed that up with a hard-fought regulation loss in Nashville at the hands of the Predators — a missed opportunity, for sure, although a 2-2 start on the road is nothing to complain about.

It was a valuable four points for the Flyers, although there was more to the trip than that. It also served as a bonding experience for a team that has four rookies and several new faces.

“Having so many young guys and new faces in the locker room, that helped build team chemistry and to get know the guys a little better,” rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim said.

In many ways, it was a more successful trip than the standings might let on. At the same time, while there were numerous positives to take away from the Flyers’ start, there’s no question they could also use a little home cooking.

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” Giroux said. “Coming home is definitely a boost.”

Ovechkin’s torrid start
While the Flyers are happy to be home, they won’t exactly be easing into their Wells Fargo Center slate. With a 2-1-1 record, the Capitals are off to a good start as well, with the hottest player in the NHL leading the way.

Alexander Ovechkin already has eight goals in Washington’s first four games, including three in the opener, followed by four in the encore. Lighting the lamp is nothing new for Ovechkin — he’s led the league in goals six times in his career — but even by his standards, his early-season performance has been downright scary.

“He’s that kind of player that when he gets hot, he gets hot, and right now it looks like everything he touches goes in,” Giroux said. “That’s why he’s been such a dominant player all his career. When he’s got a chance to score, he puts it in.”

Ovechkin is coming off something of a down season in 2016-17, finishing with 33 goals — his fewest in an 82-game campaign since the 2010-11 season. Looks like it’s safe to say he’s snapped out of it.

There’s no secret formula for stopping Ovechkin, either. The best way to keep to him from scoring is to simply avoid giving him anything easy.

“Don’t turn pucks over,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. “That’s when they hurt you. They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team.”

The Capitals are also the Flyers’ first Metropolitan Division opponent of the season, and their last for awhile. They don’t face another division opponent until they visit the Islanders on Nov. 22, a whole 16 games later.

“I think any time we play a team that’s in our division, it’s a pretty intense game,” Giroux said. “They’re fun to play, especially a home opener.

“They’ll be coming in hot, so we have to be ready.”

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

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Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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