Flyers training camp is about to spice up this weekend.
On Saturday, the Flyers will hold an intrasquad scrimmage from 10:15-10:45 a.m. and 11-11:30 a.m., when we'll see some of the initial forward lines and defensive pairings in action.
Starting Sunday, the Flyers could then try different looks, depending on what they still want to evaluate or experiment with as the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament gets closer.
"We're going to use this time as much as we can to evaluate everyone, to make those decisions," Flyers assistant coach Mike Yeo said Friday. "All along, our plan was to make sure that we don’t just get stuck with trying the one thing and not giving other guys the opportunity.
"We were planning after [Saturday's] scrimmage to make some lineup changes. And I'm assuming right now that plan will stay the same."
Following Day 5 of training camp at Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone, let's get into five more observations:
Five days into camp (one of the days was off the ice), the Flyers have ran these forward lines and defensive pairs:
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Joel Farabee-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Michael Raffl-Derek Grant-Tyler Pitlick
Connor Bunnaman-Nate Thompson-Carsen Twarynski
German Rubtsov-Morgan Frost-Andy Andreoff
Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere-Mark Friedman
Egor Zamula-Andy Welinski
Tyler Wotherspoon-Nate Prosser
Nothing is etched in stone but the groupings certainly hold weight. A few notes to make:
With James van Riemsdyk healthy after breaking his right index finger about a week before the NHL pause, the final forward spot looks like it will come down between Joel Farabee and Nate Thompson.
Right now, the 20-year-old Farabee is on an intriguing line with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny. It's a good spot for him where the rookie's playmaking strengths are accentuated. He has difference-making, top-six upside.
Could things change? Of course, but say Farabee impresses during the scrimmages or puts up some eye-opening offensive production in a round-robin game, you'd have to think that would solidify his spot heading into the first round. He can absolutely win his role.
Say Farabee blends in and doesn't knock the door down, maybe head coach Alain Vigneault turns to Thompson, who would offer experience at fourth-line center and on the penalty kill. That would likely shift Scott Laughton to the wing and bump Derek Grant up to third-line center, while van Riemsdyk would be a candidate to hop onto the second line. Laughton could also play second-line winger as he's had good chemistry with Hayes.
Thompson is a quality guy to have in Vigneault's arsenal. He's a 35-year-old veteran center who has played in an Eastern Conference Final and Western Conference Final. He'll certainly play in the round robin and it'll be interesting to see if his line changes following Saturday's scrimmages. But Thompson will receive limited minutes in his fourth-line duties. Given where Farabee can play, the 2018 first-round pick is in more of the driver's seat to dictate the Flyers' decisions. A loud start will go a long way.
Playing with a purpose
Back in January during a game against the Bruins, general manager Chuck Fletcher was reminded of a critical method to the Flyers' youth movement.
The reminder was provided by Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers.
Both make up a young defensive pair with size and mobility. They are prone to mistakes, like any young blueliners with the ability to push the envelope, but entrusting them to play important minutes in crucial spots became an emphasis down the stretch for the coaching staff.
Sanheim is 24 years old. Myers is 23 and a rookie. They have four combined games of playoff experience. Despite that, the Flyers are ready to put heaping scoops on their plates.
"A lot of their preparation really was during the course of the year, playing against the top lines," Yeo, who oversees the Flyers' penalty kill and defensemen, said. "If you look back at when we were having success, obviously you look at our lineup and you’re going to see [Ivan Provorov's] and [Matt Niskanen's] names first on the depth chart there on defense.
"But if you go back to when we were winning a lot of games, obviously we were using Provy and Nisky in those roles, but there was a lot of times where we’re playing against Washington and [Alex] Ovechkin’s on the ice and Myers and Sanheim are going head to head against those guys. Same thing against Toronto and against Auston Matthews. Not only did we not hide those guys, but we purposely matched them against the best lines in the league. A: because they have that ability. But B: because we wanted them to grow."
Provorov and Niskanen will undoubtedly eat up minutes, play in all situations and draw the tougher assignments, but a long playoff run can be a draining, nonstop marathon. Even those two guys will have to be paced by the Flyers' staff. Sanheim, who is going to play on the man advantage, and Myers, who should see upwards of 17 minutes a game, will be paramount in the Flyers' hopes of doing so.
Those two have make-or-break potential because when they're confident and providing a second wave of offense, they're tiring the opposition's top forwards and facing less pressure to be perfect in the defensive zone.
"Really the only way to do it is by doing it," Yeo said of the experience. "I would say the same holds true for the playoffs. We can tell them what to expect, we can work with them, do drills, all that kind of stuff, but obviously it’s a different intensity level and it’s a different pace when you get to that playoff hockey. Both guys are composed. Both guys are great skaters and both guys have size, so I really don’t expect it to be much of a factor for those guys.
"There’s only so much you can do without actually getting out there and having to deal with it. But I really do feel comfortable that the experience that they got this year is going to go a long way toward helping them be successful in the playoffs."
Who's celebrating with me?!
What will the Stanley Cup Playoffs be like without any fans? We can only imagine right now.
During warmups Friday, Konecny and a few other players had fun simulating goal celebrations.
Konecny sure looked just as pumped up as he would be regularly; something tells us he won't have any problem motivating himself sans the help of fans.
Travis Konecny practicing his celebration game. pic.twitter.com/StizKUBX7m— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 17, 2020
The 23-year-old All-Star is the Flyers' energizer bunny. You'll always see him; and everyone watching from home might be able to hear him, too.
"It’s definitely going to be a different environment because I know the hockey world’s very small," Konecny said. "You end up knowing a majority of the guys, whether it’s personally or a friend of a friend, you know somebody. It’s definitely going to be a little bit different being around them all the time. But I’m sure once you're on the ice, it will be back to normal. I’m just going to try to stay away from the chirps as much as possible. I’ll leave it to Laughts."
Kidding with the kid
The Flyers truly have a close group; everybody gets along with each other and they like to have fun.
"Sometimes we have a little bit too much fun," Carter Hart said Tuesday with a laugh. "At the same time, we’ve got guys here that know when to focus and when to have fun. It’ll be a different situation where we'll be on the road for hopefully the full two months. I’m sure there will be a lot of card games involved at the hotel. It’ll be good. I know it’ll be tough for some guys being away from their families and friends, so that’s going to be an adjustment. For now, this is our family. This is our hockey family we have and that’s the way we have to look at it."
Being so tight-knit will benefit the Flyers as they attempt to go on a run while quarantining together in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.
One teammate the Flyers will really enjoy being around is the 21-year-old goalie Hart.
"He’s still the same kid off the ice, that innocent kid that everybody's making fun of, so that’s a good sign," Jakub Voracek said when discussing how Hart has grown this season. "If you’re getting made fun of, that means people like you. It’s a good thing. On the ice, he was one of the best goalies in the league at this early stage of his career. We’re real lucky to have him on our team and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him."
James van Riemsdyk said if he had to pick a roommate, it would be Carter Hart. He said it's fun to hear about what goes on in his brain.— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 15, 2020
Say it ain't Sushko ... don't worry
The Flyers on Friday loaned prospect Maksim Sushko to the KHL's Dinamo Minsk (also spelled Dynamo-Minsk).
Don't fret, the 21-year-old forward and the Flyers are not parting ways, as we see here in the loans process and thanks to great insight from Flyers official website contributor Bill Meltzer.
More into the loans process here. pic.twitter.com/P4U9C1vfao— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 17, 2020
Sushko and the Flyers both felt it was in his best interests to keep playing, hence KHL loan. He will return when North American seasons start up. Was told many other players are considering similar arrangements.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) July 17, 2020
Sushko, a 2017 fourth-round draft pick, possesses good speed and pursuit of the puck. He put up a solid first season at the pro level with 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-7 rating through 53 games for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
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