Flyers

Grading the Flyers' forwards at the bye week

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Grading the Flyers' forwards at the bye week

After dissecting goaltending and the defense over the past two days, we turn our attention up front to the point producers.

In our final bye-week installment of the midseason report cards, we break down the Flyers' forwards.

Sean Couturier

Grade: B+
Stats: 19 G, 20 A, 39 P, minus-3

Couturier, proving that 2017-18 wasn't a fluke as the Flyers' No. 1 center, is on pace for back-to-back 30-goal seasons. It took a while for his season to get going following a knee injury he suffered during a charity game prior to training camp. He had eight scoreless games in October alone but just 11 in the three months since.

Defensively, not as flawless as last season when he finished second in Selke voting, but he still does all the little things required of a two-way center. Currently playing some of his best hockey with four goals and six assists and a plus-6 during his six-game point streak.

Claude Giroux

Grade: B+
Stats: 14 G, 38 A, 52 P, plus-4

Would you believe that Giroux has just four fewer points through 48 games than he had at this point last season on his way to a 102-point season? Actually, Giroux has been a better point producer this season at 5-on-5 with 2.94 pts./60 min. compared to 2.81 a year ago. Continues to be a monster in the faceoff circle.

Has already exceeded his shorthanded TOI from last season and his inclusion on the PK has been one reason for the turnaround. Giroux’s move back to center has helped balance the lines. Still has some occasional defensive lapses and his backchecking is lukewarm at times.

Scott Laughton

Grade: B
Stats: 7 G, 12 A, 19 P, plus-5

Currently on pace to become the first Flyer since Joel Otto in 1996-97 to score 30 points in a season — all at even strength or shorthanded. Personally, I think Laughton is more effective at left wing than at center, where he plays a tougher, hard-checking game along the boards and doesn’t have to worry as much with the defensive responsibilities.

So far, 2018-19 has been another positive step in Laughton’s development to become a complete player that can be counted on at both ends of the ice. No Flyers forward has logged more time on the penalty kill than Laughton. He’s had some assignment breakdowns defensively but has shown improvement.

Travis Konecny

Grade: B-
Stats: 12 G, 14 A, 26 P, minus-3

Konecny has been paying more attention to the small details while eliminating high-risk plays and low percentage passes from his game. Still gets caught at times abandoning his defensive responsibilities, looking for that breakaway attempt. Even though Konecny leads the team with 99 shots on goal at even strength, his shooting percentage is down from last season. Expect his goal total to pick up over the second half of the season.  

Oskar Lindblom

Grade: B-
Stats: 5 G, 10 A, 15 P, minus-2

After a very productive road trip in early December that included a five-game point streak playing alongside Nolan Patrick, Lindblom seemed to hit a wall, produced very little offense and was banished to the fourth line, where he went scoreless for the entire month of December. He's starting to rediscover his game again, including playing some hard minutes on the PK with his TOI back in the 17-minute range.  

Jake Voracek

Grade: C+
Stats: 11 G, 28 A, 39 P, minus-13

Voracek, arguably the most frustrating player on the team, has the ability to dominate at times and is an absolute force with the puck, but it comes sometimes at the expense of trying to force plays that simply aren’t there. Turnover prone and doesn’t exert max effort on the defensive side of the puck as well.

No forward has been more greatly affected by the Flyers' horrific power play than Voracek, who’s offensive output was dependent on the PP. Last season, 41 percent of his production came on the power play, compared to just 21 percent this season. 

Wayne Simmonds

Grade: C+
Stats: 15 G, 8 A, 23 P, minus-11

Simmonds’ season has been a rollercoaster one with contract negotiations and trade rumors swirling heading into a summer of free agency. Still doesn’t seem to have that explosiveness that he once had and doesn’t carry much speed through the neutral zone. 

As much as the Flyers need his edge, grit, power forward mentality of crashing the net and working the dirty areas, Simmonds still gets caught up with not making the smart, simple play in his end of the ice that can lead to a turnover and eventually a goal. Simmonds also needs to cut down on penalties, leading all Flyers with 12 minors. 

James van Riemsdyk

Grade: C
Stats: 12 G, 10 A, 22 P, minus-5

Suffering a leg injury in the second game of the season derailed JVR’s start to the season. Played very passively trying to understand his role while learning on-the-fly. Could bear down a little more defensively in his own zone. 

Following a meeting with Scott Gordon, JVR has turned it loose with six goals and eight points over his last five games, displaying a net-front presence with an excellent set of hands capable of scoring in a myriad of different ways.

Nolan Patrick

Grade: C-
Stats: 9 G, 8 A, 17 P, minus-3

After having a full offseason regimen without dealing with a major injury, Patrick started the season with nine points in his first 14 games before enduring a major dropoff. From there, Patrick played with no speed and no attacking mentality in the offensive zone, and as a result, the Flyers' second-year center went through a profound slump from mid-November to mid-January with no goals over a 24-game stretch. 

Defensively, Patrick is rarely out of position and plays like a third defenseman at times. Better suited as a third-line center. Now that he has racked up four goals over his last three games, we’ll see if he carries that confidence over from the bye week. 

Michael Raffl

Grade: C-
Stats: 3 G, 5 A, 8 P, plus-1

If the Flyers can somehow manage a sixth-round pick in a trade for Jordan Weal, it will be interesting to see how the Flyers handle Raffl for the remainder of the season. He could be moved for a mid-round draft pick.

Raffl has been much more involved when playing with more talented forwards like Voracek and Couturier and seems less engaged in a fourth-line role. However, he has been a solid contributor on the penalty kill as he’s been on the ice for just four power-play goals in 36 minutes of PK time.

Dale Weise

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 6 A, 11P, minus-6

It’s been a tale of two Dales. The Dave Hakstol version of Weise saw second-line minutes back and played some solid hockey with three goals in five games, but under Gordon, Weise has been appeared to be going through the motions, not playing with exerted effort and with very little energy. Now that he’s been told to stay at home and wait for a trade, it will be interesting to see how the situation plays itself out.

Phil Varone

Grade: D
Stats: 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, minus-4

Now 18 games played with the Flyers, Varone is one of those “tweeners” where he excels at the AHL level but it doesn’t translate to the NHL. While he has been mindful of playing solid defensively, Varone also spends the majority of his shift in the defensive end. He had a burst to his game early into his call-up but has slowed down since. Doesn’t win too many board battles.

Jori Lehtera

Grade: F
Stats: 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, minus-7

There’s really no value Lehtera brings to the Flyers. Not agile and aggressive enough to help kill penalties. Lacking the necessary foot speed to play center. As a winger, Lehtera is physical but can’t establish himself as an effective forechecker. Much rather see Nicolas Aube-Kubel in that fourth-line role.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

You can never have enough competition.

There will be plenty of it when training camp rolls around in September as the Flyers have a third-line job opening on the wing.

General manager Chuck Fletcher added a candidate Wednesday by signing forward Chris Stewart to an NHL pro tryout for camp.

Stewart, 31, was a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Avalanche and has played 652 career NHL games between six teams. His best season came as a 22-year-old with the Avalanche in 2009-10, when he scored 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) over 77 games. Last season, he played in the EIHL for the Nottingham Panthers, scoring 13 points (six goals, seven assists) through 23 games.

The 6-foot-2, 242-pound winger has ties to the Flyers' GM. He played parts of three seasons for Fletcher's Wild from 2014 to 2018, putting up 25 goals, 20 assists and a plus-6 rating in 146 games.

The Flyers like their options for the third-line winger vacancy. The names include Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Andy Andreoff and Kurtis Gabriel.

Farabee and Frost have drawn a lot of attention as young first-round draft picks coming off big seasons with Boston University (see story) and the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (see story), respectively. Rubtsov is an underrated option given his size, advanced game and positional versatility. Ratcliffe is a 6-foot-6 winger who scored 50 goals last season with the OHL's Guelph Storm, while Vorobyev saw time with the Flyers in 2018-19.

"It's more than Farabee and Frost," Fletcher said July 1. "I think Rubtsov had a tremendous prospect camp here. Ratcliffe is a quality young player. Vorobyev is a young man that we feel is going to come back next year a little bit stronger.

"There are several players down there that can play games, never mind Andreoff, who's a player that I think will make a very strong push to make our team this season. Kurtis Gabriel is a player that's played games in the NHL the past few seasons. We have a lot of options. That's what training camp is for — it's an opportunity for players to come in and show that they belong. It should be an exciting camp."

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