Flyers

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

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AP Images

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

Take a second and guess which Flyer leads the team in plus/minus. Nope, it's not Ivan Provorov or Sean Couturier.

Give up? At plus-14, rookie defenseman Robert Hagg leads the team. And while plus/minus isn't an ideal depiction of a player's success, it's something the rookie takes pride in.

“Well, absolutely. It means I’m more on the ice when we score goals than against, so of course, I’m taking pride in that," Hagg said. "But at the same time, you can’t read too much into that because every game is different."

Every game is different, but Hagg's steady, solid play has largely remained the same across his first 31 NHL games. The 22-year-old is averaging 19:22 ice time a game — sixth-most on the team and third among defensemen behind Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. He's also tied for third in the league with 101 hits this season. 

It's easy to forget about Hagg on a team full of young talent. But that's the way he likes it. 

"No, I love to go under the radar," Hagg said. "I don’t like the attention so much. It’s hard to disappear when you’re playing in the NHL, I guess."

On the ice, it's easy to miss Hagg. He doesn't have the flashy moves of Gostisbehere or the puck-moving skills of Provorov. He just goes out there and quietly gets the job done, at both ends of the ice. And for a rookie D-man, going relatively unnoticed at times can be a good thing. It means he's not making mistakes. 

While he may go unnoticed by fans, he has certainly stuck out in the mind of Dave Hakstol.

“He doesn’t fly under the radar in our dressing room," Hakstol said. "He’s been a good player and just by nature of some of the injuries and with [Radko Gudas'] suspension — with a couple veterans out of the lineup — he’s logged some minutes that maybe we didn’t predict quite this early, but by necessity, he’s been in these situations and he’s handled them well.

"Those are challenging minutes and assignments for a young defenseman. But Hagger has handled all of those things with pretty good poise. So he’s learning, he’s giving us good minutes and he keeps pushing to improve his game, so those are all positive things.”

With Andrew MacDonald's injury and Gudas' suspension, Hagg has been forced into playing more — and tougher — minutes than Hakstol originally anticipated for the rookie. But the coach has shown in the past — take Provorov's ascension to No. 1 D-man for example — that a player's age or experience will not limit minutes earned on the back end. 

Hagg has been a constant on the Flyers' blue line all season, and it's time to start appreciating his play as he continues to develop into a sturdy, top-four defenseman. 

Mr. 300
Michael Raffl will play in his 300th NHL game tonight and it's a special one for the 29-year-old. 

In 2012-13, Raffl was playing in Sweden when the Flyers took a chance on the Austrian.

Playing in the NHL at all seemed like a farfetched idea to him then, and 299 games later, it still doesn't feel real.

“If you asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it," Raffl said. "It’s part of my life now. I think it’s awesome and I’m very proud of that."

This season — Raffl's fifth — had the appearance that it may have been his last. At least for the first 21 games. Playing mostly on the fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier, Raffl didn't record a single point in that span. 

“I was trying not to change my game too much, to be honest," Raffl said of his early struggles. "I know the points weren’t there the first 20 games and I was struggling offensively, but I thought I played very well. I was trying to help the team win one way or the other. Now it’s clicking and I’ll try to ride the wave. Yeah, it’s more fun like that, for sure."

Over his last 10 games, Raffl has eight points — five goals and three assists — including five points during the Flyers' four-game win streak. It's no coincidence that the two overlap. 

Raffl's resurgence came with Hakstol's decision to break up the team's top line of Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Now on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Voracek, Raffl has looked like the 2014-15 player that scored a career-high 21 goals. 

“It’s been a benefit for us," Hakstol said of Raffl's hot streak. "Raf is a guy that’s scored 20 goals in this league so we know that he can contribute and he can help offensively, and I think he was pretty frustrated early on by not being able to find the back of the net. His continued good play has obviously created different opportunities for him and with the line that he’s with, right now with Fil and Jake, he’s going to get some of those scoring opportunities and in the past couple weeks, he’s made good on them and it’s been a huge boost for our team."

The Flyers take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference Thursday night — the Buffalo Sabres. But with points in their last four games (2-0-2), the Flyers can't afford to take the Sabres lightly. 

“No, we can’t look past anyone and I think where we are at, we gotta bring everything we’ve got," Raffl said. "It’s going to take a lot and I think it’s way harder to play against teams that are down there."

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Ty Smith, with little bit of Gostisbehere and Provorov, should attract Flyers in NHL draft

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Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs

Ty Smith, with little bit of Gostisbehere and Provorov, should attract Flyers in NHL draft

Ty Smith will dash across the ice as if he's saying catch me if you can.

Flyers fans know that game well.

You know, when a defenseman doesn't look like one because they're undersized, striking fear into nobody … until they take the puck up ice and skate you in circles.

Sound familiar?

"I am very well aware of Shayne Gostisbehere's game and what he brings," Spokane Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert said two weeks ago in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Although Lambert coaches at the junior level in the Western Hockey League, he's tuned in with the NHL game. He knows of Gostisbehere because he follows hockey.

Lambert also knows him likely because he watches a player awfully similar to the Flyers' slender offensive blueliner. Meet Smith, an 18-year-old prospect that will hear his name called Friday night in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft. Projected to be taken in the ballpark of 10th-to-20th overall, Smith could find himself going to the Flyers, who hold picks Nos. 14 and 19 and want to "restock a little bit" on defense, according to general manager Ron Hextall.

"Because of his size, I think people underestimate the type of effects he could have on a team or an organization," Lambert said. "Whoever gets Ty, whether it's Philadelphia or whoever may be lucky enough to land him, is going to be an organization that will be very happy with their pick and they're going to be very appreciative that somehow, someway he fell on their lap."

Gostisbehere, a left-handed shot, was selected by the Flyers in the third round (78th overall) of the 2012 draft. At the time, he was 5-foot-11 and between 160-165 pounds, but regarded for his slick skating and scoring ability.

Smith, also a lefty shot, is 5-foot-10, 176 pounds — tinier guy but a menace at the point of the power play with an NHL-ready offensive acumen. The lissome Canadian pivots, maneuvers, creates and transitions with some of the best in this strong defensemen draft class. If Smith's offensive repertoire lacks anything, it's the shot, a trademark of Gostisbehere's game.

"I think one of his strengths is his shot and his ability to get it off and get it on net," Lambert said of Gostisbehere. "I think that's where Shayne has a big advantage over Ty right now; Ty does not have that shot."

To the naked eye, while Gostisbehere seems to be an obvious comparison to Smith, Lambert remembered Ivan Provorov, as well. He sees traits from both of the Flyers' defensive pillars in Smith.

"You know what, when I think of Provorov, and I think of his hockey sense, and Gostisbehere, I think Ty Smith kind of fits in there somewhere," Lambert said. "A little bit of one and a little bit of the other, and you probably get a guy that equals Ty Smith. He's probably in between those two and I think they're both two special players."

Smith has become a defensive stud in the WHL, just like Provorov did with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Smith produced a 41-point increase from last year, putting up 73 on 14 goals and 59 assists in 69 regular-season games. He erupted for a seven-point night in February, a game Lambert said probably wasn't even Smith's best. 

He also went from a minus-12 in 2016-17 to a plus-44 this season. Lambert noted how such a mark is especially impressive considering Smith was matched up against the opposition's top players every game. Include the intangibles, and "the sky's the limit for Ty, even with his lack of size," the coach said.

"He's got two things that are special. One of them is his hockey IQ, the understanding of the game," Lambert said. "And probably the other one that you maybe don't know until you get to know him as a young man, is his character and just how he shows up every single day. It didn't matter if he played 35 minutes the night before or not, the next day, he's your hardest-working player at practice, so that shows a lot of leadership. 

"Not the most vocal leader, but certainly a leader that leads by example and he's a driver, a guy that pushes your teammates, pushes your team usually into special places."

Smith may be on the doorstep of starting to do so in the NHL.

"Well, to be honest with you, one of my fears is that he's going to get drafted and he's going to impress teams in a hurry," Lambert said. "And I say that as a fear, it's also one of my dreams, like I hope that for him."

It didn't take Gostisbehere or Provorov real long, either.

More on the Flyers

2018 NHL draft: Prospects the Flyers could select with the 14th overall pick

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Rena Laverty, USA Hockey/Terry Wilson, OHL Images/Larry Brunt, Spokane

2018 NHL draft: Prospects the Flyers could select with the 14th overall pick

As we inch closer to Ron Hextall’s fifth draft as Flyers general manager, we have a track record of what to expect this weekend at the 2018 NHL draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The Flyers have nine selections and two first-rounders. Hextall said last week he anticipates making both of his first-round picks (Nos. 14 and 19) but left the door open for a trade. In prior drafts, Hextall operated by a best player available mentality. While he said he’ll stick to the Flyers’ list, he let it slip they would like to restock their defense and desire more right-handed D-men.

We’re going to provide prospects the Flyers could target in the first round. First up, No. 14.

Joel Farabee, LW, 6-0/161, USA U-18 (NTDP)

While Hextall said a righty D-man is on his wish list, he also acknowledged the Flyers’ need for goal scoring. Farabee, an 18-year-old New Yorker from the USNTDP, fits that description well.

Farabee scored 48 total goals in 88 combined games and produced above a point-per-game clip between the USHL and NTDP. He brings high character and a commitment to a 200-foot game.

A speedy left winger, Farabee possesses a shoot-first mentality and his skating to create space. He’s headed to Boston University in the fall, where he’ll fine-tune his game and bulk up.

Rasmus Kupari, C, 6-1/188, Kärpät (Extraliga)

Hextall lives by building down the middle — centers, defensemen and goaltenders — so Kupari could be on the Flyers’ radar come Friday night. He’s one of the best skaters in the draft and owns tremendous puck skills while still having a ton of raw talent he needs to polish overseas.

Kupari, as a 17-year-old playing in Finland’s top hockey league, recorded 14 points in 39 games with Kärpät. He also made Finland’s 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships roster.

The centerman will be staying in Finland for at least another year, so patience will be required. Could be a few years before he comes to North America but is a high-upside prospect.

Bode Wilde, D, 6-2/197, USA U-18 (NTDP)

If the Flyers stay put, keep an eye on Wilde, a smooth-skating righty defenseman with a cannon for a shot and a solid frame for an 18-year-old, using it to separate players from the puck.

Wilde scored 12 goals and 41 points in 61 games with the NTDP this season and added three goals and 16 points in 25 games with the NTDP junior team in the USHL. 

The University of Michigan commit has plenty to work on but will get the chance to do so at one of the better college hockey programs. Needs to get smarter with his decision-making and sharpen his play in his own zone, but there are enough encouraging signs in which that won’t be an issue.

Ty Smith, D, 5-10/176, Spokane (WHL)

A smaller defensive prospect, Smith’s skating ability picks up for what he lacks in size. The game has changed, so size doesn’t matter as much anymore. Still, Smith’s skill level is high.

The Chiefs' defenseman scored 14 goals and 73 points in 69 games in 2017-18 and captained Team Canada’s U-18 team at the 2018 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championships.

Smith’s talent level isn’t that far off from the draft’s top D prospects. Spokane head coach Dan Lambert recently said Smith reminds him like a mix of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.

Joseph Veleno, C, 6-1/194, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Veleno may be off the board when the Flyers are on the clock but could last until 14. The centerman was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft after receiving exceptional status as a 15-year-old by the CHL, becoming just the fifth player to ever be granted that rank.

Finishing as the eighth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, Veleno has a pro-like work ethic with a high hockey IQ. He was traded from Saint John to Drummondville midseason in 2017-18 and finished with 79 points in 64 games between the two clubs.

Under the Hextall administration, the Flyers have valued smart players with high character and a commitment to playing a 200-foot game. If Veleno is available, he fits all that criteria.

Other names to watch

Barrett Hayton, C, 6-1/190, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Hayton is a prospect the Flyers should know plenty about. A solid two-way centerman who produced just under a point-per-game clip in 2017-18 playing for the powerhouse Greyhounds.

Serron Noel, RW, 6-5/210, Oshawa (OHL)
A monster of a winger, Noel falls under the project category. The Flyers’ farm system positions them to be able to take on a project like Noel but there appear to be better fits at No. 14.

Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 6-2/184, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Hextall has built a reputation as a GM who likes high risers — Travis Sanheim and Morgan Frost, for example — and Kravtsov definitely falls into that category. A very intriguing option at 14.

Grigori Denisenko, LW, 5-10/171, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
A Russian winger with sky-high potential. Not sure if he’ll be on the Flyers’ radar at 14 — might be a little high — but his ceiling could be enticing enough for Hextall to call his name.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Hextall

Flyers anticipate making both first-round draft picks

Flyers should know and like this D-man to 'restock'

Flyers desire righty D, but is Ryan Merkley worth the risk?