Flyers

Is skating hockey's most fixable flaw? Flyers aim to find out

Is skating hockey's most fixable flaw? Flyers aim to find out

If the Flyers had to redraft 2007 all over again, knowing what we all know now, then Stars captain Jamie Benn in all likelihood would have been the franchise’s second overall selection right after the Chicago Blackhawks snagged Patrick Kane.

Instead, the organization chose James van Riemsdyk, who at the time was considerably more polished and NHL-ready than Benn was at the age of 18. In fact, you have to scroll down another 127 picks after the selection of JVR into the fifth round to see that the Stars finally selected Benn.

How could a player that eventually won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer in 2015 become somewhat of an afterthought and nearly dismissed on draft day? 

Poor skating ability. 

Despite having the size of a power forward, Benn was a below-average skater and teams clearly shied away from drafting him. From that moment, Benn was determined that an inadequate skating technique wouldn’t deter him from playing in the NHL.

Want an even better example? 

With a smaller 5-foot-10 stature, but tremendously skilled with a high hockey IQ, Tampa Bay's Brayden Point slipped to the late third round. His skating was the one area that needed major improvement. Point worked strenuously over the summer with former Canadian world champion figure skater Barb Underhill. 

Now, the Lightning center is a 30-goal scorer, and perhaps most impressively, Point is lightning quick. He finished second to Oilers superstar Connor McDavid in the league’s fastest skater competition during All-Star weekend’s skills competition.     

The Flyers have a similar player in their system that checks a lot of Ron Hextall’s boxes except for the one next to skating ability. It’s the single biggest reason Matthew Strome fell to the Flyers in the fourth round (106th overall) in last year’s draft after watching his older brothers go top five (Ryan — fifth overall in 2011, Dylan — third overall in 2015).     

“Matthew Strome is a pretty good example,” Hextall said last week. “With Matthew, skating is his weakness. He’s got one flaw, everything else is pretty good. So, you look at Matthew and if he can just improve it — he’s never probably going to be a great skater, but if we can just ramp him up two levels, he’s got a real good chance at playing in the National Hockey League.”

Playmaking ability or possessing a high hockey IQ are traits that require years of development, whereas poor skating is a mechanical flaw that demands rewiring the brain and breaking old habits similar to how a golf coach makes adjustments to a player’s swing.

“I can spend an hour with some players and they can get the stride right off. In one hour, some guys get way better,” said Slava Kouznetsov, who has served as the Flyers' skating coach since 2006. “Some guys spend weeks of training to get the same stuff done. It’s learning a new language. Some guys pick it up right away with the way the brain is wired, and some guys will never be able to speak the language. Some guys will take years to pick it up.”

Kouznetsov was able to fine-tune Steve Downie’s skating technique that was considered choppy with a short stride, which left him unable to have the required stamina to stay out during an entire shift. Downie was a late 2005 first-round pick who had other issues that plagued his nine-year NHL career, but without improving his skating stride, Downie would have never made it on to an NHL roster. 

The deeper you go into the NHL draft’s middle to late rounds, the more unlikely it becomes that those players will make the jump to the NHL. The success rate is somewhere in the single digits. There are simply too many holes in a player’s game that organizations can’t plug. Yet, the key is finding a skill that’s considered NHL quality and then hoping those problem areas are correctable.

More and more teams around the league believe skating is the one fixable flaw contingent on one significant variable.     

“First you have to teach the brain new ways, then you have to reteach your body to adapt to the new way,” Kouznetsov said. “Most important thing is you have to be willing to do that. That’s the biggest. You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make the horse drink.”

Which may be Hextall’s biggest challenge on Day 2 of the draft. Knowing and sensing which prospects will work tirelessly to fix those flaws, and which players are inevitably too set in their ways to overcome them.

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Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

BOX SCORE

From the moment it was announced that Oskar Lindblom would miss Wednesday night's game, the Flyers' chances at Pepsi Center felt bleak.

No Lindblom, no Travis Konecny and facing the NHL's highest-scoring team in its building was not a promising script for the Flyers, who lost to the Avalanche, 3-1.

In stretches this season, the Flyers have struggled to bury goals. And that has been with Lindblom and Konecny — their two leading goal-scorers at 11 apiece — in the lineup.

The Flyers (17-9-5) did some good things but Colorado finished plays behind its world class talent up top.

The Avalanche (20-8-3) are on an eight-game point streak (7-0-1) in which they've scored 4.13 goals per game.

• Without Konecny (concussion) and Lindblom (upper body), the Flyers had difficulty putting the puck in the net. They were going to have to put up some goals against the Avalanche, who entered scoring an NHL-best 3.70 goals per game. For the second time in the last three games, the Flyers scored only one goal.

The lone tally came from Claude Giroux when the Flyers were trailing 3-0 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.

• Following a first period in which they survived, especially in the back half of it thanks to Carter Hart, the Flyers actually played a solid second period. At one point during the middle stanza, the Flyers were outshooting Colorado 11-0.

But as the Flyers kept pushing to no avail, the Avalanche changed the whole complexion of the period with one play by their two best weapons. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen hooked up for a nasty marker to make it 2-0 with 3:55 left in the period, a deflating goal to allow for the Flyers (see highlights).

Considering Colorado was 14-0-1 when leading after the middle period, the Flyers were in a serious hole, even after a hard-working period.

• Hart, who entered 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts, faced the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

He made a highlight-reel save and gave the Flyers a fighting chance in tough circumstances.

The 21-year-old has been impressive during the first period all season long, allowing the Flyers to find their legs and rhythm. He converted 12 of his 24 saves in the opening stanza against Colorado.

On the Avalanche's first-period goal, Scott Laughton won a defensive zone faceoff but the Flyers failed to clear the puck, resulting in Matt Calvert's tally.

Rantanen added his second goal early in the third period and that was pretty much the game.

Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz, who came in 5-0-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .926 save percentage over his last eight games (six starts), finished with 32 stops.

• When Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day) is ready to return, Robert Hagg should be the odd man out on defense. Shayne Gostisbehere has found some of his offensive mojo and Myers has shown way too much promise to be sitting when healthy.

A stay-at-home guy like Hagg was far too noticeable against the Avalanche. He committed a penalty and was a minus-2 in 15:21 minutes.

• David Kase was summoned to Denver this morning to make his NHL debut and become the ninth rookie to play for the Flyers this season

The 22-year-old winger had a nice scoring chance and two shots in 7:47 minutes. 

• The Flyers head to the old stomping grounds of general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr when they visit the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Fletcher was the GM in Minnesota from 2009 to 2018 and Flahr was his AGM from 2010 to 2018.

The Flyers have not lost consecutive games in regulation since Oct. 27-29.

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Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

As one of the NHL's best teams since Nov. 1 (12-3-4, 28 points), the Flyers now face a new challenge.

Alain Vigneault's undermanned group begins a three-game road trip Wednesday as the Flyers (17-8-5) visit the Avalanche (19-8-3).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pepsi Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

• The Flyers are without Travis Konecny (concussion, out indefinitely), Oskar Lindblom (upper body, out tonight), Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day), Michael Raffl (broken right pinkie finger, out approximately four weeks) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder, out indefinitely).

"Injuries are a part of a season. You have to expect it," Vigneault said Monday. "Then you need somebody else to step up."

More than ever this season, the Flyers will be looking to Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk to produce among the forwards.

The Flyers are 10-2-1 when Hayes records a point and 9-1-0 when van Riemsdyk records a point.

• Not only are the Flyers severely shorthanded Wednesday night, but they're also facing the NHL's highest-scoring club. The Avalanche lead the league with 3.70 goals per game. Their top line of Nathan MacKinnon (47 points in 30 games), Mikko Rantanen (18 points in 14 games) and Gabriel Landeskog (nine points in 14 games) is scary.

"We know going into Colorado, we're going to have to be careful versus their top unit," Vigneault said Tuesday. "[Monday] night, they seemed to load up. That's one of the best lines in hockey."

• Carter Hart will face the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

The 21-year-old goalie is 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk-Morgan Frost-Tyler Pitlick
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
David Kase-Mikhail Vorobyev-Chris Stewart

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

 

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