Why James van Riemsdyk could be Flyers' most important player in 2019-20 (and not for his goal-scoring)

Why James van Riemsdyk could be Flyers' most important player in 2019-20 (and not for his goal-scoring)

When James van Riemsdyk hit the free-agent market last summer, he had just scored a career-high 36 goals and was considered the second-biggest commodity to only John Tavares.

Signing with the Flyers presented a variety of selling points.

Five years, $35 million certainly whet the appetite.

Returning to the organization that drafted him second overall in 2007 was intriguing.

Being back near his hometown of Middletown, New Jersey, held special meaning.

But just as important as all those factors was this: He loved the Flyers' youth.

And still does, despite Year 1 of the reunion falling well short of expectations with a season marred by another slow start, inconsistency and dramatic change.

"That's the beauty of having young guys, we have guys that haven't hit their best hockey yet," van Riemsdyk said April 6 following the Flyers' season-finale loss. "We have a lot of high-end players, too. Everyone's got to be hungry going into the summer. It's not just a time to put your feet up, that's when you make your big strides as a player. You identify things you want to work on and you attack them."

There's excitement about what a healthy and comfortable van Riemsdyk can do for the Flyers throughout a full season in 2019-20 (see story).

However, he may be the Flyers' biggest difference-maker for a separate reason.

The very same youngsters that attracted van Riemsdyk to Philadelphia should attract to the 30-year-old. A proper word to describe van Riemsdyk is professional. He's enjoyed consistent success because of a complete and workmanlike approach that translates into results. 

In each of his last five full seasons, he's scored at least 27 goals. He's netted 30 or more twice. He scored 29 in 2016-17 and would have had over 30 this season if not for an injury that cost him 16 games. So he's awfully close to four 30-goal seasons by the age of 30 and he's played in 59 postseason games.

Sean Couturier is the only other Flyer with two 30-goal seasons and only Claude Giroux has appeared in more playoff games (69).

His young, impressionable teammates — Nolan Patrick (20 years old), Travis Konecny (22) and Oskar Lindblom (22), to name a few among the forwards — can learn from van Riemsdyk.

For the Flyers to have the bounce-back year they want next season, they'll need significant strides from their younger players — in other words, more consistency.

Carter Hart, who was lauded for his maturity entering the pros, took after van Riemsdyk to help with his NHL transition at 20 years old.

"JVR has been a real big help," Hart said in April. "He really pays attention to that side of the game and he's talked to me a little about his approach with the off-ice nutrition and sleep habits and all of his little things that he talks about. He's really helped me just open my eyes to his approach with the off-ice and nutrition and sleep habits, making sure that he's taking care of his body. He's always one of the first guys in the gym and he's always taking care of his body and doing the right thing. It's pretty cool for him to talk to me about that, and it has really opened my eyes."

Van Riemsdyk isn't the guy to get in your face and force-feed you tips on how to be better because he doesn't toot his own horn. But by watching him, by seeking him out, the Flyers can capitalize on more than just his goal production.

"It's something you can't fake, you can't just come in and be a guy who's rah-rah, do it my way, do it this way," van Riemsdyk said. "You've got to live it every day. I love what I do and I love trying to be the best I can be, try to be a good professional, just find an edge to keep improving and improving every single year that I can. You can't really come in Day 1 and beat your chest and say stuff. You remember being in some of the shoes of the young players not so long ago."

What did he do in those shoes?

"I remember just being a sponge in those situations where you're kind of watching and listening probably twice as much as you're saying anything," van Riemsdyk said. "Just kind of seeing the different things guys do to be successful and prepare to play at the best of their abilities every night.

"Just try to prepare the best I can. Be a good pro and set a good example in that respect. As you develop better relationships with guys — that just doesn't happen overnight — but as you develop those relationships with guys, you develop that trust where we can all learn different things from each other."

It could go a long way in the Flyers' 2019-20 aspirations. And it shouldn't require van Riemsdyk to beat his chest, either.

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Ready for Flyers' roster? Play the wing? Morgan Frost will have chance to answer

Ready for Flyers' roster? Play the wing? Morgan Frost will have chance to answer

The Flyers played eight preseason games last year.

Morgan Frost appeared in just one.

At best, the 2017 first-round pick held an outside chance to win a roster spot. With only one game to work with, in actuality, Frost never had a shot. From the outset, he appeared destined for his fourth and final junior hockey season instead of the Flyers' lineup.

"I mean, I got to play in the one exhibition game," Frost said last month at development camp. "I didn't really get to do as much as I could, but I think I was just getting my feet wet. It would have been nice to play another game or two and kind of really get to show [myself]. It's always tough when you kind of jump into a one-game situation like that. Hopefully this year I'll get some more games to prove myself and take it from there."

This fall, it'll be a whole new ballgame.

Frost should have a more realistic fight for the Flyers.

"I'd like to think so, yeah," Frost said.

"I think your chances when you're this young get better every year because you turn into a better player and you know what to expect when you're in camp."

At development camp, Frost hit on plenty of good points when discussing 2019-20.

He's a year older, which always helps. That fact also means he's now ready for pro hockey, whether it's the Flyers or AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Another important note: Frost will be playing in front of a new coaching staff and general manager this time around. Having to win over a new regime can be seen as a challenge, but it's also an opportunity.

I don't think it changes the way that I approach things or how I play or carry myself, but it's a new staff — they're going to have open eyes and a fresh look. Just continue to do me and I'm not going to try to change anything.

- Frost

In 2018-19, Frost experienced another dominant year. The dizzying playmaker torched the OHL again by scoring 109 points (37 goals, 72 assists) with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Over his final two OHL seasons, the 20-year-old center put up 221 points (79 goals, 142 assists) and a plus-103 rating in 125 regular-season games. On top of that, he dazzled through the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with four goals and four assists in five games for Team Canada, which lost in the quarterfinals.

"What they always said is that when you're playing in a medal round or a gold-medal game, it's almost like an AHL playoff game — that's the pace that it's in," Frost said. "It's definitely a lot quicker than the OHL and you're playing against all elite players that are around my age. That was probably the best experience I've ever had playing hockey. It was a lot of fun, it was too bad we didn't do better."

The experience should help Frost's transition to the pro level. Once again, he'll head into training camp with added weight; he's around 187 pounds and his goal is 190. 

"You can see the way he thinks the game and sees the ice — he can make plays," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "Whether he's ready physically to handle the rigors of the NHL, training camp will dictate that."

He'll also head into camp with a third-line job up for grabs. That vacancy appears to be on the wing, not at Frost's natural position. However, Frost said he played winger in world juniors and at times during the OHL season alongside 2018 fifth overall pick Barrett Hayton.

"I've played wing before," Frost said. "It's definitely not my strong suit right now, but I can definitely adjust to that."

This year, the Flyers have seven preseason games. What will Frost try to prove?

"Just that I belong," he said. "You have to do stuff to stick out but at the same time, you want to blend in with the better players. Just try to do everything I can to make an impression."

Frost should expect more than one game — and he'll know to make them count.

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Scott Laughton, Flyers agree to 2-year, $4.6 million contract

Scott Laughton, Flyers agree to 2-year, $4.6 million contract

No arbitration for Scott Laughton and the Flyers. Not even close.

Laughton and the Flyers on Friday agreed to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $2.3 million.

The restricted free agent and the club had an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 30. It's not surpring they never got to it.

This is a good deal for Laughton — and deserved. It's an honest contract for a player that has paid his dues. The 25-year-old's previous contract was a two-year, $1.925 million deal with an average annual value of $962,500.

The 2012 first-round pick has found his niche in the NHL, becoming one of the Flyers' more vital depth pieces. During 2018-19, Laughton delivered career highs in goals (12), assists (20), games (82) and ice time per game (14:51). Just as importantly, Laughton has turned into a valuable penalty-killer as he was second on the team last season in shorthanded ice time (183:52), behind only Sean Couturier (184:51).

The Flyers' 2018-19 campaign was ravaged by inconsistency, but Laughton always played hard and stood out with his effort on the PK. He is slotted to be the Flyers' fourth-line center in 2019-20, between Michael Raffl and possibly Tyler Pitlick.

"When you look at Laughts and Raf, they play some heavy minutes, they can grind it out in the offensive zone and make it hard for the opposition and change momentum," former Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said in March. "So the next line that comes out there can have an easier time because the previous line from the opponent couldn't get onto the ice.

"Those guys are invaluable and they are just as important as guys that are putting up the big points."

Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, both not arbitration eligible, are the Flyers' remaining RFAs. Provorov's new contract could take time as both sides appear to be at somewhat of a standstill, while Konecny could be in for a bridge deal (see story).

"I expect as the summer goes on, we'll continue to chip away at this," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Friday via a conference call. "The market will continue to flesh out as we go and we'll get there; we'll get there by the end."

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