Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: If Nolan Patrick makes the Flyers, where is he best featured in the lineup?
Despite the surge of momentum that led to Nico Hischier going No. 1 overall to the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers were more than thrilled that Patrick fell into their lap. Here's a player the organization and its scouts had seen for two seasons playing with Ivan Provorov when the two were teammates with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Sources connected to the Flyers' organization had told me that Patrick's skill set coupled with his size, leadership and hockey sense had him ranked higher on its draft board than Hischier, who may have a little more of a learning curve when it comes to developing into a solid two-way center.
Patrick should make the opening night roster coming out of training camp with the only concern being his health. Will he have any setbacks from the core muscle surgery he had back in June? Assuming he's with the Flyers, there's absolutely no way he doesn't play center, and it doesn't appear Ron Hextall is willing to experiment. Patrick has played only a few shifts at wing, but even he admitted it's not a position he's too comfortable with.
With that said, where do you slot the rookie when you have Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera, whom all primarily played down the middle last season. First, I would like to see the two Finns (Filppula and Lehtera) on a line together, with Lehtera at center since Filppula is a more versatile forward. Couturier is the team's best two-way center at even strength, and if he stays healthy, this could be his breakout year (which seems to be the most repeated phrase over the past three years).
So why not experiment a little during the preseason? How about a Jakub Voracek-Patrick-Giroux line just to see how well they could work together? Giroux has been the opposition's bullseye for the past five years and his body has taken a toll as a result. He led the team in 2010-11 with 76 points primarily playing right wing, so this wouldn't be a novel idea for him. The Flyers need to find a way to extend Giroux's career since he's locked up through 2022. I'm not sure the Flyers have entertained the thought, but during the preseason you have very little to lose.
Where Patrick can really assert himself is on the team's second power-play unit that really struggled last season to contribute anything, especially when the top unit was mired in a drought. The natural inclination would have Patrick replace Schenn on that No. 1 unit, but as long as the Wayne Simmonds-Giroux-Voracek-Shayne Gostisbehere combination remains in tact, Patrick would give the second unit a little more firepower.
This one is simple. It's either second- or-third line center or the WHL. He is not playing wing. He will not be in a fourth-line role. It is as clear-cut as that. I'm a firm believer Patrick will be here in 2017-18. I don't see how he doesn't make the team. Where does he slide into the lineup? I see him as the third-line center.
We can get carried away with labels — first line, second line, third line, whatever. It doesn't matter. You need to be able to roll four lines to be successful in today's NHL. The Flyers should be able to do that. Whether Patrick is on the second or third line, it doesn't matter. For the logistics of this discussion, I'll proceed with how I see it playing out.
I believe Couturier will start the season as the second-line center and play penalty kill with Patrick as the third-line center and seeing power-play time. Couturier will still see top minutes against opponents' top lines and be in a role in which he's proven he can succeed. He'll still make his linemates better and score efficiently at even strength. Everyone will be happy.
Patrick will give the Flyers a formidable third line — a line that could see fellow rookie Oskar Lindblom and the veteran Filppula on his wings. Whether Patrick remains on the third line all season long is another question. I can see him moving up to the second line and Couturier taking over as the third-line center.
The point I'm making is this: With Patrick here, the Flyers will be able to roll out four lines with skill on each one centered by legitimate NHL talent. Giroux, Couturier and Patrick is a helluva one-two-three punch.
It's important to remember if Patrick makes the roster, his presence is big for the Flyers, but it's also significant developmentally for the teenager.
As an organization, you always want to put your players in spots where they have the best chance to succeed. With Patrick, this might be a special case.
So what does he do best and what makes him feel most comfortable?
By those who know him, Patrick has been lauded for his ability to make others better, and it's not just that sports cliché here. Patrick may not be a dynamic goal scorer, but surround him with talent and he'll thrive by augmenting others.
"If he's playing with some skilled guys, he will get them the puck, he will make plays," Patrick's uncle, James, said to CSNPhilly.com in June. "He's shown that he can do that. Certainly, the last three years in the Western Hockey League, put the best players on the ice with him and they will get chances, and chances all night. I think that's what his offensive upside is."
With that said, Patrick should play in a top-six role. Give him the minutes and setting to make a true impact in which he can develop through playing. Giroux is this team's obvious first-line center. Couturier can center the third unit in which there will be greater offensive depth but still the defensive focus.
So for Patrick, I'd love to see him flanked by Jordan Weal and Simmonds. Both are scorers that finish plays and bring a variety of ways to put the puck in the net. The skill sets of Weal and Simmonds complement Patrick's, while the three would compose a nice mixture of size and speed, a tough-to-play-against second line.
The fun thing is the Flyers should have options — much more than before — depending on roster decisions at the end of training camp. How the lines are constructed by Dave Hakstol will be even more polarizing in 2017-18.
Let's get something out there loud and clear to start this off: You don't fall backwards into the No. 2 overall pick and arguably the most talented player in the draft only to move him out of position and have him basically start from scratch as a 19-year-old in a new position in the best league in the world.
Patrick is a natural center and will be playing center for the Flyers. No questions asked.
OK, now that we have that issue all tidied up, the question now shifts to where Patrick fits into the lineup when it comes to linemates.
Giroux is still the Flyers' top-line center. Couturier is likely slotted in at the second-line center spot.
You don't take an uber-talented 19-year-old and put him in a fourth-line, defense-based role where his minutes become limited. He needs as much exposure as he can get on the ice.
Those factors above are why I feel Patrick has the third-line center spot sewed up to start the season, granted he's healthy.
It's a good spot for him because it'll give him time to feel out the NHL game and make the coming adjustment period to this level a little smoother because the pressure to produce won't be as great right away as it would be if he were in a top-six role. There is wiggle room to ease in.
Time for another question shift — who plays alongside Patrick on his wings? It's an important question and it's obviously way too early for Hakstol to even tip his cap yet as to what he's thinking for the Flyers' line combos.
But, if we're just spitballing here with the current roster as of Aug. 5, here's what I believe the Flyers' third line could look like: Filppula-Patrick-Michael Raffl.
Having Filppula alongside Patrick gives the rook a veteran presence who's a natural center himself to guide him when on the ice. That's a valuable intangible. In Raffl, you have a veteran who's not afraid to go into the dirty areas and do the greasy work to free things up for Patrick to make plays. Lindblom is another name to watch for Raffl's spot, but having two rookies on the same line may not be an enticing endeavor for Hakstol, knowing the way he operates.
And of course, if Patrick excels while others in the top-six roles meddle, the door is open to moving up the lineup as soon he's proven he's ready.
And don't be surprised to see him on the power play, either.