Flyers

End to End: Impressions on the Flyers' hiring of Kris Knoblauch

End to End: Impressions on the Flyers' hiring of Kris Knoblauch

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 producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Thoughts on the Flyers hiring Kris Knoblauch to run the power play.

Dougherty
There doesn't appear to be much to dislike about the Knoblauch hire. If we're nitpicking, it would be he has no professional coaching experience, but that's the smallest of nitpicks. Especially when the Flyers' head coach, Dave Hakstol, came directly from the University of North Dakota to the pros without any prior experience. I don't think that's a concern at all.

Knoblauch was considered a high riser in the junior coaching ranks, and we know he was itching to make it to the professional ranks. We just didn't know it would come this quick. In late May, he told the Edmonton Journal that he's "ready to make the step [to pro]." One week after Erie lost to Windsor in the Memorial Cup, Knoblauch has made that leap.

I'm intrigued by the hire for a few reasons. Erie's power play under Knoblauch has been a top-two unit in the OHL for the past four seasons, so he comes with a pedigree. Some may look at the talent he's had to work with — Connor McDavid (2012-15), Andre Burakovsky (2013-14), Dylan Strome (2013-17), Alex DeBrincat (2014-17) — and say it would be hard not to boast a potent power play. But I don't believe it's fair to discount Erie's style of play here.

As eloquently broken down by The First Pass' Rachel Doerrie (h/t Broad Street Hockey), the Otters under Knoblauch played a puck-possession heavy speed game, similar to the Russian brand. "From your icing line to the offensive blue line, the puck goes North/South," Doerrie writes. "From the offensive blue line, move the puck East/West." It'll be interesting to see what changes Knoblauch brings to the Flyers' PP.

But I'm also curious to see if he'll work with Hakstol to implement some of this into the Flyers' play at 5-on-5. I don't see this necessarily as a sign Hakstol is on the hot seat as he enters Year 3 as the Flyers' coach. I do see it, however, as GM Ron Hextall jumping on a hot commodity who he believes can help the Flyers' man advantage and also help develop kids.

Another interesting note: It's Hextall's second coaching hire and both have come outside the organization. That's a welcomed change of pace.

Hall
Most importantly, I think the Flyers needed a fresh face.

Albeit not easy, change is oftentimes necessary. As difficult as it was to part ways with longtime assistant Joey Mullen, Hextall knew it was needed for the Flyers, which is a positive of the GM.

Here's what Hextall said on April 13 when he announced the firing of Mullen:

"It's just one of those things where I feel like we needed a change. He's one of the nicest human beings. Monday was one of the worst days of my life because of it. That was a hard thing to do. Mully's a great guy. I have an awful lot of respect for him. Please do not think that in any way I'm laying anything on him.

"He's a terrific human being, one of my favorite guys in the whole world, but my gut feeling was to make a change there."

From Jan. 15 to the end of the season, the Flyers' power play ranked 28th in the NHL with a 14.6 percentage. And after finishing with the league's third-most successful man advantage in 2014-15, the Flyers slipped to 11th in 2015-16 and 14th in 2016-17. The power play limped to the finish line this season, often looking stale and overly reliant on perimeter passing and shooting.

As Hextall pointed out, this was not all on Mullen. But new personnel and adjusted strategy should be welcomed.

With Knoblauch, the Flyers get a young (38 years old), up-and-coming coach who has been extolled for his ability to strategize, communicate and adapt.

"Connor McDavid was going to go play in the NHL no matter if Kris coached him or not, but he made Connor a better player," hockey agent Jeff Jackson said to The Associated Press. "He teaches a culture of winning and speed and puck movement, but he empowers all the kids."

This was a telling hire by Hextall and it's hard to dislike right now. 

But this is the honeymoon stage of hiring a new coach. Positives are typically flowing the moment the name surfaces, but we'll have to wait and see for the actual results.

Flyers will face New York Islanders again in annual rookie game

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Flyers will face New York Islanders again in annual rookie game

While the Flyers have not announced the start of their rookie and training camp, they did provide an indication Tuesday of when the camps will be.

For the third straight season, the Flyers and New York Islanders will square off Sept. 12 in their annual rookie game. This time, it returns to New York.

The game will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12 at the Northwell Health Ice Center, the Islanders' practice facility in East Meadow, New York. According to Newsday's Andrew Gross, ticket proceeds will benefit the Islanders' Children's Foundation.

In years past, the Flyers have streamed the games on their official website.

Last year, the Flyers-Islanders rookie game was on Sept. 13, 2017, two days after rookie camp began and two days before the main camp opened.

The rookie game marks the official end of rookie camp, so by the process of elimination, a safe guess would be the Flyers' rookie camp will be Sept. 10 and training camp likely opening a day or two after the game.

The Islanders beat the Flyers, 4-3, in overtime last September. The Flyers won the first game two years ago. From 2007 to 2014, the Flyers and Capitals faced each other in their annual rookie games.

Rookie games are fun because they're the first glimpse of prospects and with the Flyers, there's a ton to be excited about — even if signing James van Riemsdyk accelerates their process (see story).

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Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

A young Flyers defenseman cracked the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list, but it's not exactly who you are thinking.

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, was listed Sunday night as the league's 17th best blueliner as NHL Network continued its nine-part series looking at the game's top players.

That's not a slight to Gostisbehere by any means, but many would argue that Provorov's overall game is far more in tune of a top-tier player than Gostisbehere.

Here is NHL Network Ken Daneyko's explanation for "Ghost," who ranks right behind Boston's Torey Krug and ahead of Carolina's Dougie Hamilton:

"He really came into his own last year. This kid is dynamic, and for me, I think there are some defensive liabilities, but because how offensive the game has become and defensemen being part of that offense, Gostisbehere can do it all. He's shifty and can make a pass in the blink of an eye for a great scoring chance."

Gostisbehere had a frustrating sophomore season in 2016-17 after exploding onto the scene in 2015-16. Last season, though, he rebounded in grand fashion.

The 25-year-old finished fourth in the NHL among defensemen in points with 65. He led all defensemen in power-play points (33) and was tied for the league lead with seven power-play goals.

His offensive production returned — actually increased substantially — to his rookie season level, when he scored at a 0.72 points per game clip in 2015-16. Last season that number was 0.83.

But Gostisbehre's defensive game began to round into place. He credited that to "a little more snot," but the player we saw in his own end was far better than what we've seen before.

We can chalk some of that up to Dave Hakstol putting Gostisbehere with Provorov in late December. The pair became dynamic because, at any moment, either could jump up in the offensive zone and create, but Provorov was the pair's anchor.

“He’s a 1,000 of years better than me defensively,” Gostisbehere said in April. “We use that to our advantage and it really showed as a pair. Provy’s very good defensively, but offensively, he took another step.

"He’s probably one of the best, if not the best two-way defenseman in the NHL.”

Provorov did not totally get snubbed by the NHL Network. Daneyko had Provorov on the bubble and if we return to this list after the 2018-19 season, it's safe to say Provorov will likely, at least, make the leap.

"For such a young age, poise, good in all three zones and only getting better," Daneyko said of Provorov. "He moves the puck and has good offensive instinct. He's going to be a real good player for a long time."

Provorov, 21, was tied for the league lead among defensemen with 17 goals in his second NHL campaign but didn't post ludicrous overall numbers — just 41 points and not many on the power play.

But Provorov played the tough, shutdown minutes (see story). He led the team in ice time with 24:09 per game, more than 2 1/2 minutes more than Sean Couturier's 21:35 and 2 minutes and 42 seconds more than Gostisbehere.

We're splitting hairs here, really. Lists are lists and a good list often creates debate. Does it matter that Gostisbehere, not Provorov, made the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list? Not really, but it's still a neat honor.

If anything, it's another testament that the Flyers are doing things right even if the process at the rink is slower than fans would like.

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