Flyers

Flyers-Hurricanes 10 observations: A look at what happened in 2016-17

Flyers-Hurricanes 10 observations: A look at what happened in 2016-17

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The Flyers' 50th anniversary season came to an end Sunday night when the orange and black suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

This was not the conclusion Ron Hextall and company envisioned when training camp finished in early October. For the third time in the past five seasons, there will be no playoffs in Philadelphia.

With that, let's delve into what transpired in 2016-17 with 10 observations.

1. Before we get into the season stuff, let's touch on Bryan Bickell. The Hurricanes' forward played his final NHL game, as he announced Saturday he'll be hanging up the skates. This past November, the 31-year-old was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As Bickell was announced in the starting lineup, fans cheered heartily. During a stoppage of play in the first period, the Flyers played a video tribute accompanied by a message read by PA announcer Lou Nolan to commemorate Bickell. Fans gave a standing ovation, while players from both teams stick tapped (see video). Bickell scored in the shootout, too. Awesome job, all the way around.

2. The Flyers finished 39-33-10 with 88 points. Last season, they went 41-27-14 with 96 points. Compared to last season, their goal scoring stayed just about the same and in the bottom 10 of the NHL. The power play, after starting so well, dropped a bit. The penalty kill saw minuscule improvement. The biggest difference turned out to be 2.56 goals against last season compared to 2.82 this season. Last month, Hextall said the Flyers "want to get better every year, get younger every year -- that's the goal." They saw some youth infused from start to finish, but they did not get better. This season was one of regression in many, many ways. For Hextall, no one said it would be easy, right?

3. Claude Giroux went scoreless, meaning he set a new career low for goals in a full season at 14. His previous season worst was 16 in 2009-10. Giroux simply didn't look himself this season -- oftentimes, he blended in and star players typically don't. Last month, Giroux admitted offseason hip and abdominal surgeries took some toll, both mentally and physically. Still, he's only 29 years old. And you know next season, his work ethic will have him in tip-top shape physically. Giroux cares and he fuels on motivation. He'll have plenty this offseason.

4. Wayne Simmonds did his part. His energy was there night in and night out when the team didn't always bring the same. He played all 82 games and nearly matched his career-high 32 goals with 31 this season after potting a marker Sunday. He also represented the franchise splendidly at the All-Star Game, earning the MVP honors. Not that many have doubted this, but this guy is a part of the team's future. A lot left for Simmonds.

5. At development camp in July, Robert Hagg said his goal for the year was to make his NHL debut. Well, he accomplished that on the final day of the regular season. The 22-year-old defenseman was called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and paired with Shayne Gostisbehere in the Flyers' season finale. He also saw time alongside Ivan Provorov. A nice little audition of sorts for Hagg, who marked the third Flyers rookie to make his NHL debut this week. That at least made things interesting. Hagg looked fine and there's a lot to like with his honest game and 6-foot-2 frame.

6. An obvious positive this season: Provorov. He opened the season as a 19-year-old and finished it as a 20-year-old Barry Ashbee Award winner (Flyers' top defenseman). Provorov played all 82 games and led the Flyers in ice time per game at 21:58 -- a franchise rookie record. He will continue to push the team's rebuild forward by spearheading the group of blueliners.

7. Dale Weise netted his seventh and eighth goals of the season. Nonetheless, Weise was disappointing in Year 1 with the Flyers. He played only 64 games because of some healthy scratches. He posted eight goals, seven assists and 39 penalty minutes. Last season, in just 56 games with the Canadiens (he spent 15 with the Blackhawks), Weise had 14 goals, 12 assists and 22 penalty minutes. And, hey, it wasn't long ago when he was a plus-21 (29 points, 10 goals, 19 assists) in 79 games of 2014-15. After signing a four-year, $9.4 million deal with the Flyers last offseason, he will really have to prove himself in 2017-18.

8. Anthony Stolarz didn't put on the best final act, but he's expected to make a serious case for the big club next season. He stoned a breakaway attempt in overtime and converted 32 saves in the finale. The 23-year-old more than held his own in seven games (four starts) this season, stopping 168 shots of 181 faced. For him to take the next step in 2017-18 would be lovely to see for the Flyers.

9. Gostisbehere made a heck of a play to facilitate Simmonds' tally. Sure, he suffered the proverbial sophomore slump, but he'll be just fine. He did finish the season with eight points in his last eight games, a good confidence boost heading into an important offseason for Gostisbehere, who turns 24 on April 20.

10a. Defensemen and soon-to-be unrestricted free agents Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz played what was more than likely their final games with the Flyers. For Schultz, possibly his final game of a 15-year career. He reflected on it all earlier this week. The Flyers should have at least two jobs open on the blue line come training camp -- which means more youth on its way.

10b. I'm guessing everyone wants Sean Couturier to shoot the puck more?

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

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Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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USA Today Images

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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