Nolan Patrick

End to End: Where should Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

End to End: Where should Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Where should the Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

I don't really see this as a question of where they should play van Riemsdyk but rather how should they use him.

The easy fit would be to slot JVR in on the second line with Nolan Patrick and either Jakub Voracek or Wayne Simmonds, but things aren't easy.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall kept the door open for Claude Giroux to return to center in 2018-19 last weekend, so a lot of it depends on what shakes out in training camp. van Riemsdyk figures to be with either Patrick or Giroux.

Take into account how dynamic Giroux was with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny last season, the JVR signing should be one to boost secondary scoring. Putting him on the second line does that.

van Riemsdyk isn't exactly the best defensive forward and in Toronto, Mike Babcock essentially used him as a third-line player at 5-on-5, sheltering him from facing top competition.

That will change with the Flyers considering he'll play in the top six and that means tougher competition. But Flyers coach Dave Hakstol should utilize van Riemsdyk in a similar way as Babock.

Last season, JVR started over 70 percent of shifts in the offensive zone. In fact, that's been the case in two of the previous three seasons. Since 2014-15, the zone starts have lopsided in the O-zone.

We'll see how van Riemsdyk fares against tougher competition, though he'll have better linemates too. The responsibility will fall on JVR, but Hakstol can help by getting him as many O-zone starts as possible.

In 2017-18, Giroux put up a career-best 102 points as the first-line left winger and Sean Couturier broke out for a career-best 76 points alongside him.

That should not be messed with, so van Riemsdyk's spot in the 2018-19 lineup is simple: second-line left winger, exactly where the Flyers need and want him.

The much bigger question that came to mind when news broke of van Riemsdyk's reunion was where does he fit in the Flyers' power-play picture? JVR is coming off personal highs in goals (11) and points (20) on the man advantage.

Hakstol now has a good problem.

"We feel like with this addition on our power play, we can put out two really good units," Hextall said last weekend. "It gives us another left shot, which we needed.

"Hak, we've talked long and hard about it. We know James is very good net front. He's got great hands, he's got good size.

"I don't know where that's going to shake out, but we feel pretty comfortable that our power play has taken a step here."

Simmonds has been the NHL's second-best power-play goal scorer with 86 markers since 2011-12, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and his 131. When an injured Simmonds missed seven games last season from Feb. 20 to March 4, Patrick shined in the net-front role on the first unit and kept it.

To start 2018-19, I would let a healthy Simmonds regain his spot and rediscover his forte while allowing van Riemsdyk and Patrick to bolster your second unit. If things sputter, then the Flyers have flexibility to tinker with their personnel.

However it unfolds, the overlying positive here is the Flyers will have a 30-goal scorer on their second power play.

More on the Flyers

Flyers' young foundation yearning for long-term relationship

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Flyers' young foundation yearning for long-term relationship

Travis Konecny had just finished up his sophomore season and had a few days to process how it came to an end, bitterly against the Penguins in his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Konecny leaped from an immature rookie to an established scorer. He built onto his reputation as a chirper, and his personality screams bloody murder on the ice.

Two weeks ago, at his end-of-the-season news conference, Konecny didn’t let losing his voice impede that charisma from rising when asked about Nolan Patrick wanting to improve his shot.

“Yeah, he needs that,” Konecny quipped.

Now 21 years old, Konecny is one of the Flyers’ many young building blocks, along with the 19-year-old Patrick (see story). The Flyers are getting younger. Their average age in 2017-18 was 25.92, which was their youngest since the 2008-09 season (25.55), and the expectation is that they’ll get even younger next season. They haven’t had back-to-back seasons with an average age below 26 since a five-year period from 1990-95.

It’s hard to ignore, and the Flyers know it. Konency sees a young nucleus building. He came into the league with Ivan Provorov, who, at 21, is already among the league’s first-class defensemen. The current core knows what’s coming, and while some outside noise howls for the Flyers to break it up, GM Ron Hextall doesn't appear to have any plans on doing that.

Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier have been together since 2011-12. Giroux’s time as a Flyer spans back further. From a Flyers historical perspective, keeping a core together for this long without sustained playoff success is unprecedented.

“It’s funny because I see these relationships that these guys have,” Konecny said. “All those guys who have been around, talking about when they were rooming together way back. You see how close they are. They have that long relationship that they’ve built. I think it’s exciting for us. All the young guys get along here. We’ve all got stories with each other.”

While the Flyers’ playoff struggles under this core have continued, the core is still producing. At 30, Giroux posted the Flyers’ first 100-point season since 1995-96. Voracek, 28, set a career high with 85 points. Couturier finally broke down the walls with a 31-goal, 76-point year. Simmonds, despite playing through major injuries, still scored 24 goals.

As Konecny and Patrick prepare for a larger slice of the pie, there will be others stepping in too. Think Oskar Lindblom, who gained valuable experience in 21 games this season, and perhaps any of the forward prospects who graduate to the NHL.

“We all know what’s going on in junior,” Voracek said, “in AHL, the farm team. For us, the older players, which is weird for me to say, it’s a good thing. You need to be pushed sometimes.”

The Flyers are in a transition phase, and Hextall made it a point to declare that they’re not passing the torch from the core to the kids but it’s balancing experience and youth. Hextall pointed to the Sharks a few seasons ago when they made the Stanley Cup Final with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton in their mid-30s.

“It’s all about those older players as they get older, our younger players are gonna take a bigger piece of the pie,” Hextall said. “If you look at teams that win, they typically got their older group and their middle group, and maybe a couple of young guys. That’s the way we’re going.”

Konecny wasn’t done poking at Patrick. With the heckle about Patrick’s shot behind him, Konecny told a story about how he turned Valtteri Filppula’s jeers against him onto Patrick.

“Fil says a lot of stuff to me,” Konecny said. “Like, ‘Oh, in my second year, I never would have done this.’ I say that stuff to Patty. ‘Oh, last year, I never would have done that.’ I’ll still do it next year.”

And so the Flyers’ next long-term relationship begins.

About to 'get after it,' Nolan Patrick ready for 'big steps'

USA Today Images

About to 'get after it,' Nolan Patrick ready for 'big steps'

Nolan Patrick is no slouch in the strength and speed departments.

The 19-year-old is 6-foot-2, 198 pounds and showed deceptive bursts of giddy-up during his rookie season as the games grew bigger.

Imagine him after a full summer of training?

Patrick, already polished when it comes to being in front of the cameras, had his arms crossed and usual game face on — despite little emotion, he was picturing it.

"It's exciting. First time I can get after it," he said last week at his end-of-the-season press conference. "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."

Summer is a precious time for hockey players. It's when they can hammer away at specific areas to improve, especially with their bodies and skill sets.

Patrick hasn't been so lucky. His past two summers were marred by surgery and recovery. Prior to his final junior season and all-important draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then, last June, he had abdominal surgery 10 days before the Flyers selected him No. 2 overall.

Sounds like this is the summer of Nolan Patrick.

"I'm just excited to be able to move," Patrick said. "I couldn't even run last summer. I only had about a month last summer to train, so I'm really excited to take a couple weeks off and then get after it. It's going to be some tough work but I'm excited for it."

Aside from moving and getting stronger, Patrick wants to focus on his shot this offseason while working with his skills coach. Last summer, so much was just about getting on the ice and being prepared enough for training camp.

Once Patrick started gaining back his mobility post surgery and following a nine-game absence because of a concussion, the big-bodied center turned it on, solidifying his role as the team's second-line center and joining the first-unit power play.

With each game, Patrick became more and more conspicuous. When the playoffs arrived, he was one of the Flyers' best forwards during the first-round exit to the Penguins.

"I think it was pretty noticeable when I got confident, I was a different player out there," Patrick said. "It was a big part of my game."

In Patrick's first 40 contests, he put up nine points (three goals, six assists) and a minus-3 rating. Over his final 33 regular-season games, he finished with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) and a plus-4 mark.

"You just saw as the year went on, he got comfortable and confident and you started to see exactly why he was the second overall pick," Travis Konecny said. "He's a pretty unique player, not a lot of guys like him — big body, really good hands and pretty reliable."

Sean Couturier, a player with Patrick's type of two-way, all-around game, sees the future with him.

"He's another one of the guys who's just going to take over this team eventually and lead us," Couturier said. "He's got a lot of talent. He's smart. He's really mature for his age. Just the way he plays, the way he handles himself on and off the ice."

That should only improve this offseason. And if Patrick needs any motivation, he can recall his last two summers and how it impacted the introduction of his NHL dream.

"It was a bad start for me. I wasn't doing much to help the team win," Patrick said. "I kind of turned it around as much as I could and tried to contribute as much as I could. No excuses for you guys this summer for next year's start. It's going to be a big summer for me."