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2020 NHL playoffs: Picking Flyers' top 5 reinforcements among roster in 24-team tournament

2020 NHL playoffs: Picking Flyers' top 5 reinforcements among roster in 24-team tournament

It's uncertain how many players will be permitted on the Flyers' roster during the NHL's 24-team return-to-play tournament. Rosters could expand to 28 players with an unlimited number of goalies but that determination is still being finalized by the NHL and NHLPA ahead of training camps (Phase 3), which are slated to begin July 10.

We gave our predictions for the Flyers' best lineup to open the tournament. As more players make their way back to Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, for voluntary workouts (Phase 2), we're going to pick our top five reinforcements for head coach Alain Vigneault during the playoffs.

Let's get into it:

Morgan Frost

If the Flyers go into a mini scoring funk and are desperate for an injection of offense, Frost will be their best card to play.

The 21-year-old center is a lightning strike scorer because of his high-level skill and natural ability to make things happen. When Frost was called up to the big club in November for his NHL debut, he made a bang with two goals (his first being a filthy one) and three points over his opening two games.

Scott Laughton and Derek Grant are versatile players who can slide to the wing if the Flyers need a jolt down the middle from Frost.


Shayne Gostisbehere

Flyers training camp hasn't arrived yet, so we don't know how Vigneault will line up his defensive pairs and who will be the odd man out.

Say Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers get the nods over Gostisbehere, No. 53 might be the most talented seventh defenseman you'll find in the 24-team field.

Similar to Frost, Gostisbehere has the makings of a spark plug with the way he elusively transitions the puck. He endured a regular season to forget, playing in only two of the Flyers' final 26 games, but the guy isn't far removed from a 65-point 2017-18 campaign.

Not a bad club for Vigneault to have in his bag.

Nate Thompson

Although it's not a definite by any means, Thompson appears to be the forward that would come out to open a spot for James van Riemsdyk, who is now healthy after breaking his right index finger in March.

What makes the 35-year-old Thompson such quality insurance for the Flyers? The trade deadline acquisition owns 62 career playoff appearances, has played in an Eastern Conference Final and a Western Conference Final, can win faceoffs and help kill penalties.


Connor Bunnaman

Bunnaman, who really caught the eye of the Flyers in camp and the preseason, did exactly what the club wanted from him as a fourth-line center when his number was called.

The 22-year-old rookie was smart, reliable and noticeable in limited minutes. He has good size (6-3/214), sneaky offensive ability and was a plus-7 in 21 games this season.

The only reason he was sent down to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in late February was because the Flyers gained the experience of Grant and Thompson at the deadline.


Carsen Twarynski

Another rookie, the 22-year-old Twarynski is a good winger to have at one's disposal because he plays an effort-based game.

If Vigneault needs him, he'll know exactly what he's getting in Twarynski, who exemplifies a bottom-six style and moves well for his size (6-2/206).


Don't forget ...

Nolan Patrick, whose status is very much unknown for the 24-team tournament after the 21-year-old missed the regular season with a migraine disorder. However, if Patrick is able to join the picture, the Flyers would suddenly be a whole lot deeper.

Alex Lyon, who is the Flyers' third goalie. If Carter Hart or Brian Elliott were to sustain any injuries, Lyon's importance would grow significantly.

Mark Friedman, who could be the Flyers' eighth defenseman. Vigneault liked what he saw from Friedman during the 24-year-old's six games with the club.

Andy Andreoff, who is a physical 29-year-old winger with 173 games of NHL experience.

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Predictions for Flyers' best lineup to open NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan

Predictions for Flyers' best lineup to open NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan

As Flyers fans know well, their team was on a nice roll before the NHL had to suspend the 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The unprecedented stoppage brought a halt to the Flyers' 2019-20 resurgence, a regular season that had the makings to be the organization's best in nine years.

Well, in a different way, it turns out the Flyers might get a shot to finish what they started. On Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced the process to its 24-team return-to-play model.

If the league is able to reach its goal of resuming the season in hopes to award the Stanley Cup, the Flyers are in solid position for a run. Their work prior to the hiatus — winners in nine of their final 10 games and going 19-6-1 since Jan. 8 — guarantees them a bye and top-four seed.

To boot, the Flyers are much healthier now (as are most teams) compared to when the NHL suspended the season March 12. At that time, the Flyers were pushing forward without James van Riemsdyk (broken right index finger), Philippe Myers (fractured patella in right knee) and Nate Thompson (left knee sprain). All three are ready to play if/when the season picks back up.

With that noted, let's break down the Flyers' best lineup for a Game 1 scenario.

First line

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Hard to argue with this group.

Couturier brings out the best in Giroux and Voracek, while the club's mainstay wingers know exactly how to feed off their do-it-all pivot.

This season, Voracek really started cooking when he jumped onto Couturier's wing. Since Nov. 23, just after the two were put together, Couturier put up 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) and a plus-23 rating in 47 games, while Voracek recorded 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) and a plus-17 mark during the stretch.

“Coots is one of the best defensive forwards putting up huge offensive numbers," Voracek said in November. “He knows what to do to make the other top lines miserable.”

Second line

Joel Farabee-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny

Head coach Alain Vigneault likes to accentuate the strengths of his younger players by placing them in spots where they can best show those strengths.

Down the stretch, the Flyers started putting more and more on Farabee's plate and the 20-year-old rookie proved he could handle it.

Playing with Hayes and Konecny gives Farabee a greater chance to produce offensively and build confidence. If he's not scoring, his overall game doesn't tend to slip, which makes this line such a good spot for the 2018 first-round pick.

“The thing with Joel is his game is so much more advanced than the other kids away from the puck and defensively," general manager Chuck Fletcher said in January. "He's one of our best forwards in terms of puck management and game management.”

Third line

James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Tyler Pitlick

A healthy van Riemsdyk changes the whole dynamic for the Flyers, who are 22-5-0 when he records a point.

The goal-scoring winger gives the Flyers bottom-six offensive punch, a guy who is always a threat to swing the complexion of a game with a two-goal, three-point kind of effort. Featuring that on a third line is a big-time luxury.

With more responsibility and talent around him, Laughton has had a terrific season (career-high 13 goals and plus-13 rating in only 49 games). Pitlick staying with the third unit permits him to play his natural right winger position, while Grant can play fourth-line center to keep Raffl on the wing, as well.

This third line also presents a tough-to-play-against look, a group that can win shifts and free up opportunities for the top six.

Fourth line

Michael Raffl-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Grant provides the Flyers a ton of flexibility. He can play third-line center or right winger if needed. After being acquired at the Feb. 24 trade deadline, Grant registered five points (one goal, four assists) in seven games with the Flyers.

With the 30-year-old Grant at center, Raffl, a reliable fourth-liner, isn't forced to play down the middle and Aube-Kubel, a 24-year-old rookie, can play in his regular right winger spot.

This makes Thompson the odd man out but good insurance for the Flyers as he has played 62 playoff games in his career.

First defensive pair

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen

A no-brainer here as Provorov and Niskanen have been terrific as the Flyers' top pair.

The 23-year-old Provorov and 33-year-old Niskanen do everything for the Flyers, from even strength to the power play and penalty kill.

They'll play big minutes, per usual, in the playoffs. Niskanen's experience of 125 career postseason games and a Stanley Cup title should be a benefit to the younger blueliners. 

Second defensive pair

Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers

A healthy Myers is tough to sit, at least at the start of the playoffs. The 23-year-old had shown promise and poise alongside Sanheim as the Flyers turned it on in January. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Myers had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 50 games this season, while he was also helping kill penalties.

It won't be surprising, though, if Vigneault gives Myers a relatively short leash in a best-of-seven series. At times, the rookie has tried to do too much and can be hard on himself.

Shayne Gostisbehere, a pretty good option to have on deck, will be ready to play. Vigneault has always liked Gostisbehere's potential in his system.

"The best and the toughest offense to defend is when you have that second wave, when you have your Ds being a part of the attack," Vigneault said in November. "He’s a smart player, he knows when it’s time for him to jump up.

"His defensive play has been fine, he’s battled, he’s competed, I like his 1-on-1s. He’s got to play to his strengths, he’s aware of that."

Third defensive pair

Robert Hagg-Justin Braun

Hagg has earned his spot in the lineup to open the playoffs. He plays a simple third-pair style, blocks shots and made the Flyers better as they climbed the standings. Post-Christmas, the 25-year-old notched 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and a plus-17 rating in 28 games.

Over a similar span, Braun was one of the team's best defensemen. Since Dec. 23, the 33-year-old veteran of 84 postseason appearances had 14 points and a plus-11 rating in 26 games.

There's no real reason why this shouldn't be the club's third pairing to begin a series.

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

The clear No. 1 and No. 2 for the Flyers, a tandem that worked very well during the regular season.

The Flyers will be ready to ride the 21-year-old Hart, while the 35-year-old Elliott (45 career postseason games on his résumé) is a more than dependable backup to spell the youngster when needed.

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Flyers sign 'skilled, workhorse' winger Linus Sandin to entry-level contract

Flyers sign 'skilled, workhorse' winger Linus Sandin to entry-level contract

The Flyers project to have a ton of competition within their group of forwards in 2020-21.

They added to the competition Wednesday by signing Linus Sandin to a one-year entry-level contract. Thanks to the NHL's one-year extension Tuesday of the player transfer agreements with the IIHF member federations/leagues, the Flyers and Sandin could make the deal official. Sandin turns 24 years old in May; both sides decided on more of a prove-it one-year contract rather than a two-year deal.

Sandin, a winger who played in the Swedish Elite League during 2019-20, finished tied for third among the SHL with 19 goals and scored 36 points through 51 games for HV71.

"We are happy to have Linus under contract for next season," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement released by the team. "Our scouting staff has done an excellent job identifying him as a player who can come into camp and compete for a spot on our team right away. He works extremely hard and we expect him to add size, skill and tenacity to our forward group."

Where might Sandin — who is considered to have bottom-six NHL potential — fit with the Flyers in 2020-21? Time will tell as much can change between now and next season.

The Flyers will have six forwards set for free agency in the offseason — Tyler Pitlick (unrestricted), Derek Grant (unrestricted), Nate Thompson (unrestricted), Nicolas Aube-Kubel (restricted), Nolan Patrick (restricted) and Oskar Lindblom (restricted). The team will also have Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski in the picture, among others such as Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, Connor Bunnaman, Carsen Twarynski and Andy Andreoff competing for spots.

"Of course we are really happy for Linus and his whole family about to reach a milestone in his career," Sandin's European agent Michael Rosell said Wednesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. "With that said, we’ve known Linus long enough to understand that the effort has just begun and now it’s time to take his game to the next level.

"He’s a smart kid with a nose for the net, a skilled winger that complements the linemates very well. Strong on the puck and a smart decision-maker, a workhorse."

The Flyers scout and watch the SHL a lot. During 2019-20, the club had five prospects compete in the SHL — Olle Lycksell, Linus Hogberg, Adam Ginning, David Bernhardt and Samuel Ersson.

Lindblom and Robert Hagg are also SHL products. Lindblom went from being a 2014 fifth-round pick to winning 2016-17 SHL Forward of the Year with 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 52 games for Brynäs IF as a 20-year-old. Hagg shares the same hometown of Uppsala as Sandin, who is the brother of Rasmus Sandin, a 2018 first-round pick of the Maple Leafs.

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