Oskar Lindblom

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Ron Hextall knows how these things can work out.

He remembers plucking Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Not much was made of the pick, barely even a peep, because, well, the 138th overall selections don't typically draw heaps of praise.

Lindblom quietly slipped back to Sweden. Three summers later, Flyers fans couldn't stop talking about him.

"Oskar went away, no one knew who the hell he was, fifth-round pick, over there getting better and better and better and bang," Hextall said last July. "He's the SHL Forward of the Year."

One has to believe Lindblom's name popped in the general manager's head when the Flyers saw Marcus Westfalt still available and the clock ticking on their 2018 seventh-round pick. At 205th overall, Westfalt became the Flyers' final selection, making for eerie similarities to Lindblom, who forced his way to the big club in 2017-18.

Westfalt plays for the same Swedish junior team (Brynäs IF J20) and SHL squad (Brynäs IF) as Lindblom did when he was taken by the Flyers. Both prospects are from Sweden and dropped in their respective drafts. Lindblom, a left winger, stands 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, while Westfalt, a center/left winger, comes in at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds.

Another Lindblom in the works?

"Hopefully, that's my dream, of course," Westfalt said three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "But he's a really good player, he's got a lot of skill. But, yeah, hopefully."

The 18-year-old was well aware of Lindblom. It was hard to not hear or see his fellow countryman transform from fifth-round pick to ballyhooed Flyers prospect. In 2016-17, when Lindblom really took off with Brynäs IF and won Swedish Hockey League Forward of the Year, Westfalt witnessed the rise.

"I watch him a lot," Westfalt said. "His last year in Brynäs before he got here, I watched him a lot. He's a [role model] because I think he's really good, he's good with his hands, his speed, he uses his body well. I watch him a lot."

In his draft year, Lindblom played only four SHL games compared to 43 for Brynäs IF J20. For Westfalt, it was a bit different. He appeared in 39 SHL games, including playoffs, while playing 26 contests at the junior ranks, where he put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-19 rating.

Westfalt's goal for 2018-19 is to play the whole season in the SHL. Lindblom did a bit later than Westfalt, but once the jump was made, he impacted games.

"Try to get more ice time," Westfalt said. "Bigger role in the game.

"[Brynäs IF] told me that I have some things I need to work on and if I do that, I can get to play."

Westfalt, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in those 39 SHL games, said he tries to be "a smart, two-way centerman," and feels his "play in the D-zone is better than the offense."

"I'm strong without the puck and with the puck," he said.

While the goal is to stick in the SHL, he's uncertain which level will be best for his on-ice growth at this stage of his development.

"When I play in junior, I get more ice time, I get to play a lot more with the puck, I get to play the power play and stuff like that," he said. "I want to play in the juniors, too, because I want to work on my skills, but my big goal is to do the same thing I do in the juniors in the SHL."

Lindblom eventually did, carving out his path to the Flyers at 21 years old.

"I just think about it by myself, like fifth-rounder, I just felt like I can play and I can be on this level," Lindblom said last summer.

With Westfalt, there is no chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round pick.

"No, for me, I'm just glad that I'm here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's fun to go earlier [in the draft], but I'm just happy to be here."

And eager to climb like Lindblom.

More on the Flyers

Flyers' young foundation yearning for long-term relationship

AP Images

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.

Sean Couturier part of collision at Flyers' practice

Sean Couturier part of collision at Flyers' practice

VOORHEES, N.J. — Sean Couturier was the first player off the ice during Tuesday’s practice, and it wasn’t a good scene.

Couturier collided with teammate Radko Gudas and required the assistance of head athletic trainer Jim McCrossin to be taken back to the locker room. Gudas appeared distraught regarding the incidental collision and declined to answer any questions regarding the play that led to the contact.    

However, Wayne Simmonds didn’t seem to express much concern regarding Couturier’s health and his availability for Game 4.

“Coots will be fine,” Simmonds said. “I’m not worried about Coots.”

Dave Hakstol provided no update, but Couturier is unquestionably the Flyers' most indispensable player entering a pivotal Game 4. The Flyers' head coach sensed a change was needed following Sunday’s 5-1 loss, and Hakstol’s latest plan is to reunite Jakub Voracek with Couturier and Claude Giroux on the top line for Wednesday’s game.

“Was I surprised? It’s the playoffs and things like that happen,” Voracek said. “When you lose the game you want to shake things up to help a team win the game. The coaches thought it was the best idea to put us back together, so we’re just going to roll with it.”

Hakstol broke up that dynamic trio after the first 26 games of the season with the Flyers record at 8-11-7. They were the most dominant line in the NHL with a league-leading 25 goals among them, but they had generated 43 percent of the team’s offensive production and Hakstol felt the need to make a change as the Flyers were too top-heavy.

“We haven’t seen it together for a long time,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t like the depth of our forward group at that point in time. I think we feel a little bit differently about our forwards now." 

If Couturier can’t suit up Wednesday night, then Hakstol will likely resort to one of two possibilities. Either slide Giroux to center, despite him playing left wing all season, or elevate rookie Nolan Patrick to the top line and move Scott Laughton back to the center position.  

“We’re not going to jump to conclusions here,” Giroux said. “We’ll see how Coots is, but if it does come down to that, whatever’s best for the team, you go ahead and do it. I think everybody in this room feels like that.”

Regardless of Couturier’s health, Hakstol in all probability will scratch rookie Oskar Lindblom in favor of Jordan Weal, who led the Flyers with four points in four games against the Penguins during the regular season.

“It’s an adjustment. This takes another level,” Hakstol said. “Oskar hasn’t been able to compete probably as much as he would like to with the puck and offensively. There’s a little more on the line and the time for opportunity is a little bit shorter.”

The only combination Hakstol left intact was the fourth line of Laughton, Jori Lehtera and Matt Read.

Regardless of Hakstol’s reconfigured lines, if the Flyers don’t contain Sidney Crosby (three goals, four assists), the series may not return to Philadelphia after Game 4.  

“We’ve got to take care of the puck a little bit more. We can’t be scared making plays out there,” Giroux said. “Sometimes you start playing too safe and that gets you in trouble.

Hornqvist out
Penguins right winger Patric Hornqvist will miss Game 4 with an upper-body injury. Hornqvist is considered an energy player who scored the 1-0 Cup-clinching goal in last year’s Stanley Cup Final.

According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Penguins' power play had a 26.2 percent rate with Hornqvist in the lineup and a 12.9 percent rate without him this season.