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The Flyers’ season starts up in a couple of weeks and the first cuts have been made. However, the battles for roster spots are still in full swing so let’s take a look at how the line combos look as of right now.
The first line is pretty much set in stone. Scott Hartnell (left wing) and Jake Voracek (right wing) will flank center Claude Giroux. Hartnell tallied 37 goals in 82 games playing alongside Giroux during the 2011-12 campaign but scored only 8 goals in 32 games last season (he missed 16 games due to injury). Last year’s 0.25 goals per game average was Hartnell’s worst since 2009-10 when he averaged 0.17 (14 goals in 81 games). Voracek, meanwhile, had a career high 22 goals in the lockout-shortened season. His 0.46 goals per game was double his previous career high set the year before. This combo had some success last season (mainly Giroux and Voracek) but the hope is that Hartnell can produce more akin to his 2011-12 season.
The second line looks to be set as well with Brayden Schenn starting off at left wing again with Wayne Simmonds on the right and newly-acquired Vincent Lecavalier up the middle. Schenn started last season on the top line with Giroux but was later bumped. The 3rd-year player hopes to put it all together with Simmonds, a 20-plus goal scorer, and a potential Hall of Famer in Lecavalier.
Here’s where things get dicey: the third line. Two of the three forward positions are locked in: Sean Couturier at center and Matt Read at right wing. Both guys are great defensive players and both have offensive potential. Read scored 24 goals his rookie year and 11 in 42 games last year, and just signed a 4-year extension with the team. Couturier, a shut-down defender—just ask Evgeni Malkin—is looking to produce more on offense as he was a prolific scorer in Juniors.
The third line left wing spot, however, is up in the air right now. What we do know is that neither Dan Cleary, Simon Gagne nor Tye McGinn will be there to start the season. The remaining contenders are veteran Max Talbot, grinder Zac Rinaldo, rookie Scott Laughton and recently-signed Austrian prospect Michael Raffl.
Max Talbot and Rinaldo seem the most likely to get the job, more so Talbot given his greater offensive abilities. Laughton is a natural center and will likely be returned to Juniors for more seasoning. Raffl will probably need some experience in the AHL before he can make the jump to the NHL. Last year he played in Allsvenskan, the second highest league in Sweden behind the Swedish Hockey League (formerly Elitserien) and according to Flyers’ beat writer, Bill Meltzer, going directly to the NHL seems unlikely. However, with McGinn having already been sent down Raffl may very well win the third or fourth line left wing job; in addition, Scott Laughton could potentially center the fourth line.
The fourth and final line could consist of Rinaldo, Talbot, Raffl or Jay Rosehill at left wing, Adam Hall or Scott Laughton at center and Talbot or Hall on the right side. Hall is mostly likely the best fit to be the centerman considering he won 56% of the faceoffs he took. Zac Rinaldo’s grit and physicality make him a perfect fourth liner if he doesn’t play on the third line. The rest is a crap shoot right now. Rosehill projects to be the 13th forward which would mean Laughton or Raffl makes the team. I’m not going to act like I know what will happen so speculate all you want.
Now on to defense. Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Mark Streit and Nicklas Grossmann are locks for the top 6 with Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson fighting for that last spot. Gus had a strong showing at the World Championships for Team Sweden while Meszaros won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers best defenseman for the 2010-11 season but has been bit by the injury bug hard and often the past two years. It is possible that Meszaros could be dealt given his $4 million cap hit, which is a lot for a 6th defenseman.
Anyway, the pairings will probably look something like Timonen with Schenn on the 1st pair since they spent most of the season together there last year. Streit will be with Coburn on the second pair. Streit’s puck moving ability and Coburn’s good stay-at-home presence make for a very well-rounded pairing. This also means Coburn will not have to be relied on offensively, which is something he is not meant for and part of the reason he struggled last year. The final pairing will consist of the stay at home Grossmann along with either the puck-moving Gustafsson or the heavy shooter Meszaros. Both guys would make for a nice compliment to Grossmann if they can play to expectations/capabilities. Bruno Gervais will be the 7th or 8th defenseman depending on a trade or injury.
As for the goalies, we know it’ll be Ray Emery and Steve Mason but who starts the opener is anyone’s guess. I’m going to say Emery just because. What do you think?
So here is what I have:
Hartnell – Giroux – Voracek
B. Schenn – Lecavalier – Simmonds
Talbot/Rinaldo/Raffl/Laughton – Couturier – Read
Rinaldo/Raffl/Rosehill – Hall/Laughton – Talbot/Hall
Timonen – L. Schenn
Coburn – Streit
Grossmann – Gustafsson/Meszaros
We all know that these combos, even if accurate for opening night, are always subject to change. Players get hurt, others out perform their teammates and so on and so forth. As long as the Flyers win, I’m happy.