Young Flyers have stepped up and energized team | Sam Carchidi
Several young players, most drafted by former GM Ron Hextall, have skated to the forefront for the Flyers.
Oskar Lindblom is the oldest of six young Flyers who have made significant contributions early in the season.
He’s all of 23 years old.
In other words, there’s something refreshing going on in Flyerdom.
Quite simply, the kids are all right. Actually, they are more than all right. Several of them have been carrying the team.
There’s Joel Farabee, 19, the precocious right winger who has been elevated to the top line and the No. 1 power-play unit.
There’s Travis Konecny, 22, the electric right winger who goes into the weekend as the Flyers’ leading point producer and is tied with Lindblom for most goals on the team.
There’s Carter Hart, 21, the poised-beyond-his-years goalie who happens to be the Flyers’ most important player.
Finally, there are Ivan Provorov, 22, the Flyers’ top defenseman and a player who seems to have regained his mojo after taking a step backward last season, and Phil Myers, 22, the defenseman who was recently recalled from the AHL’s Phantoms and looks like a keeper.
Oh, and that list doesn’t even include Travis Sanheim, 23, who was arguably the Flyers’ premier defenseman the second half of last season but has had problems staying on his feet (think Scott Hartnell) this year.
It also doesn’t include 21-year-old center Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, who hasn’t played this season because of a migraine disorder.
Even with Sanheim trying to find his footing (literally and figuratively) and Patrick sidelined, the Flyers’ youngsters have climbed to the forefront.
“The league has changed. Young players have a mature game,” said Claude Giroux, the Flyers’ 31-year-old captain. “… Some nights, they are our best players and it’s fun to watch.”
Put these young players together with veterans such as Giroux, Sean Couturier (in his ninth season but only 26), Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Matt Niskanen, Brian Elliott, Kevin Hayes, and Shayne Gostisbehere, and you can understand why there is reason for optimism.
“They haven’t surprised me,” new Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said about the team’s young players. “That’s one of the things Chuck [Fletcher, the general manager] had mentioned to me coming in here. My understanding of this young group was that they were on the upswing.
"None of those guys in my estimation have reached their prime; they’re working to be the best players they can be, and there’s still quite a bit of room for improvement. That’s positive for us, and the team should benefit from it.”
Entering the season, the Flyers needed their young players — all either drafted or, in Myers’ case, signed by former general manager Ron Hextall — to keep blossoming if they were going to emerge as a playoff contender.
In the season’s first five-plus weeks, most of them have performed even better than expected.
A fifth-round steal in the 2014 draft, Lindblom has seven goals in 15 games this season and has grown into a responsible two-way player who also plays on the power play and the penalty kill.
Vigneault was asked the other day about the reason behind Lindblom’s rapid development this season.
“All coaching!” he cracked, drawing laughter from reporters.
Vigneault cackled loudly.
“Did I answer your question?” he asked.
Vigneault later elaborated on Lindblom.
“As a coach, you’re looking to be able to trust your players. I can trust him in a defensive situation,” Vigneault said, “and when we need a push and we need some offense, he does the right thing. He doesn’t cheat on the offensive side. He keeps playing the way you’re supposed to. He understands the percentages, so he’s a young player who in my mind has come along real well.”
“He’s just a goal scorer,” Konecny said of Lindblom, one of his linemates (with Couturier) on what has been the Flyers’ best line. “You put him in the right situation and get him the puck, and he’s deadly anywhere in front of the net. He just has that knack that some guys don’t have.”
Vigneault, whose team also has received contributions from Carsen Twarynski, a 21-year-old rookie winger, says he doesn’t understand the rap he took when he coached the Rangers. Some people believed he didn’t trust young players
“At some point, someone is going to give me a list of all those young players that I screwed up,” he said sarcastically. “… I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I don’t know a lot of players who left my coaching, and our coaching, who went somewhere else and became these great players.
"I look at the Chris Kreiders. I look at the Derek Stepans, the Ryan McDonaghs , the Jesper Fasts, and I go on and on. All these guys when I got to New York, they were the same as all these young guys [on the Flyers] and they’re all turning out to be pretty good players.
“Sometimes there’s a perception,” he said of his reputation for preferring veterans. “Sometimes it’s right; sometimes it’s wrong. For me, it’s no big deal. I just have to do my job.”
His young players on the Flyers are a big deal, and they are one of the reasons his job looks safe for a lot of years.