If Connor Bunnaman is feeling the heat of potentially losing his job, he isn’t showing it.
The rookie is centering the fourth line, a position for him that will evaporate if Nolan Patrick ever comes back to the lineup or if the Flyers wind up making a move for a veteran at the trade deadline.
Bunnaman, 21, has played the last six games and his line — with Nic Aube-Kubel and Michael Raffl — has made an impression on coach Alain Vigneault.
Now, about those missing Chiclets …
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Bunnaman is 6-foot-3, somewhere around 215 pounds. He played baseball as a youngster and has the size of a strong safety. He looks like he could be any kind of an athlete until he smiles. That’s when he looks like a hockey player.
His first year in juniors playing for Kitchner of the OHL was in 2014-15, and boy was it a tough one. It was his third game and the Rangers were in pregame warm-ups.
“Ryan MacInnis took a [one-timer] at the top of the circle and hit the crossbar,” Bunnaman explained in the Flyers dressing room in Voorhees. “Me, being the rookie that I was, got a little too close to the net.”
Bang. The puck banged off the pipe and smacked Bunnaman directly in the chops. “I was in shock,” he said. “I had never gotten hit in the face before, so when I saw the blood, I was like, ‘oh [crap].’ ”
MacInnis is an NHL player (Columbus) whose father Al is in the Hall of Fame and is renowned for having one of the hardest slapshots in league history.
Bunnaman eventually lost his top three teeth in the mishap. Originally, doctors thought they might be able to salvage one, but that had to be yanked after “I got head-butted by a guy. Then, two weeks later, I got high-sticked and all of my bottom ones got chopped in half. It wasn’t a good month. It sucked."
He joked that his mom was distraught, but his dad was miffed.
“I had just gotten my braces off a month before,” he laughed, “so there was a bunch of money that was just gone.”
Vigneault is fond of saying that the Flyers’ success is because they are playing a team game as opposed to relying on one or two guys or even their top six forwards. The coach pointed out on Wednesday that his club does not have a player in the top 30 in scoring either among forwards or defensemen.
To that end, entering Wednesday’s brief NHL schedule, here is where various Flyers leaders were …
* Sean Couturier was tied for 34th with 46 points.
* Kevin Hayes’ and Travis Konecny’s 17 goals were tied for 58th leaguewide. However, Hayes’ four shorthanded goals were tied with Ottawa’s Chris Tierney for the league lead.
* Couturier’s 33 assists were tied for 18th.
* Ivan Provorov’s 26 points were tied for 34th among defensemen.
Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou posted a minus-3 on Monday against the Flyers to take the ignominious lead from teammate Valtteri Filppula for the worst plus/minus rating in the league. Athanasiou is a very Steve Coates-like minus-38 in 37 games. (Just kidding, Coatsey.)
In fact, the Red Wings have the five worst plus/minus players in the league with Filppula (minus-38), Filip Hronek (minus-29), Mike Green (minus-27) and Robby Fabri (minus-26) rounding out the bottom five.
What in the name of Sergei Fedorov happened to that franchise?
Thursday: New Jersey at Flyers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Saturday: Flyers at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Monday: Florida at Flyers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Tuesday: Flyers at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Thursday, Feb. 13: Flyers at Florida, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Saturday, Feb. 15: Flyers at Tampa Bay, 4 p.m. (NBCSP)
Monday, Feb. 24: Trade deadline, 3 p.m.
Question: Think [Carter] Hart will be ready for the caps Saturday? — Jonathan Gillespie (@xthumper32x) via Twitter to colleague Sam Carchidi
Answer: I agree with Sam’s response that Brian Elliott will play. That’d be a tough spot to bring Hart back for his first game in nearly a month. Plus, we all know how poorly he’s played on the road.
But you know what would be interesting? If the Flyers started Alex Lyon. He played pretty well against Colorado (and against Montreal in January), and Elliott’s going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. If some team is willing to overpay for Elliott — and at $2 million, he’s been a wonderful bargain this year — it’d be good to see if Lyon has the chops to be a backup to Hart next season.