Here we are, midway through training camp, and the Flyers’ opening night roster is beginning to take shape. 35 players remain in camp, several of whom are injured or have a negligible chance of making the team. With only three more preseason games left to make an impression before the puck drops for real hockey on October 3 against the Golden Knights, now makes for a good time to check out where things stand on the most important roster battles.
And in discussing roster battles, there’s only one place to start.
The 3C Cage Match to the Death
Fittingly, there are three Cs duking it out to win the Flyers’ 3C (third-line center) job: Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton, and Mikhail Vorobyev. Each have had their fair share of solid moments during the preseason. Weal has displayed the defensive responsibility becoming of an NHL center, and Scott Laughton is as relentless as ever. But one player has emerged—a machine, of the Russian variety.
Well, your top three lines today in practice are quite interesting, in the sense that they're kinda what fans have been hoping for.
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
JvR – Patrick – Voracek
Lindblom – Vorobyev – Simmonds
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) September 22, 2018
Mikhail Vorobyev has done just about everything right thus far, and it seems Hakstol and the coaching staff are taking notice. While not the fleetest of foot, Vorobyev has established himself as the quintessential “little things” player. His smart, accurate passing and strength along the boards prove his play-driving superiority at the AHL level was no fluke, and the only thing rarer than seeing him out of position on either end of the ice is Jori Lehtera winning a race to the puck.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when he’s also doing stuff like this:
That’s how the 21-year-old has established a foothold in this race, when so many young Flyers have failed to impress. His spot on the squad isn’t quite set in stone yet, but to leave him out in favor of a veteran he’s clearly outplayed (*coughcoughLehteraWeisecough*) would be grounds for coaching/general manager malpractice. Don’t mess this one up, Ron and Dave.
One overlooked aspect of this battle is that the “losers” should not and likely will not be condemned to the press box and/or the waiver wire. Any of Vorobyev, Laughton, or Weal would make a phenomenal fourth-line center—Laughton has already proven to be one himself. In fact, given the struggles Vorobyev has had on faceoffs (his only true discernible flaw right now), it might not be such a bad idea to put him on a line with Laughton or Weal so they can handle that responsibility. That would make them the de facto fourth line, since Wayne Simmonds and Oskar Lindblom appear to slot in nicely as third-line wingers. But Stanley Cup-contending teams consistently feature players that are overqualified for their roles, and that’s what having Vorobyev on the fourth line would be.
Filling in the Wings
The wing situation comes with its own share of intrigue. As mentioned above, the result of the 3C battle will have a direct influence on which wingers will soar onto the roster. Assuming Vorobyev makes the cut, a veteran will have to be put through waivers. The likeliest candidates are Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise, given their hefty contracts and nonexistent production, but it would be folly to assume Hakstol will make the logical decision.
Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl appear to be the other skaters in jeopardy. Though their performance to date and in this preseason support their cases, prospects like Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Carson Twarynski are banging on the door. Aube-Kubel has put together two strong play-driving seasons with the Phantoms, but Twarynski’s continued presence at camp is a mild surprise. Both will have a chance to dislodge a veteran in these upcoming games, but it will take some truly spectacular performances.
Up until recently, it seemed a near certainty that Philippe Myers would be taking the ice against the Golden Knights, with Andrew MacDonald sidelined by
an overdose of veteran presence a lower-body injury for four-to-six weeks. However, AMac seems to have acquired some Wolverine-esque healing abilities, because he’s now expected to be back for the opener.
Great news on a human level, but less so on a hockey level. The postponement of the Philippe Myers Era would deprive the Flyers of their highest-upside lineup, a lineup that the Hockey Gods nearly gifted to us in spite of our fearless head coach’s reticence to joy. Myers’ time will come; it just may not be on opening night.