As it stands today, it looks as though the NHL will begin their playoff format on August 1, 2020. The NHL has chosen two hub cities, one in Edmonton, Alberta for Western Conference teams, and one in Toronto, Ontario for Eastern Conference teams. Due to the ever-changing nature of COVID-19, August 1st is far from a guarantee. However, the NHL is slowly but surely hitting their phases of reopening, and it appears that this date is a real possibility.
With the potential for beginning the playoffs on August 1st, the NHL is having teams bring with them a total of 28 players, a significantly higher number of players than are normally allowed for a roster during the regular season. In the playoffs, teams will often call up players once their AHL season is done to serve as “black-aces.” These players practice with the team but rarely get into the line-up unless there is a major injury.
Due to COVID-19, the NHL is asking teams to bring this higher number of players to hub cities in case players get sick or if injuries occur. This leaves teams with some intriguing options. A team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, has invited their top 19-year old prospect Nick Robertson, who played last season in the OHL. The majority of players who have been signed to NHL contracts from leagues all over the world are available (though there are a handful of players who played in the KHL last season who are deemed ineligible because of when they signed their contracts).
That being said, who might be on the Flyers’ roster when the playoffs begin? Let’s take a look at the guarantees and who else may be available.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, Claude Giroux, Derek Grant, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Tyler Pitlick, Michael Raffl, Christ Stewart, Nate Thompson, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek. (15 total)
Justin Braun, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Phil Myers, Matt Niskanen, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim. (7 total)
Brian Elliott, Carter Hart, (2 total).
There may not be many surprises on this list. It is important to note that Oskar Lindblom appears to be in full recovery and has been practicing recently. He may be ready for duty on August 1st. Chris Stewart may be a little bit of a surprise. Stewart was listed on the Flyers’ active roster on their website, so even though he has spent time in the AHL, he will likely find himself on the roster.
This leaves four slots available for other players. Here are the 5 players I think are most likely to make the cut (Note: I chose five because the status of Nolan Patrick is unknown).
1. Morgan Frost
Frost has played NHL games and didn’t look out of place this season. He could easily find himself in a top-six role if injuries occur.
2. Alex Lyon
The Flyers will have to bring an extra goalie. Lyon is the highest on the depth chart. He has faltered at the NHL level but has been a solid AHL goalie for years now. He is currently the best of what they have in the system.
3. Nolan Patrick
Patrick is a wild-card here. He hasn’t played all season and there are still questions surrounding his health. He had begun to practice with the team again just before the NHL pause back in March. If he is medically cleared, he will most definitely be fighting for not only a shot at the reserves, but for a full-time NHL role.
4. Mark Friedman
With only seven defensemen currently on the roster, the Flyers will need to bring at least one more. Mark Friedman may be their best option. He has played only a few NHL games but is likely the best option of players who have played in Lehigh this past season. Friedman is an excellent skater and while he is limited offensively, he makes some good, simple, smart plays in his own zone. He is a decent option for the Flyers if an injury occurs.
5. Connor Bunnaman
Bunnaman was a surprise in training camp and filled in admirably in limited minutes in a depth role for the Flyers early in the season. Bunnaman provides energy and speed from the fourth line. He is a likely injury replacement, but otherwise will be unlikely to get into the line-up.
While I believe the above players will be who the Flyers take with them, there a few other options they may go with as well.
Laczynski was recently signed after finishing his NCAA career. He plays a strong two-way game and is highly underrated. Laczynski can play all three forward positions, which is an asset as well. I could see the Flyers giving him a shot.
Vorobyov has had a cup of coffee at the NHL level but has struggled to stick. A handful of players have jumped him on the depth chart. However, his experience may mean a shot in the playoff format.
Like Bunnaman, Twarnyski made the Flyers surprisingly out of camp. He played fairly well in an energy role, but the Flyers opted to go with more veteran options as the season progressed. Twarnyski can fill a depth role if needed. He offers little offensively.
Andreoff was an offseason signing to provide grit and depth at the AHL level. Some would consider Andreoff built for playoff hockey and Alain Vigneault may feel the same way. He played 14 games for the Flyers earlier in the season, so he could get a look also.
Welinski is a veteran AHL defender and is likely next-in-line on the depth chart after Mark Friedman. Welinski has been a bubble NHL player for a few seasons now, and he may have cracked the Flyers’ roster had injuries not occurred in training camp. If the Flyers decide to bring more than eight defenders, he is likely to get the call.
Like Welinski, Prosser is a veteran with a ton of experience. Prosser has been a bubble/seventh defender for the majority of his career. His limited offense has seen an even bigger hit with age. Depending on Vigneault’s preferences, Prosser may be relied on for depth as well.
Rubtsov’s offensive struggles have continued at the pro-level, but he does play a well-rounded overall game. Other players are more likely to see action due to readiness in this playoff format, but he isn’t out of the question as an option.
Like other players on this list, Kase saw a handful of NHL games this season. While his AHL offense was somewhat limited, he did manage a goal in six NHL games. Others are likely higher on the depth chart, but bringing Kase isn’t out of the question.
Overall, the Flyers have some options as to who they may take to Toronto later this month. Whether they go with youth or AHL veterans, the Flyers are poised to have a deep roster of options to help in their quest for a Stanley Cup.