Philadelphia Flyers: Top in-House Candidates to Step Up on Defense
The Philadelphia Flyers defense is now in need of some serious help.
Earlier this offseason the Flyers seemed poised to become the best defense in the NHL.
Andrej Meszaros was recovered from injury, Luke Schenn had been acquired via trade, and superstar Shea Weber was hours away from being a Flyer.
Once Nashville matched the offer sheet for Shea Weber and denied him from being a Flyer reality began to sink in.
Kimmo Timonen, although a great defenseman, is getting old. Matt Carle has left via free agency.
Add that to the latest rash of injuries that sidelined the aforementioned Meszaros and depth defenseman Andreas Lilja, and all of a sudden the Flyers defense looks pretty weak.
If the Flyers hope to change that perception they're going to need a defenseman already in the system to step up, in addition to the guys already at the NHL level playing very well.
The guys on these slides are mostly unproven at the NHL level, but they're the best hope the Flyers have of developing some impact defensemen this season.
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Blake Kessel, brother of star Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel, is a defensive prospect currently in the AHL for the Flyers.
He hasn't seen much time in the NHL other than preseason games, but he's got some upside and has a chance of becoming a solid puck-moving defenseman.
There isn't a lot to go on in regards to projecting Kessel other than last preseason. He showed some signs of being able to handle a larger workload, logging over 20 minutes in one such game.
Last season was his first in the AHL, and Kessel notched 18 points in 56 games for the Phantoms.
He'll have a shot at making the team out of camp, although it'll be a long one.
Kessel will probably start the season in the AHL, but if performance or injuries forces a shakeup on the blue line look for him to make the jump to the NHL and impress just like the next three guys did last season.
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Brandon Manning was an emergency call-up for the Flyers last season, but he impressed.
Manning was a plus-one in four games last season. He wasn't asked to do much but he never seemed out of place while in the NHL.
Manning has a reputation as a strong point man on the power play, having scored four of his six goals on the power play for the Phantoms last season.
During Manning's 200 games in the WHL he scored 27 of his 46 goals while on the man advantage.
He added 13 assists to those goals in 46 games for the Phantoms last year, his first in the AHL.
Manning has a very real chance of playing serious time in the NHL this year, but it's more likely that he'll at least start in the AHL.
He needs a bit more time to develop and that will happen faster in the AHL where he can get consistent minutes.
But there's a good chance he'll be needed this year for the Flyers. Look for his power play prowess to come in handy if Timonen, the quarterback of the power play, should need to miss any time.
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Erik Gustafsson has been a bit more exposed to the NHL than the previous two players.
In 30 games for the Flyers last season Gustafsson tallied five points and a plus-12 rating.
He is a smooth-skating defenseman that can handle the puck and play responsible, if not physical, defense.
His game is a lot like former Flyer Matt Carle, which makes him a strong candidate to replace Carle. He'll need to show his improvement in this year's training camp if he wants to start the season doing that, however.
Gustafsson has a good chance of making the team if he has a strong camp. The guys in front of him on the roster are depth guys—and if Gustafsson can outperform them—their spots are probably his for the taking.
Otherwise he'll be up and down between the NHL and AHL all season, as he's likely to be needed to fill in for injuries just as he was this season.
Watch for him to take one of those opportunities and run with it, as Gustafsson is a guy the Flyers have high developmental hopes for.
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Marc-Andre Bourdon will almost certainly be in the Flyers opening day lineup.
After playing 45 games with a plus-four rating last season for the Flyers, Bourdon should be ready to make the team out of camp this year.
Bourdon is a solid, physical defenseman. He won't post strong offensive numbers but he has a decent shot from the point and isn't a liability with the puck.
Bourdon will need to log more ice time this season for the Flyers, and his success is probably the most important to the team.
Right now he figures to be the sixth defenseman on the team, probably ahead of even a healthy Andreas Lilja.
If Bourdon can build on what he did last season there might be some stability on the Flyers third defensive pairing after all.
But if Bourdon can't handle being in the NHL there are at least three other guys waiting in the wings to step up for the Flyers.