With players like Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros slated to miss opening night due to injury and other former Flyers like Matt Carle and Jaromir Jagr playing in new uniforms, the Flyers have some big decisions ahead of them when it comes to choosing an opening night roster.
Lines will look different, benched players will be starters and line chemistry will be untested.
Let’s take a look at the best combinations for Laviolette on opening night.
Scott Hartnell – Claude Giroux – Jakub Voracek
Philly’s new top line seemed to take form when Jagr was allowed to sign with Dallas and Paul Holmgren brought back Voracek, who was easily the most skilled right winger on the team after Jagr.
Both Giroux and Voracek are excellent setup men, and Hartnell can score goals and get his hands dirty. The line may have some growing pains as both Giroux and Voracek get used to shooting more, but this trio should be effective throughout the year.
Wayne Simmonds – Brayden Schenn – Danny Briere
The second line features two capable centermen in Schenn and Briere, but Schenn’s youth and size make him the more qualified candidate to play the two-way role. Briere struggled to score in the 2011-12 regular season and the luxury of playing on the wing instead of adopting more defensive responsibilities could help the line be effective.
Simmonds and Schenn both showed toughness in 2011-12, an important element for this second line. Whether or not the group finds chemistry will ultimately determine if the line will remain together all season, or if players from the bottom six get bumped up.
Ruslan Fedotenko – Sean Couturier – Matt Read
The Flyers’ third line features two sophomores and a veteran who hasn’t played for the Flyers since 2001-02. Couturier and Read both showed promise as rookies, Couturier as a defensive specialist with a scoring touch and Read as an offensive threat and penalty-killer.
Fedotenko will be relied upon to use his size to get to the net, playing a role similar to Hartnell and Simmonds on the top two lines. Point production will not be this line’s specialty, but the third line gives Philadelphia an extra shut-down option that is capable of scoring an important goal from time to time.
Eric Wellwood – Max Talbot – Zac Rinaldo
The fourth line will play a very similar role to the third. Talbot is an excellent defensive forward and Wellwood is learning quickly, but Wellwood’s speed and Talbot’s opportunism, combined with the loose cannon nature of Rinaldo, will make the checking line very interesting in the opposing zone.
Rinaldo will need to learn to keep his emotions in check, but his attitude makes him more valuable to the Flyers than bigger, slower enforcers like Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito.
Braydon Coburn – Nicklas Grossmann
NHL.com puts Kimmo Timonen on the top pair with Nicklas Grossmann, but I strongly believe that the Coburn-Grossmann matchup will wind up being the more natural pair. The two played together often after the Flyers acquired Grossmann, and Coburn brings mobility to the pairing without sacrificing size.
Both players will be expected to eat up minutes in 2012-13, as this pair will be the shut-down unit. At a combined 450 pounds, the crease in front of Ilya Bryzgalov should be clear when these guys are on the ice.
Kimmo Timonen – Luke Schenn
Putting Timonen on the second unit will allow the aging defenseman to play fewer minutes each game. Timonen is still valuable in terms of leadership and his puck-moving skills, but bearing too much of the defensive burden will wear on him.
Schenn is also a good complement for Timonen. Schenn is a big, stay-at-home defenseman but is known for playing a bit undisciplined and finding himself out of position. He will learn the role better with Timonen as a mentor while providing a perfect offset for Timonen’s offensive production.
Erik Gustafsson – Marc-Andre Bourdon
Neither Gustafsson nor Bourdon has spent much time playing at the NHL level, but both deserve a shot at being starters while Meszaros and Andreas Lilja recover from injuries.
Bourdon proved himself to be defensively reliable in 2011-12. Gustafsson has been in the Flyers’ system for years and is getting some notice for his puck-moving skills.
The alternative option is Bruno Gervais, a capable d-man in his own right, but Gus and Bourdon have some major potential with the Flyers. As long as the depth chart is being spread thin, they might as well be given an early shot at proving themselves.
With Sergei Bobrovsky gone, there is no doubt about who the Flyers’ starting netminder will be.
Michael Leighton has the potential to be a reliable and valuable backup, but this season is all about Bryzgalov. He has the endorsement of the front office and a year of learning under his belt.
2012-13 will be the time for Bryz to either step up, or he may find himself run out of town.