The Philadelphia Flyers have one of the younger and more talented groups of forwards in the league, so it can be difficult to find the best line combinations with a crowded roster.
The Flyers have particularly made some major changes over the past couple years with their top line.
Two seasons ago, Claude Giroux had a breakout year and cemented himself as the team's first-line center for a long, long time.
Then this past season, the Flyers replaced Jaromir Jagr with Jakub Voracek, who had a breakout year of his own. The right winger was arguably the Flyers' best player in the lockout-shortened season, registering 46 points in 48 games.
With the center and right wing positions locked up on the first line, the focus shifts entirely to the left side, and that is where some questions emerge.
Scott Hartnell is technically the incumbent, and there are plenty of reasons to think he could be serviceable again in that role.
He scored a career-high 39 goals two seasons ago in the midst of Giroux's breakout year. They developed a solid chemistry that seemed promising.
But then Hartnell missed a chunk of time to injury in 2012-13, and he was not very effective when he was on the ice.
In 32 games, Hartnell scored just eight goals and had a measly three assists to go along with it. Scoring roughly one point every three games just does not get it done.
On top of the injury issue and ineffectiveness, it has to be noted that Hartnell is already 31 years old and his already shaky skating is likely to deteriorate further.
Goal scorers almost always decline when they hit 30, and there is really no reason to think that Hartnell will buck that trend.
I see his 39-goal season as more of an anomaly than anything else, and I don't think he will hit 30 again in his career.
Who else could be a candidate to take over opposite Voracek on the top line?
One intriguing candidate is Matt Read. Read is a pretty under-the-radar guy around the league due to the fact that he wasn't drafted and didn't get to the NHL until he was 25 years old.
The right winger led all rookies in goals in 2011-12 (yet somehow did not get nominated for the Calder Trophy), and he was one of the Flyers' better forwards in 2013.
He has been one of the Flyers' most consistent players over the past two seasons, and there are a lot of reasons to think that he would be a good first-line player.
Giroux and Voracek are both primarily setup men who like to create plays with the puck, and Read's incredible speed could complement their playmaking ability perfectly.
Read would be able to stretch the ice and give the other two more room while also providing some underrated finishing ability as well.
Read is already 27 years old, but with just two NHL seasons under his belt, there is still room to improve. He and Voracek could potentially switch sides, because Voracek is left-handed while Read is right-handed.
Another solid candidate is Brayden Schenn, whose move to the left side has been discussed by Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey since the acquisition of center Vincent Lecavalier.
Schenn is left-handed and has played the majority of his wing time on the left side even though he is actually a natural center.
He is a strong skater who isn't afraid to hit, scores some and can be explosive at times, although he will need to get better at the little things in order to be a reliable first-line producer.
After just turning 22 a few days ago, there is still plenty of time for the former top prospect to develop and mature.
If he could become more consistent, there is no reason to think that Schenn wouldn't make a big impact on the top line.
Tye McGinn got some time on the first line last year, but I do not think he would be able to overtake Schenn, Read or Hartnell this year, assuming all are healthy.
McGinn brings a physical presence and the type of energy that comes from a young player trying to make his mark.
But the Flyers would be sacrificing some scoring by putting McGinn with Giroux and Voracek because his offensive ability just is not up to par with the others.
Hartnell still may be the favorite, but things could really improve with Read on the first line.
Giving Read the first shot on the top line would be the most beneficial to Giroux, Voracek and the rest of the team.
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