5 Philadelphia Flyers Who Must Improve in 2014

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2014

5 Philadelphia Flyers Who Must Improve in 2014

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    The Philadelphia Flyers have shown a lot of improvement as a team throughout this season, and they have pulled themselves back into playoff contention.

    But that doesn't mean there aren't some specific players who still need to improve their individual game. 

    Whether these guys need to improve as part of their normal development trajectory, or to keep a job or just to help the team, there is a legitimate reason for each of these guys to get better this upcoming year.

    Here are the five Philadelphia Flyers that need to improve in 2014.

Erik Gustafsson

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    Despite his lack of consistent playing time, Gustafsson is tied for the best plus/minus on the Flyers at plus-four, but he still has plenty of room to get better.

    He may already be 25 years old, but he has only played in 80 career games and will hopefully get a chance to become an NHL regular now. 

    There's a lot to like about Gustafsson's game: He's fast, he is a good passer and he uses his stick well on both offense and defense. But he also will get the chance to improve with steady playing time, and he needs to do that in order to have a long NHL career.

    Gustafsson needs to get stronger on the puck and become more confident in his own zone. There are too many times when he is out of position defensively, or makes a bad decision with the puck and turns it over. But his ceiling is high, especially if he works on some of these smaller points in his game.

Steve Downie

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    The Flyers looked like they got the better end of the trade that sent Max Talbot to Colorado in exchange for Downie, who played incredibly well in his initial stretch in Philadelphia.

    Downie was part of a dynamite third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, which carried the team through part of November and December. He brought a great two-way game and was an effective playmaker.

    But then, his play sagged a little, and he's been on a complete cold streak recently. He's gone nine games without a single point, and he is a healthy scratch on Sunday night because of a lack of intensity.

    If he's still bothered by an injury, then he needs to rest until he's healthy. But if he continues downwards, there won't be much of a market for him when his contract ends at the conclusion of this season. Downie really needs to improve quickly if he wants a good contract from Philadelphia or elsewhere.

Luke Schenn

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    At this point, expectations can't be too high for the older Schenn brother, who just doesn't really bring much to the table, other than being a big body on the ice.

    He's slow, he's not a good passer, he doesn't seem to read the game particularly quickly and he just doesn't make a big impact on the ice. The trade for James van Riemsdyk is looking mighty lopsided at this point.

    But the silver lining is that Schenn is still just 24 years old. He's still got some time to try and work on the little things that will make him a better NHL player.

    If he doesn't improve soon, and the Flyers undergo some big changes on defense this offseason (which has a decent likelihood), then Schenn could find himself as one of the odd men out this summer.

Vincent Lecavalier

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    While he's been forced to play inconsistent time because of injuries, Lecavalier has still come up really short after helping carry the Flyers through the first month or so of the season.

    He hasn't scored a goal since November 27, and he has just three points in his last 12 games. Hopefully he's healthy after a recent nine-game absence and will start producing more consistently.

    It takes some time to adjust to playing in a new city with new teammates, and Lecavalier just needs to stay healthy. If he does that, he'll settle in and get acclimated quickly and his play should improve.

    Moving him back up to the first line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek might not be a bad idea if Craig Berube wants to try and jump-start things.

Michael Raffl

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    Raffl has surprised some people this year, and his quiet demeanor and hard-working, athletic style of play has endeared him to fans. But he still needs to improve as a player.

    He's already 25 years old, but he is still adjusting to the speed of NHL play and the size of North American rinks, which are smaller than what he played on in Austria.

    There's a lot to like about his game, but he still has only three goals and nine assists in 32 games, many of which have been on the top line.

    He may not be a great finisher, but he still has to learn how to find the back of the net more often while playing on a line with so much talent around him. Part of the excitement around Raffl is his potential for improvement, and if he plateaus at his current level, then he may never be very productive in the NHL.