After a flurry of activity late last week, the dust has finally begun to settle in the City of Brotherly Love. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, two of the most recognizable athletes in Philadelphia, are Flyers no longer. In their place are the newly acquired Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn and Sean Couturier.
But who are these youngsters? What can Flyer fans reasonably expect from them come next season? Will they ever replace the beloved Mike Richards and the enigmatic, emotional Carter?
Jakub Voracek might best be described as a bigger, faster, more talented version of Ville Leino. When he was drafted in 2007, many scouts believed Voracek was the complete package: he had the size, the speed, and the skill to blossom into one of the NHL's premiere playmakers.
While he has not yet lived up to that hype, Voracek has certainly established himself as a top six forward at the NHL level. With 134 points in his first three NHL seasons (Jeff Carter had 132 at the same mark in his career) while playing for the less-than-stellar Blue Jackets, he is certainly capable of bigger and better things in Philadelphia.
Voracek has a physical element to his game and is willing to fight for loose pucks in the dirty areas of the ice. He is a responsible defensive forward, rarely getting caught out of position in the defensive zone. He is not a shut-down defender, but he is more than capable in his own zone.
Look for Voracek to either slide into Leino's old spot on the Briere line (if Ville isn't re-signed) or to play alongside fellow youngsters Claude Giroux and James van Reimsdyk. Regardless of the situation, I expect Voracek to have a breakout season in 2011-2012 and notch 62 points (20G, 42A).
It will be exciting to see what the young Czech forward can do when he's surrounded with offensive talents like Giroux, Briere and van Reimsdyk.
Wayne Simmonds is best described as a younger, more skilled version of Scott Hartnell.
Simmonds' combination of size (6'2", 183 pounds), skill (93 points in his first three seasons) and attitude (264 PIM) is rare among younger players in today's NHL. His rough-and-tumble style, fiercely competitive spirit and team-first attitude should make him a fan favorite in Philadelphia.
While he possesses the raw talent to eventually play a top six role on most NHL teams, Simmonds is best suited to a third line role at present. He is already a very solid defensive forward who works exceptionally hard along the boards and rarely loses a one-on-one battle for the puck.
Simmonds has a very favorable situation in Phildelphia, as he will have the opportunity to learn from Hartnell. If his development continues to follow Hartnell's, expect Simmonds to post his first 20-goal season as a professional and add another 25 assists to give him 45 points on the season.
Brayden Schenn is best described as a younger version of Mike Richards, minus the party-boy lifestyle, surly attitude and reclusive demeanor. He is generally considered to be the best prospect not currently playing in the NHL, and the Flyers expect that to change starting next season. Barring any unforeseen events, Schenn will be the Flyers' third line center in 2011-2012, most likely with wingers Wayne Simmonds and Kris Versteeg.
Schenn possesses both excellent offensive and defensive skill. He is a smooth, fluid skater with excellent vision, exceptionally soft hands and a knack for finding open areas of the ice. He is an above-average passer and generally prefers to distribute the puck rather than shoot, despite the fact that he owns a very good wrist shot. Schenn is also not afraid to engage in the more physical parts of the game, racking up over 200 PIM during his time in the WHL.
If Schenn's development follows that of Mike Richards, expect him to notch between 30 and 50 points in his first NHL season. Given that he'll likely be surrounded with talented wingers, I'm going to be optimistic and say Schenn scores 43 points (16G, 27A) in 2011-2012.
Going into the 2010-2011 season, Couturier was considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect eligible for the 2011 NHL entry draft. His rare combination of size (6'4", 200 pounds), speed and skill (consecutive 96-point seasons while playing in the QMJHL) reminded scouts of a young Joe Thornton or Jordan Staal. Unfortunately, Couturier contracted a particularly severe case of mononucleosis in late 2010, setting his development back and allowing prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to overtake him as the consensus No. 1 pick.
Couturier's loss has become the Flyers' gain, as they managed to pick up the massive centerman with the eighth overall pick in the draft. Sean is considered to be one of the most NHL-ready prospects, and with the recent changes in Philadelphia, he is likely to be given an opportunity to make the team out of training camp.
Should the 18-year-old make the roster, look for him to have a very solid rookie season, notching 25-plus goals and at least 50 points. Quite a few people around the NHL have speculated that Couturier could be this season's Jeff Skinner, and after watching some of his games, I'm inclined to agree with that assessment. Should he get the chance to play in the NHL consistently, he could very quickly establish himself as a legitimate No. 1 center.