NHL Preview: 6 Philadelphia Flyers Poised for a Breakout Season
After a whirlwind offseason that saw the Flyers jettison nearly half of the 2010-2011 roster, the team is going to need other players to step up in fill the holes left by the departures of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg, Sean O'Donnell and others.
But which members of the current roster are most likely to take their game to the next level? Read on to find out.
As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
Breakout Candidate #6: Matt Carle
Despite leading the Flyers defense in scoring during the 2010-2011 season with 40 points (1G, 39A), Matt Carle still managed to attract the ire of many Philadelphia fans due to his inconsistent play, turnovers, and bad decision making. Some have gone as far as to say that Pronger is the only thing preventing Carle from a trip back to the AHL. But I have faith in Mr. Carle. Its a contract year for him.
Speaking in terms of pure talent, Carle is exceptionally good. He skates extremely well for a defenseman, has very good vision, excellent passing ability, and a good hockey sense. As a defender, Carle is usually in good position, he usually makes the right play, and he avoids physical contact whenever possible. The final trait is definitely one that loses him points with Flyer fans.
On paper, Carle should be a very good top-4 defenseman. He has everything most coaches look for in a two-way blueliner. But something has been missing from Carle's game. From my perspective, it seems that Carle has not yet become comfortable playing under a spotlight. When pressured, he tends to make costly mistakes, to blow assignments, or to take ill-advised penalties. For Carle to take the next step, he must overcome his aversion to the spotlight.
Generally, NHL defenseman are slower to mature than their forward counterparts. Last season, the Flyers witnessed the development of Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros from talented young blueliner to legitimate top-4 NHL defensemen. This season, it's Carle's turn.
If Carle can improve his play under pressure while continuing to refine his game at both ends of the ice, there is no reason he can't be a 50+ point player in 2011-2012. He has the talent. He has a great situation. And he will have the added motivation of playing for his next contract. He's due.
Breakout Candidate #5: Wayne Simmonds
Wayne Simmonds reminds me a great deal of a younger version of the Bruins' Milan Lucic. Both are offensively skilled players who do not possess a true goal scorer's touch. Both are larger wingers and tend to play physical at both ends of the ice. Both enjoy causing chaos around the net and thrive on second-chance opportunities.
Entering his fourth season, Lucic had scored 34 goals (89 career points) in the NHL, with half of those coming during his sophomore campaign. Simmonds has scored 39 career goals (93 career points), with 16 of those coming during his sophomore season. However, during his fourth season, Lucic exploded for 62 points (30G, 32A) in 79 games, leading the Bruins in scoring (first in goals, tied for first in points with David Krejci).
The parallels between Simmonds and Lucic through their first three NHL seasons are strong. There is no question Simmonds has the talent to be a breakout star for the Flyers in 2011-2012. He doesn't have to score 62 points, but I do think a 55+ point campaign is possible, especially if he is playing alongside the uber-talented Brayden Schenn on the Flyers' third line.
Breakout Candidate #4: Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux had what many believe was a breakout season in 2010-2011. And those analysts and pundits are correct. But I believe Giroux has not yet come close to reaching his full potential. Despite a slow start last season, Giroux managed to put up 76 points (25G, 51A) while usually playing alongside Jeff Carter and James van Reimsdyk. And for almost every NHL player, a 76 point season is about as good as it gets.
But Claude Giroux is not an ordinary talent or an ordinary player. In 2011-2012, I believe Giroux will have another break out season and establish himself as one of the best offensive playmakers in the NHL.
It is certainly not outlandish to think that Giroux couldn't score 100 points next season.
Breakout Candidate #3: Oskars Bartulis
With the departure of Sean O'Donnell, a spot on the Flyer blueline has become available for the young Latvian Oskars Bartulis to finally receive a legitimate shot at being an NHL regular. In terms of talent, the young defenseman has a significant amount of potential. He has a large, projectable frame, a good hockey sense, and a relatively high two-way upside.
While it is unlikely that Bartulis will ever develop into a top-pairing defenseman at the NHL level, it is certainly reasonable to think that he might become a solid #3-#5 blueliner, which is all the Flyers really need him to be.
If Bartulis can win the #6 defenseman role in training camp, I would not be at all shocked if his play surpassed that of Sean O'Donnell. Bartulis certainly has the potential to score 10-25 points next season while posting a solid plus/minus rating and eating up blueline minutes. Again, Bartulis will likely never become a star player at the NHL level. But he just might be a breakout star in 2011-2012.
Breakout Candidate #2: Brayden Schenn
Brayden Schenn's scouting report is a virtually identical to Jonathan Toews' and Mike Richards'. For the past few years, scouts have been raving about Schenn's high-end offensive ability, his tenacity, his two-way game, his leadership potential, and so much more. He's considered to be the best player not currently in the NHL by many.And in 2011-2012, all eyes will be on the young Schenn to prove that he really was worth the cost the Flyers paid to acquire him.
As a member of the Flyers, Schenn has been impressive at Prospects Camp, he's been impressive at scrimmages, and he's been impressive in the interview chair. But he has yet to play an NHL game wearing the Orange & Black.
I'm not saying that Brayden Schenn will break out as an NHL star next season—I don't think he will. But I do think he will take the first steps towards stardom. I do think he will score 45+ points. And I do think his gritty, aggressive style of play will win over the Flyer faithful. I do think he will show that he possesses a well-refined defensive game and excellent on-ice leadership skills. I do think he will be one of the pleasant surprises for the new-look Philadelphia Flyers.
One day soon, Brayden Schenn will be an NHL star in the mold of Jonathan Toews or Mike Richards. But for this season, Philadelphia fans will need to settle for Schenn being a breakout star.
Breakout Candidate #1: James Van Reimsdyk
Even before James van Reimsdyk's coming-out party against the Sabres and Bruins during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, it was inevitable that his name would one day end up on this list.
From the moment he was selected by the Flyers with the #2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, JVR shouldered massive expectations.
His potential is through the roof. He has the physical attributes to be the prototypical power forward in the new-look NHL. He can skate like the wind. He's strong enough to out-muscle larger defenders. He has a cannon for a shot. He has a nose for the puck and a willingness to get after it. And he has a recently-developed mean streak, along with a desire to impose his will on opponents every shift. He's hungry to succeed.
In short, he's a monster on the wing.
In 2011-2012, JVR will have his first opportunity to be "the man" on the Flyers top line, where he'll pair up with Giroux and the recently-acquired Jaromir Jagr.
In the 2011 playoffs, JVR managed to take over 6 shots per game, scoring seven goals in 11 contests. If he can manage to take just four shots per game while continuing to shoot a pedestrian 12.1%, JVR will be on-pace to score 39 goals next season.
Flyers fans wouldn't be too displeased with that kind of output.
After watching his playoff performance, I can honestly say that JVR is more than capable of putting up those kinds of numbers. He has the talent to be a 50 goal scorer.
I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him reach that mark.