Philadelphia Flyers Predictions 2011-12: Projections for the Bottom 6 Forwards
In their place, the Flyers have brought in a talented young gun, a lifelong Flyer from LA and a wily veteran from cross-state rival Pittsburgh.
The offseason of change is over. While the bottom-six forward core has not yet been finalized, names have been penciled in at each spot. The Flyers are scheduled to open training camp in less than three weeks, with their first preseason game shortly thereafter on September 20.
It's time to take a look at what Flyers fans can expect from the team's third and fourth line forwards next season.
Enjoy! As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
Brayden Schenn is best described as a younger version of Mike Richards, minus the party-boy lifestyle, surly attitude and reclusive demeanor and with a better offensive skill-set.
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 (or training camp miracles), Schenn will be the Flyers' third line center in 2011-2012, most likely with wingers Wayne Simmonds and Max Talbot.
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. He has displayed natural leadership qualities at every level of his professional career, something the Flyers expect will continue into the NHL.
If Schenn's development is somewhere between that of Mike Richards and that of Jonathan Toews (two players he is most frequently compared to in scouting reports), expect him to notch between 30 and 50 points in his first NHL season.
2012 Projection: 78 GP, 16G, 30A, 46P, plus-12
Wayne Simmonds is best described as a younger, more skilled version of Scott Hartnell; a power forward in the mold of the Bruins' Milan Lucic, only with more of an edge.
Simmonds' combination of size (6'2", 195 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. He has the talent to be a legitimate offensive threat and seems poised for a breakout season. In fact, the comparison between Simmonds and Lucic through their first three seasons is startling:
Lucic: 34G, 55A, 89P, +8, 3 PPG, 9 GWG
Simmonds: 39G, 54A, 93P, +12, 3 PPG, 7 GWG
The following season, Lucic had a breakout year, posting 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points en route to the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup.
Simmonds has a very favorable situation in Phildelphia, as he will have the opportunity to learn from seasoned power forwards Scott Hartnell, James van Riemsdyk and Jaromir Jagr.
If his development continues to follow the projected path, Simmonds could have a fantastic season.
2011 Stats: 80 GP, 14G, 16A, 30P, plus-2
2012 Stats: 80 GP, 21G, 26A, 47P, plus-9
During his time in Pittsburgh, Max Talbot's hard-nosed play, team-first attitude and clutch playmaking made him a fan favorite. And it was those same qualities that led the Flyers to sign Talbot to a five-year deal on the first day of free agency.
While he has never developed into a consistent top-six forward, Talbot does possess some offensive skill. His greatest strength and value, however, lie in his defensive and special teams prowess.
Talbot ranks as one of the best in the world in the penalty killing department, an area of concern for the team after the departures of Darroll Powe and Mike Richard.
The Flyers PK unit was rather pedestrian in 2010-2011, finishing 15th in the league. The departures of Richards and Powe, two of the Flyers best penalty killers, figure to weaken the unit further.
The acquisition of Talbot should help the Flyers not only overcome the loss of those two players, but improve the unit overall. During his time in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were one of the top units in the NHL primarily because of his ability to consistently stifle the opposition's top power-play unit.
There is no reason to think that Talbot can't help improve the Flyers' power play by at least one or two percentage points.
Aside from improving the power play, Talbot should provide leadership in the locker room and a veteran presence on the ice. He's known around the league as one of the best "glue guys"—a trait that will be invaluable in uniting the Flyers locker room full of new faces.
On the stat sheet, the Flyers can probably expect about 20-30 points from Talbot, which would be an average year for him.
2011 Stats: 82 GP, 8G, 13A, 21P, minus-3
2012 Stats: 82 GP, 10G, 16A, 26P, plus-8
Andreas Nodl is one of those players Flyer fans love to hate.
He has some size, but not enough strength to make it worthwhile. He has some offensive skill, but lacks the consistency to make good use of it. He has the two-way instincts and penchant for physicality that Flyer fans love, but the passivity they hate.
When the Flyers re-signed the talented but inconsistent Nodl this offseason, it was likely with the hope that he would fill out his frame and blossom into a solid bottom-six winger.
In the meantime, the lanky Nodl has been penciled in on a penalty-killing unit and a fourth-line winger spot.
Most of Nodl's offensive production last season was the result of Mike Richards' charity. Expecting him to post another 11-goal season is probably a bit unreasonable, given that he won't be surrounded with the same level of talent as he was last season.
All in all, the best the Flyers can hope for with Nodl is that he fills out his frame, adds some consistency to his game and learns how to play special teams from Max Talbot. If he can do that, he'll be a fourth-line regular for the Flyers this season. If he can't, he'll be in the AHL.
2011 Stats: 67 GP, 11G, 11A, 22P, plus-14
2012 Stats: 72 GP, 8G, 11A, 19P, plus-10
Blair Betts has developed into an excellent defensive center for the Flyers.
He excels on faceoffs, any situation in the team's defensive zone and penalty-killing. He works hard at both ends of the ice, constantly hustles up and down the ice and is more than willing to sacrifice his body to block a shot or force a turnover.
The downside to Betts is his offensive limitations. He isn't a natural playmaker or scorer by any stretch of the imagination, which limits his ice time. He does display some flashes of skill in odd-man situations, but the vast majority of his contributions on the offensive end result from his hard work and hustle along the boards.
The Flyers don't need Betts to blossom into an offensive weapon—as long as he continues to work hard, block shots, force turnovers and kill penalties with aplomb, he'll have a spot on the Flyer fourth line.
2011 Stats: 75 GP, 5G, 7A, 12P, minus-3
2012 Stats: 77 GP, 6G, 7A, 13P, minus-4
Jody Shelley's spot on the Flyer roster is already in doubt.
After his recovery from an orbital bone fracture and probable concussion last season, Shelley did not look like the same player. His offensive skill (what little there was of it) was gone; his skating stride was weaker, his physical edge gone.
The Flyers currently have a pair of young players in the system who are more than capable of taking Shelley's spot outright in camp: Tom Sestito and Zac Rinaldo.Both are skilled agitators and quality pugilists and both have more offensive upside than the 35-year-old Shelley.
The advantages Shelley has over the two youngsters are his experience, savvy and leadership.
For a Flyers team with this many new faces, it could make sense for the team to keep Shelley around as a locker-room presence and support system.
Then again, if Talbot and Schenn both emerge as quality leaders, Shelley may become expendable once more.
2011 Stats: 58 GP, 2G, 2A, 4P, plus-0
2012 Stats: 10 GP, 0G, 1A, 1P, minus-2