While the Philadelphia Flyers' season is only eight games old, there is quite a bit to talk about.
The team is 5-2-1, good enough for second place in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference. Not too shabby for a team that turned over half its roster three months ago.
In the slides that follow, I give each player on the current roster a grade based on their early-season performance, relative to their roles on the team.
As always, comments are welcome and appreciated. Enjoy!
Stats: 8 GP, 5G, 5A, 10P, -1
Its official: Claude Giroux has arrived as an NHL Superstar. Through eight games, Giroux looks like the best player on the ice night in and night out. It seems like he's playing the game in slow-motion, watching the play develop around him, then effortlessly making the right decision with the puck.
Giroux's passes are picture-perfect. His stickhandling is among the best in the NHL. He has a pure sniper's shot and the playmaking ability of a true center. And he plays solid defense.
In short: Giroux is the complete package. And he's still getting better.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 5A, 7P, +1
When I wrote that Jaromir Jagr could still be a point-per-game player in the NHL, few believed me.
Well, eight games into his return tour of the NHL, Jagr is producing at a PPG rate. He finally got the goal-scoring monkey off his back with a pair of goals against the Maple Leafs on Monday.
Beyond that, Jagr's skating stride looks strong. He's protecting the puck. He's making good decisions. He seems to be comfortable with the pace of the NHL game. He still understands how to make plays and create space on the power play. By all accounts, he seems to be a positive veteran presence on the team.
While he doesn't look quite like the Hart Trophy-winning Jagr, the 2011 version is still a capable playmaker and a dangerous scorer.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 2A, 4P, -3
This grade has less to do with JVR's production and more to do with his play.
Through eight games, the JVR of 2011-12 doesn't look much like the JVR of the 2011 postseason. He isn't consistently using his tremendous size and speed to get to the net. He isn't imposing his will on opposing defenders. He isn't showing that same hunger, that burning desire to win, that he showcased against the Sabres and Bruins.
All of that said, JVR hasn't looked bad. He just hasn't lived up to the expectations he made for himself during the 2011 playoffs. The season is young. Early-season slumps are not uncommon following tremendous playoff performances (remember Claude Giroux's start to the 2010-11 season?). There is plenty of time for JVR to turn it around.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 4A, 6P, +2
Through the first six games of the regular season, Danny Briere had a tendency to disappear for long stretches. With addition of prized prospect Brayden Schenn to his line, that seems to have resolved itself and Briere looks to have returned to his sneaky playmaking tendencies.
All things considered, Briere's play has not been bad. He's managed to score six points, he's registered about two shots per game, he's won over 50% of his face-offs and he's played solid all-around defense.
The major factor holding Briere's grade down are his penalty minutes. Through eight games, Briere has 14 PIM and two double-minors. That's as many as Wayne Simmonds (and 10 of his are for fighting) and four more than the much-maligned Scott Hartnell. Briere's double-minors have occurred at key points in games and caused major momentum swings.
Briere needs to keep his stick down, his focus on the game and his production constant for the Flyers to consistently win games.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 3A, 5P, +1
Wayne Simmonds has been everything the Flyers hoped he would be and more. He's displayed tremendous two-way instincts, physicality, leadership and offensive prowess. He's been a boon to the power play, causing havoc in front of the net, pouncing on loose rebounds and setting up teammates.
In the limited sample we have of Simmonds, it certainly appears that 2011-12 will be a breakout season for the fourth-year winger. All of the physical tools are there for him to blossom into a dominant power forward. The system and the supporting cast necessary for Simmonds to succeed are already in place.
It's just a matter of him putting all of the pieces together, which he seems to be doing.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 3A, 5P, +2
Prior to his two-goal performance against the Maple Leafs, winger Scott Hartnell was playing the worst hockey of his career. He was turning the puck over at the most inopportune times, struggling to stay on his stakes, taking penalties at critical moments and generally failing to do anything positive with his ice time.
Since he has been placed on a line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, Hartnell's play has improved tremendously. But two good games do not absolve Hartnell for his atrocious early-season play.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 2A, 4P, +0
The Good: Jakub Voracek's world-class skating and playmaking ability has been on full display through eight games. When he has the puck on his stick, other teams pay attention—he can create plays out of nothing, blow past opposing backcheckers, fend off opposing defensemen along the boards, make near-impossible passes look easy and more.
The Bad: Voracek seems to have a penchant for one-on-three play—which tends to result in too many turnovers at the blue line and insufficient offensive pressure. His playmaking ability also tends to get him in trouble in other areas of the ice, where Voracek tries to create something out of nothing instead of using his teammates or making the safe, smart play.
Overall: There is a lot to like about Voracek—he's tremendously skilled with the puck, he's a phenomenal skater and he's obviously trying to learn a new system. That being said, Voracek needs to start playing smarter hockey and allowing his play to fit into head coach Peter Laviolette's system.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 4A, 6P, +3
Matt Read has been the surprise of the Flyers' season thus far. Going into the 2011 offseason, members of the Flyers' brass touted Read as a potential replacement for Ville Leino, but few fans took them (or Read) seriously.
Eight games later, it's clear that Matt Read belongs in the NHL. The 25-year-old rookie has been everything the Flyers hoped and more. He's been effective in all situations, especially on special teams. He's demonstrated his offensive potential, he's played solid, positional defense and he's been an all-around hustle player for the team.
Stats: 3 GP, 0G, 0A, 0P, -4
While I realize it's quite unfair to grade a rookie on his first three games with a new organization, I also realize that life isn't fair.
Sorry, Brayden. Welcome to Philadelphia.
During the Flyers' most recent game against the Maple Leafs, Schenn was a force to be reckoned with. He was physical. He made smart, heads-up plays with the puck. He created scoring chances. He played defense. He showed flashes of being the player many scouts have called the next Jonathan Toews.
In the previous two games, Schenn wasn't quite as good. He made some careless errors. He failed to make smart plays with the puck, especially in the neutral zone. He blew defensive coverages.
As I said: three games is not a sufficiently large sample size to make an accurate judgement. If Schenn continues to grow and develop, I'll happily revisit this grade. Until then, Schenn is right in the middle with a "C".
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 2A, 4P, +4
When the Flyers drafted the 18-year-old Couturier with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, few believed that Couturier would leave the QMJHL for at least another season.
As it turns out, Couturier made the team in training camp and has been an asset ever since. He's played effectively in all situations, especially on the penalty kill. He's provided a tremendous defensive presence, offensive playmaking and plenty of gritty, physical ice time.
While it's too early to start talking about the Calder Trophy, if the award were to be given today, it would be difficult not to vote for Couturier.
Stats: 8 GP, 1G, 2A, 3P, +1
Max Talbot has been everything the Flyers hoped he would be when they signed him to a five-year deal this offseason.
He's provided superior special teams play, hustle, grit and leadership. He's avoided the dumb penalties, made smart plays with the puck, played excellent defense and done all of the little things right.
And, from all reports, he's been a positive, unifying force in the locker room.
Stats: 6 GP, 0G, 1A, 1P, +0
Andreas Nodl's play has been a pleasant surprise for the Philadelphia Flyers. He's done everything that has been asked of him by head coach Peter Laviolette: he's played strong defense, killed penalties, blocked shots and made smart decisions with the puck for the most part.
The only knock on Nodl thus far has been his lack of production in the offensive zone, especially when it comes to maintaining control of the puck along the boards and running the cycle game.
For the Flyers' fourth line to be effective, Nodl must be able to control the puck in the offensive zone, work the cycle game and force opposing forwards to play in their own zone.
Stats: 8 GP, 1G, 6A, 7P, +2
Aside from some early-season rust, Chris Pronger has been, well, Chris Pronger.
He's played tremendous, physical defense. He's masterfully quarterbacked the Flyers' power play.
He's provided offensive firepower from the point. He's made superb, tape-to-tape outlet passes. He's been a rock on the ice and in the locker room.
You can't ask for more than that.
Stats: 8 GP, 0G, 4A, 4P, -1
Kimmo Timonen, like Chris Pronger, has been a veteran rock for the Flyer defense corps. He's provided a calming presence on the blue line, making smooth, effortless plays on both ends of the ice. He's provided some offensive firepower, but he must start to shoot the puck more often, especially on the power play.
Beyond that, Kimmo need only stay healthy and productive. The goals will come.
Stats: 8 GP, 2G, 3A, 5P, +3
Matt Carle isn't as bad as everyone in Philadelphia made him out to be.
Through eight games, Carle looks like the player the Flyers always hoped he would become—he's aggressive with the puck, he's using his excellent skating ability to create opportunities for himself and his teammates, he's pinching more often, he's making smart decisions and he's avoiding those costly defensive-zone turnovers.
All in all, this has been an excellent start to the season for Carle. If he can keep it up, a career year (and a massive new contract) is likely to result.
Stats: 8 GP, 0G, 0A, 0P, -1
Despite his lack of offensive production, Braydon Coburn has been having an excellent season. He's been a defensive stalwart for the team, regularly matching up against opposing teams' top lines and shutting them down. He's increased his physicality and regularly uses his large frame and long reach to take opposing forwards off of the puck.
On the offensive end, Coburn has been much more aggressive. He's been pinching regularly, joining the rush and shooting the puck. As with Kimmo, the goals and points will come as long as Coburn keeps doing what he's doing.
Stats: 8 GP, 1G, 2A, 3P, +2
Andrej Meszaros has picked up this season right where he left off last year: as one of the Flyers' best defensemen.
He's been rock-solid on both ends of the ice, providing offense, strong, physical defense and attitude. He may not be well-known around the league, but Meszaros' star is certainly on the rise. He's that good. And he won't be unknown for too much longer if he continues this level of play.
Stats: 6 GP, 0G, 0A, 0P, +0
On the plus side, Lilja has been exactly what the Flyers hoped he would be: a capable veteran replacement for the departed Sean O'Donnell.
Lilja has begun to use his large frame and tremendous strength to drive opposing forwards off the puck, but still makes some careless errors with the puck in the defensive zone. He hasn't contributed much on the offensive end, but hasn't made any costly gaffes, either.
For a sixth defenseman, Lilja has been about as good as it gets.
Stats: 6 GP, 3-2-1, 2.85 GAA, 0.895 SV%, 1 SO
The Good: Bryzgalov has been as good as advertised in his six starts. He's demonstrated his ability to make near-impossible saves in clutch situations. He knows how to close the door on a team in the third period and he can will the team to victories.
The Bad: The Flyers seem to love to score on Bryzgalov. From what I've seen, most of the goals allowed by Bryzgalov are deflected by Flyers who are trying to avoid blocking the shot: the result is a partial-block that comes off as a deflection and catches Bryzgalov out of position.
When Bobrovsky was in net, the Flyers went back to blocking shots. They need to do the same for Bryzgalov.
Stats: 2 GP, 2-0-0, 2.00 GAA, 0.918 SV%, 0 SOs.
"Bob" has been excellent for the Flyers from the pre-season onward. He's looked sharper in net this season, he seems to be more comfortable with the pace of the game and he seems to be playing more upright. Credit for those improvements must go to the Flyer coaching staff, which worked with Bobrovsky for much of the offseason to correct the flaws in his fundamentals, allowing him to take his game to the next level.