Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Players Who Will Struggle with More Ice Time
It is an interesting time for the Philadelphia Flyers. Five players from the season-opening roster will not be on the ice with the team in Anaheim, along with one of the guys who was supposed to be a replacement.
For many players on the team, this will be an opportunity to show just how much worth they have to this team.
Guys like Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Matt Read should all see time with the top two lines. It seems reasonable to expect that at least one of the guys will step up in the absence of some more established names.
On the flip side of the coin, there will also be those who do the exact opposite; a few skaters who simply will not benefit from the additional playing time. Here are five players for whom additional playing time will prove problematic.
Of the five on this list, he’s probably the one people will criticize me the most for. He’s a guy who has had an incredible amount of responsibility thrust upon him as a rookie. And that load is about to get heavier.
As of last night, Read currently sat third among rookie forwards in ice time, behind second overall pick Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils. Those two teams have a combined 15 wins in regulation or overtime, ranking 27th and 26th in that category, respectively. The Flyers currently are tied for fourth.
Rarely do rookies get huge amounts of ice time on good teams, especially rookie forwards. Last season, four rookie forwards averaged more than 16:30 per game. Only one played on a playoff team (Logan Couture, who played in 25 NHL contests the year prior).
More importantly, Read ranks third among Flyers’ forwards, as well. That’s a lot of ice time, percentage-wise, for a guy who played his first professional game in March. Even Couture only ranked sixth among Sharks forwards.
Read has been excellent almost all season. His only rough patch came when he centered a line with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek. Simply put, Read was not ready to face the defensive players that van Riemsdyk and Voracek regularly line up against.
With Jaromir Jagr and van Riemsdyk still on the shelf, look for Read to hit a wall as the competition ramps up.
Even without the loss of three forwards, Voracek is primed for a downfall. In his first 13 games, he notched only six points. In the last 10, he has nearly doubled that with 11 points.
The problem with expecting him to keep up those stats is that most of them were put up on the third line with Max Talbot and Matt Read. Since Jagr’s and Van Riemsdyk’s injuries, he has been moved up into the top six and gone pointless in three of five games.
Voracek struggled to produce in Columbus when he was thrust into the same role that he’s been forced into recently. While not all would agree that 96 points over the last two seasons is a lack of production, any player in a top-six scoring role with power-play time, like Voracek, should easily be over 100 points.
Now that Voracek finds himself in that role again, expect his production to stagnate as well. He has displayed little to no chemistry with Claude Giroux or Danny Briere, and really can’t seem to decide if he wants to be a shooter or a setup man. Expect him to struggle with his added responsibility.
This is a case of a guy who is going to be forced into a role that he simply is not ready for or capable of. But with the injuries to van Riemsdyk and Jagr, along with the departure of Andreas Nodl, Zolnierczyk becomes your second winger on the third line.
Firstly, I am a very big fan of Harry Z. He has been an underrated contributor to the team, and his take-no-prisoners approach to forechecking fits perfectly into Laviolette’s system.
And, his speed works well with Couturier’s vision. On the fourth line.
On the third line, more will be expected of him. Simply providing energy is not enough when you’re playing 10-15 minutes per game (third-line minutes). Zolnierczyk’s offensive and, more importantly, defensive skills have been very suspect so far. He has yet to record a positive plus/minus rating in any of his 11 games and his only points (one goal, one assist) have come in the routs of Ottawa and Columbus.
If I had my druthers, Couturier would be the one moving up to the third line. Unfortunately, the Flyers would then be forced to attempt to turn one of Zac Rinaldo, Jody Shelley or Zolnierczyk into a center. If anyone thinks that’s a good use of the team’s time, they need to check their brain.
Harry Z will get his chance on the third line. And as a fan of his, I really hope he does well. Unfortunately, he’ll more likely struggle to contribute.
Bourdon is another guy who will be a victim of heightened expectations from his relatively strong play so far. Unfortunately, fans will soon begin to see why he found himself buried in the ECHL at times last year.
Very rarely do mid-sized (from five-foot eleven to six-foot one) defensemen hold down NHL jobs while scoring less than three goals in a season. In 121 games with the AHL Phantoms, that is exactly how many goals he has scored. Even Anton Volchenkov, a prototypical mid-sized defensive defenseman, scored 10 goals in a single AHL season as a 23 year old.
While certainly has an NHL-caliber shot, the questions about Bourdon have always revolved around if his smaller frame could take the physical pounding of professional players and whether or not he could keep up with the pace of the professional game. His physical game has been impressive so far, but he has yet to demonstrate that he can consistently make good decisions with the puck. In particular there have been a few too many outlet passes up the middle of the ice.
The Flyers had very much planned for Erik Gustafsson to be in this position right now, especially after five strong games earlier this season. Unfortunately, they have to make do with Bourdon at the moment.
The situation could turn for the better if Bourdon is able to continue his strong play. But considering his struggles so far as a professional, that seems unlikely.
This has less to do with an immediate change in results than problems that will arise down the line. Through the first 20 games of the season, Timonen played more than 24 minutes in a game three times. In the three games since, he has surpassed that total for each game.
Timonen has aged quickly since joining the Flyers. That’s what happens when a 36-year-old defenseman plays more minutes than any other skater on your team over that time. His numbers have slowly but surely decreased during his tenure in Philadelphia. After finishing with 44 points in 2008, his total dropped to 43 the next season, then 39, and then 37 last year.
With Chris Pronger, Erik Gustafsson and Andreas Lilja all out for next four weeks or so, the Flyers are down to four NHL-caliber defensemen. Expect the Flyers to pretty much roll those four and give both Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall limited playing time.
As the best of the top four, Timonen will probably see the most playing time. At 36 going on 37, those little nicks and bruises add up quite a bit more than they did in the past. Hopefully, he will at some point have time to rest and heal up. But you’d rather do what you can to mitigate those small injuries over the course of the season.