Quick Hits: August 14, 2019
1) This week on the Flyers official website, we are doing a three-part series of articles on the candidates for the open third-line wing spot in the Flyers lineup. Who will win the job for the ninth spot in the forward rotation, assuming that the top eight is some combination of centers Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Nolan Patrick, left wingers Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and Oskar Lindblom and right wingers Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny (once the RFA is signed)?
Part one of the series, published yesterday, looks at a group of six rookie hopefuls
: Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, Isaac Ratcliffe, Mikhail Vorobyev and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (who is more of a 12th/ 13th forward candidate right now).
Several times during the offseason. both general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr have significantly downplayed the possibility of either Farabee or Frost -- the organization's current top two forward prospects from an offensive upside standpoint -- being ready to immediately jump to the NHL level in their first pro seas/on. Fan sentiment is generally in favor of Farabee or Frost. Most seem to realize that Ratcliffe is likely to spend at least one full season in the AHL before he emerges as an NHL candidate.
However, it may actually be 2016 first-rounder Rubtsov who arrives first in the NHL before 2017 first-rounder Frost or 2018 first-rounder Farabee. I'm reading tea leaves here, but I found this interesting: while Flahr put "I don't know if it's realistic" caveats to the possibilities that Farabee or Frost could immediately handle the grind of an NHL schedule, he did not say that about Rubtsov despite the Russian forward's limited pro experience and injury history.
Rubtsov's candidacy in camp takes some leaps of faith. First, it's based on a very small sample size. It presumes that, after Rubtsov missed most of last season after sustaining shoulder injury that required surgery, i he picks up in training camp where he left off in his first 13 AHL rookie games before the injury. I don't count game 14 because he suffered his season-ending injury early in that match. Rubtsov has also had previous injuries (concussion, broken nose) that have cost him valuable development time.
Secondly, there is a positional consideration. Rubtsov played both center and right wing in junior hockey, but was generally more effective at center. So that's something else that could potentially play into where he eventually breaks into the NHL. Perhaps Rubtsov is the Flyers' future fourth-line center rather than playing a top-nine spot on a wing. Frost will likely have to make a full-time switch from center to wing to earn an NHL spot, given that Couturier, Hayes and Patrick are above him in the depth chart and Frost's "sweet spot" in the lineup could very well be in the middle six with a second-line playmaker type of offensive upside.
Part two of the series, which will appear online later today, looks at the two incumbent veteran candidates: Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton. While this is more of a fallback option than anything else, both Raffl and Laughton (the top candidate for the fourth-line center spot, unless he moves to wing) have some top-nine experience in the NHL.
Part three of the series, to be published tomorrow, looks at the veteran off-season additions. Among these, Tyler Pitlick stands the best chance of winning a third-line spot and is a virtual lock for the fourth line if he doesn't make the top nine.
During the 2017-18 season in Dallas, Pitlick was promoted by then head coach Ken Hitchcock from a fourth-line to a third-line role and he responded with a quietly strong campaign that included a respectable 14 goals and 27 points. This past season under Jim Montgomery, unfortunately, a wrist injury that required surgery cost Pitlick all but 47 games (eight goals 12 points). Monty moved Pitlick around the bottom six, but Pitlick was among the players the head coach trusted. Pitlick never got into Montgomery's doghouse, unlike someone such as the now-departed Valeri Nichushkin.
Some Flyers fans in the social media sphere have posited that Pitlick is "slow". That assumption had to be based only on looking at his size, and making an assumption that a big role playing forward is slow. In actuality, north-south speed is one of Pitlick's assets, along with his off-puck tenacity on the forecheck. He also became a penalty killer in Dallas.
The main issue with Pitlick, both in Edmonton and Dallas, has been an inability to stay healthy. A torn ACL was his most notable injury prior to the one that curtailed his 2018-19 season. Whenever he worked his way up in the lineup -- or, while in Edmonton, seemed on the brink of doing so -- he'd miss time and have to start over. He's not the most skilled player with the puck but he's not a total zero offensively if played as a complementary piece to skilled guys around him.
If the Flyers' fourth line ends of being Laughton centering Raffl and Pitlick, on paper it's the best fourth line (one with three proven viable full-time NHL players) they've had in some time. But if Pitlick at least starts out on the third line, it's not a travesty.
If he's healthy and performs similarly to how he did in Dallas when given the opportunity to move up in the lineup, it won't be an awe-inspiring arrangement but he won't look out of place. You won't get any fancy stickhandling or much east-west dynamic moves from him but you'll get a good skater who is relentless around the puck, is reliable on weak side coverage and doesn't take many low-percentage risks when he does have the puck. Coaches tend to like and trust such role players, even if fans are lukewarm to them.
2) The new Broadcasters' Roundtable is now available for direct listening
, on the Flyers Radio 24/7 homepage
or on a rotational programming basis within the Flyers Radio 24/7 live programming schedule.
On Monday, I got together for Tim Saunders, Jim Jackson, Steve Coates and Chris Therien for the podcast recording in Voorhees. We talked for 45 minutes about the Flyers offseason and things to watch heading into training camp.
In the weeks to come, Brian Smith and I will resume the FlyerBuzz podcast on roughly a twice-per-month basis. Chris and I may also resume the Bundy and Bill podcast based on availability.
3) The Flyers Alumni Fantasy Camp in Atlantic City is just three days away. Come Friday, I will post the daily schedule of events, both on and off the ice. Team Toyota (camo jerseys) will be coached by Danny Briere and Marty Biron. Defending Flyers Fantasy Cup champions Team River Rock Academy (orange jerseys) will be coached by Mark Howe and Joe Watson. Team CDW (grey jersey) will be coached by Keith Jones and Ian Laperriere. Team Tito's (black jersey) has Bill Barber, Brad Marsh and Bill Clement at the helm.
4) Today in Flyers History: On Aug. 14, 1990, the Flyers hired Simon Nolet and the late Bill Dineen as scouts. There is an interesting story behind former Flyers player Nolet's return to the organization as a scout.
In late March of 1990, shortly before the Flyers dismissed Bob Clarke as general manager, Clarke had made a verbal agreement with former teammate Nolet to hire him as a scout. Nolet had been scouting for the Quebec Nordiques but the organization was in a state of upheaval at the time. Nolet left the Nordiques but, before he could be formally hired by the Flyers, Clarke was let go as GM on April 16, 1990.
Nolet was understandably nervous. Keith Allen reassured Nolet that he'd make sure the hire would go through with whomever the next general manager would be. The Flyers hired Russ Farwell on June 6, 1990. Two days later, Clarke became the general manager of the Minnesota North Stars.
For two months, Nolet continued to sit in limbo. Despite the emotional pain of having recently lost his job in Philadelphia, Clarke told Nolet that Allen and the Sniders were men of their word and he was sure there was no cause for alarm. If things for some reason did not work out, however, Nolet was welcome to come work for the North Stars.
On August 14, 1990, Farwell formally hired Nolet and the late Bill Dineen as Flyers scouts. Both Dineen (who later ended up coaching the Flyers for most of two seasons) and Nolet would go on to have important impacts on the organization.
In Nolet's case, he was the Philadelphia scout who viewed Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux the most times during their respective draft years. He was also instrumental in the Flyers' selection of Patrick Sharp in the third round of the 2001 Draft.
For the next 28 years after rejoining the organization, Nolet worked for the Flyers. He retired last year at age 76. During his latter years of scouting, he has wound down his once-extensive travel and scouted exclusively in portions of Quebec. In recent times, Todd Hearty has been the Flyers primary Quebec League scout and also performs extensive crossover scouting work. Hearty and Brent Flahr are longtime friends, so the transition from working under Chris Pryor to working with Flahr was pretty seamless.
5) August 14 Flyers Alumni birthday: Adam Hall (1980).