Quick Hits: JVR, Collegiate Prospects, 3W, TIFH and More
Quick Hits: Aug. 15, 2019
1) Losing James van Riemsdyk early last season for a 16-game stretch and his initial struggles in the first month after his return (pointless in 10 of 13 games between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15; three goals and six points overall) put a significant damper on the team's hopes heading into the season of adding another regular goal scorer to the lineup. It also framed perceptions of his entire season in a negative light.
The season wasn't what anyone, van Riemsdyk included, would have wanted either individually or collectively. However, JVR was actually one of the Flyers bright spots once he finally got going.
Over his final 51 games of the season, van Riemsdyk produced 24 goals and 41 points to finish the season with 27 tallies (eight on the power play) and 48 points (13 on the power play) in 66 games. Had he played a full season, JVR likely would have topped the 30-goal mark. His 16.2 percent rate of his shots on goal going into the net represented a career-high although his 27 total goals were tied for only the 4th highest output in a single season.
The strongest stretch of the season for van Riemsdyk came over a six-plus week span from Feb. 9 to March 21. In that 20-game span (basically equivalent to one quarter of the season), JVR broke loose for 12 goals, three multi-goal games including a hat trick, and 19 points. This overlapped the period of time where the Flyers climbed back into the wild card race after having been buried at the bottom of the NHL before falling off in the final few weeks.
JVR's production dried up again near the end as the team staggered and then slunk to the finish line. He had one goal, four points, and six pointless games in the final eight.
The games' results were essentially meaningless by that point, but there were some putrid team-work efforts in the last five games in particular. A few players -- Sean Couturier being one prime example, and Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton being two others -- continued to put the pedal to the metal and compete as if the team still had a mathematical chance at the playoffs, but there was little team cohesion and not nearly enough competitiveness out there in front of the Flyers' goaltenders. The final road trip to Dallas and St. Louis saw two exceptionally poor efforts by the Flyers.
Uncharacteristically, the normally laid-back van Riemsdyk publically ripped his team's performance after the road finale in St. Louis.
"There is always something to play for. Play for your teammates. Some guys have contracts to play for.... The way we were tonight, it's never acceptable," van Riemsdyk said.
Come the start of the 2019-20 season, it is a no-brainer that van Riemsdyk will be part of the Flyers' first power unit. Michel Therrien's stated philosophy on the power play is to attack near the net as much as possible, and that is one of JVR's prime strengths as a player.
What is harder to predict is where he will play at five-on-five. If he plays on the top line, it forces either Claude Giroux or JVR to play the right side. If he is on Kevin Hayes' line, there are some two-way play concerns on both wings. If he plays on the third line with Nolan Patrick (with whom van Riemsdyk was slow to develop chemistry in the first half of last season), he might see favorable matchups but he won't be with the team's top playmakers at five-on-five.
During his final season in Toronto, JVR primarily played third line (with his longtime center Tyler Bozak in the middle) at even strength as well as extensive power play time. 11 of his career-high 36 goals came on the power play as did 20 of his 54 points. Even so, this was effective overall use of JVR by Mike Babcock. It will be interesting to see where Alain Vigneault prefers to deploy van Riemsdyk, in conjunction with Therrien.
2) August 15 is the day when NHL teams lose the rights to still-unsigned draftees who have graduated from NCAA-affiliated colleges. The players become unrestricted free agents.
This year, the Flyers will lose now-alum University of Michigan forward Brendan Warren, whose rights they acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in the deal that sent Nick Cousins to the Arizona Coyotes the day before the last NHL Expansion Draft. Warren has signed a contract with the ECHL's Indy Fuel for the 2019-20 season.
More notably, the Flyers have until next Aug. 15 to sign Western Michigan forward Wade Allison (a 2016 second-round selection) and/or Ohio State forward Tanner Laczynski before they become UFAs. The Flyers would like to get both signed after their senior year in 2019-20.
One primary reason that Allison did not sign either after his sophomore or junior years, despite interest from Philly, was related to the torn ACL he suffered midway through the 2017-18 season. Allison was concerned that the extensive missed time (including training camp) while rehabbing the knee injury would make it hard to get regular ice time with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He also had other, unrelated injury issues this past season. Even as late as the Flyers development camp in late June of 2019, Allison estimated that his knee was still about 20 percent of the way from being where he'd feel fully confident and comfortable.
Although he has (understandably) stopped short of guaranteeing that he will sign with the Flyers after his senior year at Western Michigan, Allison has said all along that he likes the organization, has been well-treated and would be interested in a career in the organization if things work out that way.
There is a benefit in signing an ELC right after finishing a collegiate season that includes an agreement to activate the player on the NHL roster late in the NHL campaign for purposes of burning the first year of the CBA-mandated terms. Doing so is pretty much par for the course nowadays.
Laczynski's status is a little harder to determine. He did not attend the Flyers' development camp this summer but, according to the Flyers, that was because he was enrolled in summer course at college. NCAA rules prohibit any affiilated player from missing course work in order to attend an NHL team's camp (whether a development camp in the summer or a rookie/main camp in September). He also did not participate in on-ice drills in last summer's camp, but that was due to an injury.
Of the two players, Laczynski has been the more tight-lipped publicly about his interest level in ultimately playing for the Flyers. However, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in April that the organization has a solid relationship with Laczynski as well as Allison. A few weeks earlier, now-retired Flyers team president Paul Holmgren said that Laczynski was close to being pro-ready if he wanted to go in that direction now.
The 22-year-old Laczynski's stock has risen significantly since the Flyers drafted him out of the USHL in the sixth round of the 2016 Draft. He has had back-to-back strong collegiate seasons and beat out more highly touted named for a spot on the Team USA squad at the 2016-17 World Junior Championships.
However, while Laczynski is a player who would draw interest from other organizations if he gets to Aug. 15 of next summer unsigned, he's not the caliber of player that could have his pick of pretty much anywhere he wanted to go. It's not a parallel situation to that of former Chicago 1st round pick and now Flyers player Kevin Hayes in the summer of 2014 when he signed with the Rangers or Jimmy Vesey in 2016 when he, too, opted for the Rangers.
At the college level, Laczynski plays on the top line for Ohio State. However, most of the scouts with whom I've spoken peg his NHL upside as a bottom-six type. Some have said his fourth-line role on Team USA at the WJC a few years ago is similar to where he'd find a niche in the NHL. Other have said he might start on a fourth line but potentially work up a line.
While every organization can use such players on inexpensive deals -- there's no such thing as too much depth -- they aren't the type of players that benefit from having to wait that deep into the offseason following their senior season in order to sign somewhere other than their drafting organization.
That said, one way or another, Laczynski stands a good chance of finding a contract whether it's with the Flyers very shortly after his senior season ends or elsewhere come next August. He's a hard-working player with some skill and versatility who plays a two-way game.
In terms of trade potential, unless an organization is confident about getting him signed (ala Edmonton with Cooper Marody when the former Flyers prospect decided to forego his senior year at Michigan), there really is no trade value of which to speak. If another organization feels they can get him under contract before next Aug. 15, then the Flyers could get a draft pick back; perhaps a round or two higher than his initial selection spot. If not, teams will simply see come mid-August 2020 where they are relative to the 50 contract maximum and also where they are depth-wise in their farm system.
The Flyers long-term fortunes, one way or the other, are not heavily riding on whether they get Laczynski (or even Allison) signed. However, both would certainly bolster the depth of forward talent in the system that could enter its first full season in the pros come 2020-21. It's always good to have in-house prospect talent that projects in as many different roles as possible; for example, adding Allison as a first-year player on a farm team with 2017 second-round pick Isaac Ratcliffe (hopefully) moving closer and closer to being ready to compete for an NHL job would be a healthy situation both for the Phantoms and Flyers.
3) On the Flyers official website, the three-part series on the battle for wing spots on the Flyers third (and fourth) line concludes today with a look at Tyler Pitlick and other newly arrived veterans. Part one looked at rookie candidates. Part two looked at incumbent veterans Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton.
4) Happy 30th birthday wishes go out to Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek as well as a happy 23rd birthday to Oskar Lindblom. Flyers Alumni members with Aug. 15 birthdays include Martin Biron (1977), Craig MacTavish (1958), and the late Jim Cunningham (1956).