The Philadelphia Flyers will enter the 2021-22 season with potentially their best collection of American-born talent in franchise history. As part of an offseason roster overhaul, general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Cam Atkinson, Keith Yandle, and Nate Thompson to play with fellow Americans James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Joel Farabee, and Justin Braun. The seven skaters are all expected to make contributions as regulars in the Flyers’ lineup this season, and many of them have played with or against each other having come up through the same ranks of USA Hockey.
The infusion of American talent into the organization reflects the gradually progressing success of players from the United States throughout the NHL. According to QuantHockey.com, just 11 percent of NHL players during the 1979-80 season were born in the United States. The number grew throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s and truly began to increase exponentially following the NHL’s return from the 2004-05 lockout. It has now reached over 27 percent, and the growth is correlated with improved competition in American college hockey.
Flyers from the United States
The 2021-22 Flyers will feature five American players who played at top-tier NCAA hockey programs in New England. Hayes and Atkinson each won one national championship during their careers at Boston College (BC) before making it to the NHL. They played together at BC during the 2010-11 season. Farabee played for their arch-rival, Boston University, for one season after being drafted 14th overall by the Flyers in 2018. A native of Middletown, New Jersey, van Riemsdyk spent two years at the University of New Hampshire after being selected second overall by the Flyers in 2007. Braun also played for UMass-Amherst from 2006-10.
Atkinson showed excitement during a recent interview when talking about previously existing relationships with some of the American-born players already on the roster, particularly Hayes and van Riemsdyk. Some lineup projections have placed Hayes in between Atkinson and Farabee on the “Boston line.” The Flyers previously had the “Minnesota line” during the 1990s with Joel Otto, Trent Klatt, and Shjon Podein.
Yandle was acquired in July to play a depth role on defense. The Flyers hope his presence as a veteran leader will reinvigorate their dressing room in the same way that Hayes, his long-time friend and fellow Massachusetts native, did during his first season in Philadelphia in 2019-20.
Recently-extended Flyers center Sean Couturier was also born in Phoenix, Arizona. However, he has dual-citizenship in Canada and the United States. He has competed for Team Canada in international competition throughout his hockey career.
Flyers Prospect Pool Deep with US Players
The notable presence of Americans on the Flyers roster will likely continue for many years considering the organization’s prospect pool. Top prospect Cam York, a California native, captained Team USA to the gold medal at the 2021 World Junior Championship. York played the past two seasons at the University of Michigan, and he is expected to compete for playing time at the NHL level this year. His teammate on Team USA, Bobby Brink, has been a standout at the University of Denver the past two seasons. The Philadelphia Inquirer ranked him as the ninth-best prospect in the Flyers organization in May (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Flyers’ top prospects: Many will put the stamp of Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr on the team, 5/21/21).
Brothers Jackson and Noah Cates helped lead the University of Minnesota-Duluth to the Frozen Four last season. Noah was a fifth-round pick in 2017, and the outlook on his future in the minds of NHL scouts has risen dramatically during his college career. Jackson was signed as a free agent following the 2020-21 NCAA season and played in four games with Philadelphia in April. Tanner Laczynski will likely play the majority of the 2021-22 season in the American Hockey League (AHL). The former Ohio State Buckeye showed potential as a bottom-six NHL forward in five games with the Flyers last season.
The Best American Flyers in Franchise History
The 2021-22 Flyers season should hold more contributions from American players than any other season in franchise history. However, the outstanding blend of talent has not yet gelled together with newcomers Atkinson, Yandle, and Thompson. The organization has had its fair share of successful American-born players throughout its history.
Hayes, van Riemsdyk, Farabee, and Thompson have already played with US natives Matt Niskanen, Tyler Pitlick, and Shayne Gostisbehere during the 2019-20 season. Hall of Famer and Detroit native Mark Howe is considered the best defenseman in franchise history. Fellow Michigan natives Derian Hatcher, John Vanbiesbrouck, and Mike Knuble (a dual citizen raised in Michigan) all spent parts of their NHL careers in orange and black.
The 2003-04 Flyers currently stand as the team with the most single-season contributions from American-born players in franchise history. Their third, fourth, and fifth leading scorers were all US-born. John LeClair, nicknamed “Johnny Vermont,” spent his 10th and final season in Philadelphia and helped them to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2004 Playoffs. Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, who were childhood friends growing up in Massachusetts, also played pivotal roles in the run. Goaltender Robert Esche had a career-best regular season and started all 18 playoff games. The team also received depth contributions from Donald Brashear (another dual citizen) and Eric Weinrich.
Offseason changes have brought excitement and optimism to Philadelphia for a turnaround after the blunder of the 2020-21 season. The additional prospect of a group of American-born players as core contributors to a team in one of the most prominent hockey markets in the United States should further that excitement. Only time will tell if the newcomers can capitalize on the opportunity.