After a disappointing 2018-19 season, general manager Chuck Fletcher and new head coach Alain Vigneault have their sights set on returning the Philadelphia Flyers to the playoffs. Couple the addition of Kevin Hayes with the emergence of Sean Couturier, along with a few prospects, and you are looking at center depth that can rival the top teams in the league.
All four lines will feature a big-bodied center who can not only chip in offensively but provide sound coverage in the defensive end. All current lineup projections have the Flyers centers shaking out as follows: Couturier, Hayes, Nolan Patrick, and Scott Laughton. With center depth like this, it is hard to imagine this team not only making the playoffs, but also doing some damage in the process.
Coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons, Couturier looks to continue his Selke-level play in the 2019-20 campaign. It comes as no surprise that he is a lock as the Flyers’ No. 1 center. His ability to not only drive play but also shoulder responsibility for linemate Claude Giroux makes him an integral part of the team’s success. He can be deployed in any situation against any line in the league.
His continued success on both the power play and penalty kill has allowed Couturier to hone his defensive and offensive skills. Don’t be surprised to see him finish this season with a Selke Trophy on his mantle. Oh, and with a cap hit of just $4.33 million per year, he is without a doubt one of the best values in the league today.
Former New York Ranger Kevin Hayes is reuniting with his old coach Vigneault and should be the Flyers’ second-line center. Contract issues aside, he was acquired to solidify the top-six for the Flyers. I believe he will flourish with the current forwards and we should see him continue to improve from his previous 55-point season. He’s good on faceoffs and can play well in both ends. Reuniting with Vigneault should give him an edge as he will play in a system he is comfortable with.
Look for him to eclipse 60 points on the season as he will most likely be lined up with Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk. He will also spend a fair amount of time on the penalty kill, and if Vigneault employs his particular style, a large chunk of the defensive zone starts. Hayes’ most important role on this team, in my opinion, will be the pressure he relieves for Patrick.
Twenty-year-old, second-overall draft pick, Patrick looks to build on the positive upswing he ended last season on. Slotting into the third-line center role, he will see easier matchups and more opportunity to find his offensive game. With the lofty expectations of his draft position set squarely on his shoulders, I expect him to break out in the 2019-20 season.
His ability to drive play coupled with a few early bounces could see him challenging Hayes for the second-line center spot. An embarrassment of riches at the center position is never a bad thing.
Scott Laughton and More
Laughton, a mainstay of the Flyers’ bottom-six and penalty kill, will look to employ his defensive-minded game in the 2019-20 season. He is a stalwart veteran who can grind minutes while also shutting down an opposing team’s offense. The former first-round pick will continue to help the Flyers and be pivotal to the team rolling four lines. I also want to mention some added center depth that doesn’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet.
Noted faceoff savant, Giroux, will continue this season on the wing of Couturier. He will often split draws in the offensive zone as well as spending time as the center of the Flyers’ first power-play unit. His move to left wing has allowed Couturier to blossom but he still plays an integral role in the middle of the ice for the Flyers. Two dark horse candidates to make the opening night roster, German Rubstov and Morgan Frost, also bolster a loaded Flyers center depth chart. I don’t see Frost netting much time at center if he makes the team this season, but his skill is undeniable. As for Rubstov, I expect him to shoulder shutdown minutes with Laughton on the fourth line. Though I would not be surprised if Rubstov made the team out of camp as the fourth-line center, pushing Laughton to the wing on the third.
On the backs of Hextall and Fletcher, the 2019-20 Flyers present center depth that should draw the envy of other teams in the league. In a crowded Metropolitan Division, the Flyers will have their work cut out for them, but with sound play in the center of the ice there is no reason this team won’t be vying for a playoff spot come next April.