If there is anything that a few of the past Stanley Cup winners have proven, it’s that third and fourth lines are critical to the success of a team. The Penguins found immense contributions last year from guys like Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust, and Daniel Sprong, among others. That was on top of having arguably the best second line in hockey with Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, and Carl Hagelin.
So what does that have to do with the Flyers? Well, a lot.
In case anyone forgot, six years ago when the Flyers made the Cup Final, they had an outstanding offense from top to bottom. No one on that team was near the top of the league in scoring, but they got consistent contributions from every single line, especially in the playoffs. Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk, and Aaron Asham were part of a very effective third line. Behind them stood Blair Betts, Ian Laperriere, and Darroll Powe, who were absolutely outstanding. Like the Penguins of this past season, the second line of Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, and Ville Leino was by far their most potent line in the playoffs.
Read It and Weep
The Flyers have remained one of the mysteries of the NHL over the past few seasons. They finished the 2011-12 season as one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL. They finished the 2015-16 season as one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL. Off the top, that may not seem too unusual, but it is.
The Flyers, for the most part, have the same core group of forwards that they did back in 2012, with the exception of Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. These guys should have been maturing, yet the scoring as a whole has dropped.
One of the huge fallbacks during that time period has been Matt Read.
Read was a big part of the Flyers in his first two seasons, but has dropped off from 47 points (23 G, 24A) in 2011-12, to just 26 points (11 G, 15 A) this past season.
This year will be crucial to the future of Read, and also crucial to whether or not the Flyers can make a name for themselves in the Metropolitan division.
Read will no longer be playing with RJ Umberger, who seemed to weigh him down a bit, but instead will likely find himself playing with Scott Laughton and Dale Weise. That should be a huge pick-me-up for the 30-year old winger. He also found himself starting in the defensive zone over 50% of the time last season, that number should decrease this year with the addition of some guys who will be more likely to find the back of the net.
Speaking of finding the back of the net, Nick Cousins, and Scott Laughton have been touted as two of the Flyers better offensive prospects, but why haven’t they produced? Will that lead to the Flyers giving up on them?
Third Line Competition
To say there are a lot of “ifs” surrounding the Flyers this season would be a huge understatement. Of course, there are a few highly regarded defensive prospects that are chomping at the bit to gain their way into the NHL, and then there are a few forwards who would love their shot.
Scott Laughton came on to the scene at the end of the 2014-15 season but hasn’t really proven much of anything yet. The 22-year old enters this season with 27 points in 107 career games.
There’s also Nick Cousins, who is a year older than Laughton but has just 11 points in 47 career games played. Nothing to write home about for either one of them.
If the third line fails to perform from the start of the season and both Laughton and Cousins have been given their shot, it’s hard to imagine the Flyers not exploring other options. So who are the options?
The first name that would come to anyone’s mind is the highly touted Travis Konecny.
Konecny added some weight this season in an effort to buff up and try to make the roster. Judging by the way he has performed in juniors, and the flashy display of talent that he has touted at times, it’s certainly easy to see why calling up Konecny could have an immediate impact on the Flyers.
There is also Nicolas Aube-Kubel who despite being drafted almost 50th overall, has displayed a wealth of talent in the QMJHL. In the two seasons since being drafted by the Flyers in 2014, he has put up 80 and 84 points respectively. That’s extremely impressive considering before being drafted he had only cracked 50 points once. He has speed and finesse, which is something the Flyers could definitely use.
Third Line Performance
A lot of the Flyers success this season will depend on how well the third line performs. We’ve seen Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek perform as one of the best duos in the NHL a few seasons ago, yet the Flyers didn’t even make the playoffs. We’ve also witnessed a Flyers team that had an efficient third line and consequently, they found themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals. That just further re-enforces the fact that to win in this league, you have to have four lines that can produce.
Matt Read will find himself in a huge spot this season, one that could immensely help the Flyers. If he can start finding the back of the net like the old days, it would be a huge plus to the offensive prowess of the Flyers. If not, the Flyers will be stuck having two good lines, and a third line that is marginal at best.
The Flyers have a lot of options for their third line this year and I fully expect them to make it a priority. It will have a huge impact on where they find themselves come March and April.