There’s several factors as to why the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks are the last remaining teams in the NHL. Solid netminding, strong defense and speed are some of the top reasons.
But just as important is offensive depth. Both teams are filled with stars like Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel that are spread throughout the lineup. They also have surprise contributors like Joel Ward and Nick Bonino that have added timely scoring.
However, the offense isn’t just a factor among the forwards. Finding scoring and puck movement from the back end is also necessary. The Sharks have Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to do that, while the Penguins’ season started to turn around when they acquired Trevor Daley from the Blackhawks.
For the Philadelphia Flyers to take the next step in their development, they’ll need to find offensive pieces that can help fuel a team like it has for the Sharks and Pens. Luckily for Philly, there’s already some pieces in the pipeline.
Offense on Defense
Shayne Gostisbehere was to the Flyers as Daley was to the Penguins. The acquisition of Daley took the load off of number one defenseman Kris Letang. When Gostsibehere was recalled, Michael Del Zotto’s workload was eased.
In turn, with another prime puck mover to get the forwards the puck, the Flyers turned a corner and made the playoffs as Gostisbehere earned a Calder Trophy nomination.
Philadelphia has three blue-liners that can help in that department in Gostisbehere, Del Zotto and Mark Streit, but they should be getting help within the organization in the form of prospect Ivan Provorov.
The 2015 first-round pick just won CHL Defenseman of the Year and seems to be penciled-in to the Flyers lineup for next season. He’s possibly not as dynamic on the offensive side of the puck as Gostisbehere is, but Provrov is better defensively and can control the game better.
If he makes the team, the 19-year-old Russian will be brought along in a similar mode as the Florida native – power-play time and sheltered minutes. That didn’t seem to bother Gostisbehere’s offensive acumen and the Flyers are hoping the same can be said for Provorov.
Travis Sanheim and Phillipe Myers are other prospects that should be joining the Flyers soon with puck-moving ability. However, neither are ahead of the curve at this point like Provorov. In a few years time, the Flyers hope to have nearly a full defensemen stable with offensive prowess.
Looking outside of the organization, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jacob Trouba are rumored to be on the trade market and Keith Yandle could hit free agency, but adding defensemen isn’t what the team needs.
Offense Among Forwards
The Flyers’ prospect pool at forward isn’t as deep as among the defensemen, which is why you can bet the team will be looking to add there at this year’s draft. Travis Konecny, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and to a lesser extent, Oskar Lindblom seem to be the only prospects with top-six potential.
Konecny could earn a spot with the Flyers next season, but is less of a lock than Provorov. Even if he does make it, Philadelphia may choose to play him on the third line with less pressure.
Up front, the Flyers may have to look in the free agency bin or at a trade to add some offensive depth. Luckily for the team, this is a decent year for free agents.
Steven Stamkos is at the top of the list, but Philly is too close to the salary cap and doesn’t need centers for the Lightning captain to make sense. Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd and Kyle Okposo headline the free agent wingers, and any of them could fit into the Philly lineup.
But again the problem will be money. The team needs to re-sign a forward of its own in Brayden Schenn and even if RJ Umberger is bought out, money could still be tight. It’s likely the above trio will demand at least $5 million a year each.
Because of the salary issues, don’t be surprised if GM Ron Hextall takes his usual approach and doesn’t chase any big free agents. One top-six forward likely doesn’t put the Flyers in the same tier as the Sharks and Penguins.
But that doesn’t mean the team won’t work on its forward depth. Instead the Flyers will likely continue to build offense through the draft, and when the time is right, Hextall may strike for a top-end forward.