The Philadelphia Flyers have a stated goal of making the playoffs in 2015-16. Although the team should be improved from last year, they still face an uphill climb to make the playoffs.
The Flyers have boasted a strong forwards core over the past several seasons and their goaltending looks to be properly solidified. However, like last season, two seasons ago, and seemingly every season since the loss of Chris Pronger, the blue line is what will determine whether or not the Flyers sink or swim.
To help bolster the blue line, Ron Hextall went out and signed Yevgeni Medvedev to a one-year, $3 million contract. The rest of the blue line is filled with NHL veterans whose skill sets are already well documented.
Mark Streit is an established puck mover who will run the first power-play unit. He will almost surely provide top-pairing minutes at even strength. Michael Del Zotto is a good, relatively young puck mover who can play a bottom-four role and chip in a fair amount of points. He has some defensive issues that will need to be shielded.
Luke Schenn and Radko Gudas are both physical, right-handed defensemen. Schenn is an underrated passer while Gudas is known for his intensity and checking. Possession-wise, they are virtually the same player.
Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz are both veteran players who, in theory, can be relied upon as puck movers or in a more defensive role. Neither player is exceptionally skilled, nor does either player generate a lot of shot attempts for their team. Brandon Manning is an AHL/NHL tweener who plays a simple game while at the NHL level.
Taken together, those seven defensemen will not strike fear into the hearts of opponents. They are not an exceptionally fast group, they are not a very skilled group, and they certainly do not intimidate opponents with their size.
Therefore, the most unknown commodity on the blue line, Medvedev, is the ” X-factor” for the team. If Medvedev can be a top tier talent, he will turn the Flyers into a playoff-caliber team. If he is nothing more than a bottom-pairing defenseman, 2016 may be another long summer in Philadelphia.
Medvedev has the pedigree to be a good NHL defenseman and will be given a shot to become one with the Flyers.
Medvedev, who stands 6 feet 3 inches, 198 pounds, will be the tallest of the Flyers defensemen next season (assuming prospects like Sam Morin, Mark Alt and Travis Sanheim do not make the jump). His size will be a welcomed addition, as the Flyers have seen both Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann traded in the past several months.
Trading Grossmann was a good move for the Flyers in both the long term and short term. The trade of Coburn, however, may prove to hurt the team in the short term.
For all his warts, Coburn was the best defensive defenseman that the Flyers had. He was big, mobile and consistently played against the opponents’ top players. He was not dazzling with the puck, but he was good enough to trigger breakouts and maintain possession.
Grossmann was a physical beast who is known for his hitting and shot-blocking abilities. However, he lacked puck-moving skills and had trouble getting the puck out of the defensive zone.
If the Flyers are to be successful in 2015-16, Medvedev will have to play like Coburn. Eliteprospects.com has this to say about Medvedev:
“A large, yet very mobile and smooth skating defenseman. Medvedev sees the ice well and has good hockey sense. He can pass really well, but also possesses a hard shot. Could play a more physical and aggressive game given his size.”
If you ask me, that sounds just like Coburn, and it is exactly what the Flyers defense will need.
A Partner For Streit?
It goes without saying that Mark Streit will be facing some of the toughest competition of any Flyers defenseman next season. He is, right now, the most qualified candidate to be on the top pairing at even strength. However, even though Streit is a good defenseman, he lacks the defensive abilities and the mobility to anchor a top pair by himself. Therfore the question that remains is this: Who will play with him?
Nick Schultz? The organization loves Schultz and he could fill into the top four if/when the team is in a pinch. But if the organization expects Schultz to be a top-pairing defenseman all season, the Flyers are in trouble.
Luke Schenn? The former Maple Leaf, in my opinion, had a quietly solid season last year. He is one of the Flyers’ biggest defensemen and has a skill set that should, in theory, compliment Streit. However, Schenn is best suited to playing a bottom-four role and has proven to get burned when he is exposed for too long.
Andrew MacDonald? No. He should not be in the top four of any team. See the chart below.
Michael Del Zotto? Although I think Del Zotto will be forced into a top-four role by necessity next season, his skill set is too similar to that of Streit to make them an effective pairing. Also, like most Flyers defensemen, exposing Del Zotto to the opposition’s best could end in disaster.
Radko Gudas? No. The same arguments used against Luke Schenn apply to Gudas.
Brandon Manning? If Manning makes the NHL out of training camp, which is far from a given, he will be playing on the bottom pair.
Medvedev is the most logical choice to be paired with Streit. Does this mean that Medvedev must be a top-pairing defenseman from Day 1? Well, yes and no.
I say yes, because he looks to be the best fit with Streit, has played against the world’s best before and should be in good enough shape to handle a lot of minutes. I say no, because the Flyers will almost certainly be forced, no matter how good Medvedev proves to be, to be a “defense by committee.” The Flyers simply are not deep enough to rely on any one pairing to carry them throughout the season.
As things stand right now, Medvedev has the chance to be the piece that brings the Flyers back to the Stanley Cup playoffs. He also has the potential to exacerbate the teams blue-line issues.
One thing is certain: there is a lot riding on Medvedev’s 2015-16 performance.
*HERO Charts, and other analytical charts, can be found at ownthepuck.blogspot.ca/.*