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Best part of Chuck Fletcher’s comments: Youth will be served for Flyers next season

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Noah Cates, Philadelphia Flyers
Winger Noah Cates had five goals and four assists in 16 games with the Philadelphia Flyers this season after signing an entry-level contract. Photo: AP. .

After the second-worst year in franchise history, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher didn’t exactly enlighten us in his season-ending news conference the other day.

He wouldn’t say what type of coach he wanted, explaining that he and his hockey-operations staff must first put together an “ideal candidate profile” before deciding who they will interview.

They have had several months to do that, so it makes you wonder if he was just buying time for a coaching candidate’s team to be eliminated from the playoffs. Tampa Bay assistant Derek Lalonde, 49, and St. Louis assistant Jim Montgomery, 52, a former Flyer, could fit in that category.

Fletcher was asked if he envisioned an offseason in which he made moves to “win now,” or if he would use a long-term approach — read: a total rebuild — to fix this mess.

“A little bit of both,” he said.

That thinking sounds dangerous.

It would have made this fan base feel better if Fletcher said he was committed to a full rebuild, that there was no such thing as a quick fix, that a partial rebuild — with the hope the Flyers could be a (woo hoo) bubble playoff team — just doesn’t work and prolongs the agony.

Focus on kids

Maybe Fletcher will eventually go that route. And, to his credit, he seems committed to having lots of young players in the lineup next season. That was the most positive part of a news conference that didn’t provide many answers. It was also encouraging to hear Ivan Fedotov would have a chance to become the No. 2 goaltender, provided he signs and makes his way to South Philly from Russia, where he starred in the KHL.

“Young players are going to be a big part of it,” Fletcher said of the team’s attempt to rebound next season. “If you look at last offseason, for example, at that point Morgan Frost was coming off of surgery and we weren’t expecting him to be able to make the club. Cam York had, I think, five NHL games. (Tanner) Laczynski was injured. Wade Allison quickly became injured. Tyson Foerster got injured early. A lot of our younger players were not really in the position to compete.”

Several of those players, along with wingers Owen Tippett and Noah Cates, have a good chance to be Philadelphia Flyers regulars next season, Fletcher implied.

This season, “we simply didn’t have the young depth to compete,” Fletcher said. “A critical part of what we do going forward, whether it’s for short-term or long-term success, will be to integrate more youth into our team. I think we are in a way better position (in 2022-23), hopefully with Allison and Laczynski being healthy and ready to go. Cam York is now much more experienced. Morgan Frost played well down the stretch. We added Owen Tippett, Cates, and (Bobby) Brink came in. Hayden Hodgson emerged out of nowhere. I didn’t even know who he was until October.

‘Positive signs’

“There are a lot of positive signs in terms of younger assets, and that doesn’t even include the Foresters, (Zayde) Wisdoms, (Elliot) Desnoyers, or Fedotov,” Fletcher said. “The good thing is we will have a lot more depth in terms of young assets. Obviously not all of them can make our team, nor not all of them may be good enough to make our team, but some of them will. That is going to be a big difference next year, when we hopefully will have a few more internal options to plug some holes.”

When Allison and Laczynski are healthy, Fletcher said, he is very confident in their ability. “And several of the other players, too. Noah Cates, the way he played, and Hayden Hodgson … we just kind of stumbled into him, I guess. I give Lappy (Phantoms coach Ian Laperriere) a lot of credit for developing him, a big strong heavy kid that could shoot the puck.

“There’s a lot of these kids, and again, history shows you not everyone makes it. I understand all that, but when you have a whole bunch of them, some of them are going to make it. That’s what gets me excited.”

Fletcher singled out Laczynski because of his play after a draining 18-month period.

“He’s had two very difficult surgeries after essentially being healthy his entire career,” Fletcher said. “When you have those hip surgeries, I know speaking to various players that have had it, it often takes up to a year until you feel 100 percent and you feel like your skating is back.”

Laczysnski, a former Ohio State standout who turns 25 next month, had 17 points (7-10) in 28 games this season with the Phantoms.

“He played very well in Lehigh down the stretch,” Fletcher said. “He battled. Kind of just plowed through and did what he had to do. My expectation after another summer of not only rest and rehab, but also training, is that he’s going to be in a much better position next year than he was this year. He’s a big heavy kid. He’s smart defensively, can kill penalties, can play center and can play wing. He brings some elements that every team wants in their bottom six, and he’s a character kid.”

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