10 New Players Expected in Flyers’ Opening-Night Lineup; Improvement Looks Minimal
Partly because of injuries, the Philadelphia Flyers are expected to have 10 new players in their lineup compared to last season’s opener.
But their improvement looks minimal — that is, unless new coach John Tortorella is a miracle worker.
The Flyers are counting on the improved health of Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis to help them erase the memories of a 61-point season, one that put them at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.
Ellis (pelvic injury), a top-pairing defenseman, and gifted left winger Joel Farabee (neck surgery) are expected to start the season on the injured list.
Here’s a look at the Philadelphia Flyers at the start of last season, and how they could look when the 2022-23 campaign begins Oct. 13 against visiting New Jersey.
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Line 1 last season: Sean Couturier centering Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
Line 1 this season: Couturier centering James van Riemsdyk and Cam Atkinson.
Comment: There’s a clear edge to last year’s top line because of Giroux, who is now with Ottawa.
Line 2 last season: Derick Brassard centering Joel Farabee and Atkinson.
Line 2 this season: Kevin Hayes centering Scott Laughton and Konecny.
Comment: This season’s line is comparable to last year’s. Hayes, who was injured at the start of last season, is an upgrade over Brassard, but Farabee is more explosive than the steady Laughton. When Farabee returns and Laughton drops to Line 3, this year’s line will be better.
Line 3 last season: Laughton centering Oskar Lindblom and van Riemsdyk.
Line 3 this season: Morgan Frost centering Noah Cates and Owen Tippett.
Comment: Frost is entering a show-me year. Come to think of it, all three players need to prove themselves. All have great promise. If they show it, this could be an intriguing unit, and it has the potential to be better than last year’s third line. The new unit could also show it’s not ready for prime time.
Line 4 last season: Nate Thompson centering Max Willman and Nic Aube-Kubel.
Line 4 this season: Tanner Laczynski or Patrick Brown centering Nic Deslauriers and Wade Allison/Zack MacEwen.
Comment: I’d give this year’s unit the edge, especially if Allison stays healthy.
Pairing 1 last season: Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis.
Pairing 1 this season: Provorov and Tony DeAngelo.
Comment: DeAngelo will boost the power play and help the offense. Defensively, he’s a weak link. Clearly, last year’s top pairing (before Ellis’ injury) was better than this season’s. As it turned out, Provorov and Justin Braun were on the top pairing for most of last season. If you compare that duo to this year’s likely pairing to start the season? Call it a tossup.
Pairing 2 last season: Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Pairing 2 this season: Sanheim and Ristolainen.
Comment: I cheated. Sort of. Ristolainen was injured and missed the first two games last season — Braun briefly replaced him on the second unit — but Risto and Sanheim were together for a bulk of the season. The Sanheim-Ristolainen pairing had its ups and downs, but the two developed chemistry and were on an upward trend toward the end of the season. Sanheim ended up winning the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s top defenseman.
Pairing 3 last season: Keith Yandle and Nick Seeler.
Pairing 3 this season: Cam York and Braun.
Comment: York, 21, is still inexperienced, but he should be an upgrade over Yandle, who was a great leader but had a miserable season (minus-47).
Starter last season: Carter Hart.
Starter this season: Hart.
Comment: Hart wasn’t great last season, but did improve over his 2020-21 disaster. More than anyone, he needs Ellis to return to the lineup as soon as possible to get the defense in sync.
This looks like a 70- to 75-point team at the moment. That could change if Ellis and Farabee are back to 100 percent early in the season.