The Flyers 2019 Training Camp begins in earnest on Friday. There is much work to be done -- more than in a "typical" September camp, if there is such a thing -- before the team will be ready to push for a strong start to the regular season. Here are five storylines to track as they take shape during camp.
1. THE NEW SYSTEM
With sweeping changes on the coaching staff -- a new head coach in Alain Vigneault, a new penalty kill/ defense coach in Mike Yeo, a new power play/forwards coach in Michel Therrien, assistant coach Ian Laperriere now in a pre-scout and eye-in-the-sky role -- there will be major changes made to virtually every aspect of the systems the Flyers play.
Breakouts will be different. Assignments on neutral zone defense and entry challenges may change. The forecheck will likely be tweaked. The power play will be rebooted, even if the first unit personnel remains the same as last year. The penalty kill will have new personnel and some structural adjustments made.
That's a lot to absorb and it won't happen overnight. It will be important for the team to have productive, up-tempo practices, and to whittle down the start-of-camp roster fairly quickly once the glut of early preseason games dissipates and there is more opportunity for the main group to work cohesively together.
There is also a change in mentality needed: The team was far too prone to slow starts in games last season and attention to detail in team defense in particular was too often lacking. Every team talks about the need to play a 200-foot game but for a Flyers team that finished near the bottom of the NHL in team goals against average last season, that commitment has to begin on day one and be reinforced not only by the coaches but by the players in the locker room.
This is part of the reason why the Flyers added some veterans who have been important pieces on contending teams: they are here to help stabilize things when there is adversity and to lead by example.
2. YOUTH TAKING NEXT STEPS
Even with several veteran additions to the roster -- defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, center Kevin Hayes, currently injured right winger Tyler Pitlick -- a huge part of the Flyers fortunes in 2019-20 will ride on how well its homegrown talents perform this season. A strong training camp could help these players get a jump on the regular season.
Some key questions that must be answered:
* Will Nolan Patrick benefit from favorable matchups playing behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes on the depth chart, and will that translate into him taking a jump in the consistency of his play in his third NHL season?
* Will Travis Sanheim build on his strong second NHL season, especially in the second half when his role expanded? A positive answer to this question would go a long way toward making the top four on the blueline more dangerous.
* Will Ivan Provorov (once signed to a new contract) bounce back from a subpar 2018-19 season to the form he showed in his second NHL season?
* Will Shayne Gostisbehere bounce back from his own disappointing 2018-19 campaign?
* Will Oskar Lindblom take the small jump needed to become a 20+ goal scorer in the NHL on top of playing his typical reliable two-way game?
* Will Travis Konecny (once signed) advance his game to where he has fewer dry spells, pushes his goal totals into at least the upper 20s and his points to 60+?
* Crucially, is Carter Hart the real deal as a potential NHL starter at age 21?
It will not be possible to get answers to these questions in the training camp and preseason setting. However, there should be some early hints about who seems to be on the right track. The Flyers will need positive outcomes on most of these questions -- even if it is a stretch to say that each and every one will fall smoothly into place -- as the regular season progresses.
3. THE ROOKIE CLASS
There is at least one starting job and possibly two up for grabs as the season approaches; most notably, a third-line wing spot alongside Patrick. Will any of the NHL rookie hopefuls -- Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, and Mikhail Vorobyev being the most likely names to push for an opening-night spot -- earn a job for the start of the season? Alternatively, will a veteran be installed to start the season.
On the blue line, Phil Myers stands a strong chance of earning a roster spot. He is still technically a rookie, as he played 21 games last season for the Flyers and the NHL's threshold is 25 games.
4. BATTLE FOR THE BLUE... LINE
Barring injury, Provorov, Niskanen, Sanheim, Braun and Gostisbehere are locks to open the season as the top five on the Flyers' blueline depth chart. But who will be the sixth starter? Myers would give the team the opportunity to pair three right-handed defensemen with three left-handed D. But Robert Hägg started all 82 games last season and 70 as a rookie in 2017-18, so he's still in the mix. Finally healthy after missing most of the last two seasons, Sam Morin will also compete in camp for playing time.
Will the Flyers carry seven defensemen or eight? If they carry eight and there is either an injury or a player traded, offseason addition Andy Welinski could potentially round out the roster.
5. MORE THAN A TRY OUT?
Veteran power forward Chris Stewart is in camp on a professional try-out (PTO), vying for a fourth-line or 13th forward role. His competition in camp includes the likes of Andy Andreoff, who appears to have the pre-camp edge for a spot. That can change, however, and a youngster such as Nicolas Aube-Kubel could also step up to beat out a vet.