Nothing is set in stone in terms of the Flyers' opening-night line combinations, especially not during the early days of training camp. Nevertheless, there is a good chance that, come Oct. 4 in Vegas, Nolan Patrick will center left wing James van Riemsdyk and right wing Jakub Voracek.
It remains to be seen how much success the line attains, but it has the promise of being a potent combination of youth (Patrick) and experience (JVR and Voracek), size (all three) and puck skill (all three), playmaking prowess (Voracek), shooting ability (JVR) plus Patrick's rapidly emerging multi-dimensional game. Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said that it was not a tough decision to open camp with the three players together.
"It makes sense on paper, but until you see it up close on the ice, there's no way of knowing. I liked what it looked like today. We'll leave that group together again [on Saturday]. We'll probably split things up as we go into some exhibition games. We'll see how it develops. I wanted to see it right away. We think that that group has a chance to be together three weeks from now, so let's give it an early look," Hakstol said.
"It takes time to build chemistry, even if all the pieces seem to make sense together, it still takes time to build that chemistry. I thought this was a good opportunity through a couple of hard practices for that group to be together and see if there is some of that initial spark, some of that initial chemistry. I thought there was today."
While the trio is in its nascent stages as a line, there were several junctures in Friday afternoon's session where the line clicked during the drills.
"I thought we were making some good plays for Day One. I thought it was as much chemistry as you could have for one skate together. It felt good," Patrick said.
Patrick and Voracek were regular linemates last year in the second half of the season, primarily with Oskar Lindblom on left wing. While often effective with Lindblom, the line's goal production could increase with the addition of van Riemsdyk, a 36-goal scorer last season.
"I'm comfortable with Jake. We played together quite a bit last year. Obviously, JVR's an unbelievable player. You can just tell from one skate. He sees the ice so well. The short passes he can make and the plays he makes, it's going to be fun to get a chance to play with him," Patrick said.
Back in 2011-12, which was Voracek's first year with the Flyers and the third and final season of van Riemsdyk's early career stint with the Flyers, the two sporadically were linemates with one among Max Talbot, Danny Briere or a rookie Sean Couturier as their center. Both Voracek and JVR were young players at the time. They have matured and changed in players in the years since then.
Has Voracek noticed an on-ice difference with van Riemsdyk from the six subsequent years in which JVR played for the Toronto Maple Leafs before his return to the Flyers this summer?
"It's hard to say right now. When we played Toronto, obviously you see him on the ice but you are more focused on your own team and your own performance. Obviously, we're on the same line right now. I'll tell you more after we play a couple games together. …Should be fun," Voracek said.
During his time in Toronto, van Riemsdyk grew very accustomed to playing with Tyler Bozak (now with the St. Louis Blues) as a fixture on his line. The third member of the line changed frequently. After the first day of camp, JVR said that he fully expects that some time will be needed to get acclimated to the team and his new linemates. He, too, was pleased with the early signs.
"Obviously, there's going to be some new adjustments to make and different things you have to get used to. Playing in one place for six years and I basically had the same linemate for all six of those years, so you have some adjusting to do. Today, I was lined up with some pretty talented players so that's exciting. We had some decent chemistry for the start but hopefully we get a chance to keep working at that through camp and going forward," van Riemsdyk said.
The most exciting part, to JVR, is that Voracek and Patrick have the most important trait that he appreciates in linemates: ice vision. Different players have different styles but ones who can anticipate where their linemates will be and where they like the puck to be delivered are inevitably the easiest players with whom to establish chemistry.
"Smart players, and I'm sure like everyone else, you like playing with smart players and guys who have some skill. You're lucky enough, when you play in this league, you get a chance to play with lots of guys like that, so the guys I got to play with today, Jake and Patty, they obviously fit that mold," van Riemsdyk said.Video: Check in with the Flyers following day 1 of camp