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MELTZER: The Final Week

Three key items to pay attention to with one week to go

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

Excluding the September 30 exhibition game in Switzerland against Swiss National League team Lausaunne HC, the Flyers have only two games remaining in the preseason. The team will depart for Europe on Friday. 

By the time the Flyers set foot on the plane, the roster will be pared down close to its eventual composition for when the team takes on the Chicago Blackhawks at O2 Arena in Prague for the NHL Global Series regular season. Head coach Alain Vigneault indicated that the team will travel to Europe with as many as 25 players -- quite possibly 14 forwards, 8 defensemen and three goaltenders -- but has to get down to 23 players for the start of the season. The extras will travel with the team to Prague and be on hand in case of an injury that necessitates a callup for the NHL roster.
Before that happens, there will be roster cuts made this week after Monday night's game in Boston. After two days of practice and a game on Thursday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the roster will be reduced to the group that travels to Europe, although additional cuts must be made to file a season-opening 22 or 23 player roster. 
Cap-wise, the Flyers have just enough space to carry a 23-man roster, so it will be up to the coaches and general manager Chuck Fletcher to decide whether to have 23 players or 22 on the roster to start the season. As of now, the most likely composition of a 23-man roster would be 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.
The Flyers have already pared down the roster to the two goaltenders -- Carter Hart and Brian Elliott -- that will be on the team come opening night. The spare goaltender for the Switzerland game will be one among J-F Berube (assuming he clears waivers on Monday), Alex Lyon or rookie Felix Sandström. Assuming 14 forwards accompany the team overseas, one cut will be a forward if the team opens the season with eight defensemen on the roster.
While the remaining September games do not count in the standings, there is still much at individually and team-wise. Here are four things to watch over the final two games before the team leaves for Europe.
Vigneault said on Sunday that there are depth chart battles still at stake to determine three slots on the blueline depth chart: the sixth (third-pair starter), seventh (first up to dress in case of injury, slump or a specifically favorable matchup) and eighth (final roster spot, if eight D are carried) slots.
The contestants for the spots are rookie Phil Myers, incumbent veteran Robert Hägg (who started in all 82 games last season and 70 the previous year), a now-healthy Samuel Morin and third-year pro Mark Friedman. Chris Bigras, who had a two-point game against the Islanders last Tuesday, also remains in camp as of Monday.
On Monday night in Boston, Myers will be paired with Sanheim. The two were together at the first two practices in training camp and then placed with other partners last week before being reunited at Sunday's practice. Morin will be paired with Friedman against the Bruins. The two were also paired in Saturday's 4-1 home win over the New York Rangers.
Hägg is a lock to make the opening night roster. The question is whether he will be part of the starting lineup or scratched for the first time since March 2018. Hägg, who was paired with Sanheim and then Niskanen last week, is likely to play against the Rangers in New York. 
Andy Welinski, a pre-camp candidate for the seventh or eighth spot on the depth chart, is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Teams cannot send down injured players, so Welinski will have to start the season on injured reserve if he is not ready to be activated by opening night.
The pre-camp injuries to Nolan Patrick (upper body, week to week) and Tyler Pitlick (wrist surgery, returned to practice on Sept. 22 in a non-contact capacity) opened additional NHL roster possibilities for opening night, including a third-line center spot in the event that Patrick isn't able to start the season on the active roster. Given that Patrick has skated on his own but hasn't been cleared to practice, the possibility that another center will be needed for the game in Prague is significant. 
Pitlick, a third line/fourth line swingman at right wing, was close to a pre-camp lock for a starting spot in the bottom six. He may or may not be ready to be placed on the active roster for opening night. If not, he will start the season on injured reserve. 
Even before Pitlick was injured, there was a bottom six wing spot up for grabs heading into camp as well as a potential opening for a 13th (i.e., spare) forward.
The candidates vying for the spots: rookie hopeful centers German Rubtsov, Morgan Frost, and Mikhail Vorobyev, prospective rookie wingers Carsen Twarynski, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, center/winger Connor Bunnaman, veteran winger/center Andy Welinski, veteran winger Kurtis Gabriel (who returned to practice on Sunday after sustaining a lower-body injury in Uniondale last Tuesday), and veteran tryout winger Chris Stewart.
Rubtsov, Twarynski, Bunnaman, Andreoff, Aube-Kubel and Stewart are all in the lineup on Tuesday night. Although Bunnaman is probably the biggest longshot of the bunch to make the opening night roster, he is being rewarded for a diligent summer and quietly solid training camp by getting the chance to start the game in Boston on a line with Kevin Hayes and Oskar Lindblom as well as a netfront role on the second power play unit. 
Farabee and Vorobyev will not start on Monday. However, there is a good possibility that they will dress for Thursday's game in New York. If Rubtsov or Vorobyev earns the spot, it is possible that Scott Laughton slides up to the third line center role, and one of the Russian centers opens as the fourth-line center. Of course, all of this is contingent on Patrick's timetable. 
Frost will be out for the next 5-7 days with a groin strain, per GM Chuck Fletcher.
In their respective first starts of the preseason, Elliott and Hart went 30 minutes and were replaced midway through the second period. The next time out, each goalie played the first and second periods before being replaced for the third period. 
This week, for the first time, the starters will go the distance. Elliott will play the entire game in Boston, while Hart will get the whole game in New York.

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