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31 in 31

Inside look at Philadelphia Flyers

Young players counted on to play big roles this season

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Philadelphia Flyers feel the time has come to take advantage of what they believe have been strong NHL Drafts and player development the past few seasons.

That means as many as five rookies could be on the opening night roster.

"We have a number of guys for two [forward] spots," general manager Ron Hextall said. "Who's going to step up? I don't know who's going to step up, it's up to them to do it. … We've got a spot or two up front, we've got a spot or two on defense. It's up to our kids to come in and prove that they can help make us a better team."

 

[FLYERS 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

Among those competing for forward spots will be center Nolan Patrick and left wing Oskar Lindblom. 

Patrick, 18, the second pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, missed most of last season because of a sports hernia. He had surgery June 13, keeping him off the ice for development camp, and then had a facial infection, but he's expected to be healthy for the start of training camp next month.

"Really big, prototypical center; [those are] very hard to find," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body (6-2, 198), extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set."

Lindblom, 20, a fifth-round pick (No. 138) in the 2014 NHL Draft, was fourth in the Swedish Hockey League with 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 47 games for Brynas last season.

The Flyers have two top-nine forward spots open after trading Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues and Nick Cousins to the Arizona Coyotes.

Video: 31 in 31: Philadelphia Flyers 2017-18 season preview

Also in line for a roster spot is forward Mike Vecchione, 24, who played two games for the Flyers last season after signing as a free agent from Union College. Vecchione could take the fourth-line center role left vacant when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.

Seeking spots on defense are Samuel Morin, 22, and Robert Hagg, 22, who each made his NHL debut last season, and Travis Sanheim, 21, and Philippe Myers, 20. Gone from last season's defense are Michael Del Zotto, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks, and Nick Schultz, who remains an unrestricted free agent.

But the Flyers need more than just their young players to step up to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That includes more production from top-line forwards Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Giroux's 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) were second on the Flyers, but it was his lowest total since 2009-10, his first full NHL season, when he had 47 points. Giroux said part of his struggles last season were because of his recovery from hip and abdominal surgery in May 2016.

Voracek had 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) to lead Philadelphia, but that's a big drop-off from three seasons ago when he was tied for fourth in the League with 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists).

Video: CBJ@PHI: Voracek shows great patience before PPG

"We need more from those guys," Hextall said. "They know it. They want more from themselves. They know they're very good players and they need to be very good players for us."

The Flyers also need goaltender Brian Elliott to be a very good player. He signed a two-year contract reportedly worth $5.5 million ($2.75 million average annual value) on July 1 to replace Steve Mason, who signed with the Winnipeg Jets.

After a slow start last season for the Calgary Flames, Elliott went 23-9-2 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in his final 36 games, and helped the Flames finish as the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

He will play in a time-share with Michal Neuvirth, a situation Elliott is no stranger to, from last season with Chad Johnson to his time with Jake Allen for the St. Louis Blues.

"Over the course of an 82-game season, you need a tandem, both guys, and we're excited about it," Hextall said. "I think Brian played very well the past six or seven years, and we view him as a pretty good goalie."

The veterans will provide guidance but it's the younger players who need to play a big role this season.

"Our feeling is now that our young guys have shown enough where they're going to get an opportunity to make our team," Hextall said. "There was a point a couple years ago we had some young names but they weren't ready to play, not ready to make us a better team. We feel like we're at that point where they're going to get an opportunity now."

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