The Big Four
Snap, crackle and pop should become familiar sounds to the medical staffs of teams playing the Flyers. Derian Hatcher again anchors the Flyers' defense. He had a disappointing season two years ago and came in for a lot of criticism. His improved play after a slow start last season went largely unnoticed amid the overall team collapse. Hatcher is big, strong, proud and determined to make the Flyers a winner again.
Jason Smith captained the Edmonton Oilers for several seasons and is known as one of the NHL's toughest defenders. Smith hits hard, blocks shots and keeps the slot clear, with a minimum of mistakes.
GM Paul Holmgren is counting on newcomer Kimmo Timonen to provide offense from the blue line. Timonen had 13 goals and 52 points with Nashville last season while finishing plus-20. He has played in two NHL All-Star Games and has won Olympic silver and bronze. He seems to be exactly what the Flyers want from an offensive defenseman.
Dennis Gauthier sometimes makes mistakes of over-eagerness when he steps up to deliver body checks. In that regard, he's a throwback to big hitters of a generation ago like Jamie Macoun, Craig Muni and a young Luke Richardson. Holmgren expects this overall blue-line nastiness will make an impression on 6-foot-5, 225-pound, second-year pro Braydon Coburn, whom he acquired from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik last February.
Get the point
Timonen is being counted on to quarterback the power play, an area in which the Flyers struggled badly last season. Eight of Timonen's 13 goals came on the power play and two were game-winners. He ranked 14th among NHL defenders in power-play goals. Like Zhitnik, Timonen is a left-handed shot. He has 79 goals in 573 NHL games, and had the highest shooting percentage of his career last season (10.7 percent).
In the Wings
Alexandre Picard -- Picard has moved quickly from an All-Star season in the Quebec League to a season with the Phantoms and 62 games last season with the Flyers. He had three goals and 22 points, but was minus-19 while getting good exposure to the speed and intensity of the NHL.
Lasse Kukkonen -- Acquired from Chicago late last season, Kukkonen is a good puck-mover, but he lacks offensive ability and is a bit light for a strictly defensive defenseman.
Ryan Parent -- He came over with Upshall from Nashville in the trade for Peter Forsberg and continued to play well for Guelph in the OHL. He played six games for the Phantoms and one for the Flyers at season's end. The former first-round pick will try to jump from juniors to the pros, but his long-term future is probably best served by a season in the AHL.
Braydon Coburn -- The eighth-overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft didn't develop as the Atlanta Thrashers hoped he would. The Flyers dealt Joni Pitkanen to Edmonton this summer in the deal for Smith after acquiring the younger Coburn in February. They’re hoping that the promise that made him a high first-round pick will finally start to translate into performance.