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Flyers season preview: Hart facing high expectations

Handling pressure of being No. 1 goalie in Philadelphia big test for 21-year-old

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

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Coach: Alain Vigneault (first season)

Last season: 37-37-8; sixth place Metropolitan Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Hart's development as No. 1 goalie

Carter Hart was the sixth of an NHL-record eight goalies to start a game for the Flyers last season, but he brought a level of stability and confidence to the lineup when he arrived Dec. 17. He was 16-13-1 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 31 games (30 starts) as a rookie.

Now the 21-year-old enters the season as the No. 1 goalie, and he'll have to block out the pressure and expectation that comes with playing the position in Philadelphia while continuing to develop in the NHL.

Video: CAR@PHI: Hart gloves down Niederreiter's backhander

 

2. Hayes fitting in

The Flyers traded for Kevin Hayes on June 3 and then signed him to a seven-year contract June 19 to center the second line. He's coming off his most productive offensive season with 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games for the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. He also should feel comfortable playing for Vigneault, his coach for four seasons with the Rangers. Hayes and James van Riemsdyk have formed some early chemistry in training camp; they've known each other for several years through Jimmy Hayes, Kevin's older brother and van Riemsdyk's friend and teammate with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

 

3. Patrick's health

Nolan Patrick has not practiced since the start of training camp because of an upper-body injury. The 21-year-old center is considered week to week, but general manager Chuck Fletcher could not say if Patrick would be ready for the season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2019 NHL Global Series in Prague on Oct. 4. If Patrick misses time, Scott Laughton could move up to the third line from the fourth. Another option is Morgan Frost, the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. The 20-year-old has dealt with a groin injury but looked good during training camp and comfortable playing with and against more experienced players in preseason games. 

Video: PHI@NYI: Patrick slams home Giroux's feed 

 

4. Top-line right wing

Joel Farabee, the No. 14 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, has played most of the preseason at right wing on the top line with left wing Claude Giroux and center Sean Couturier. The 19-year-old was seen early on as a placeholder until restricted free agent Travis Konecny signed, which he did Sept. 17, but has stayed with Giroux and Couturier. Konecny scored 24 goals each of the past two seasons but could be shifted to the third line with left wing Oskar Lindblom, and Patrick when he's healthy, to spread out the scoring.

 

5. Special-teams changes

Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien bring a different approach to a power play that was tied for 22nd in the NHL last season (17.1 percent). That has included flipping Giroux from the left half-wall, where he's played most of the past few seasons, to the right side on the top unit. That could allow Giroux to make better use of van Riemsdyk, a left shot, in front of the net, similar to the way he used right-shooting Wayne Simmonds when they were teammates. 

Assistant Mike Yeo oversees a penalty kill that was 26th last season (78.5 percent) and has been in the bottom third of the NHL since 2014-15. Hayes, who killed penalties in New York, could be a big help in this area.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Chris Stewart has played himself into an option for a fourth-line spot. The 31-year-old, in camp on a professional tryout contract (PTO), has taken advantage of the opening created by the absence of Tyler Pitlick, who is recovering from September wrist surgery. Stewart last played in the NHL with the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild in 2017-18, and played 23 games in England last season, but has impressed with his physical play and urgency during the preseason. 

Among those pushing Stewart are 21-year-old Carsen Twarynski, who had 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 69 games with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League last season, and 21-year-old Connor Bunnaman, who was second on Lehigh Valley with 19 goals in 62 games last season.

 

Most intriguing addition

Defenseman Matt Niskanen, acquired in a trade from the Washington Capitals for defenseman Radko Gudas on June 14, adds depth, stability and Stanley Cup championship experience. During training camp, the right-handed shot has been playing with left-shot Ivan Provorov on the top defense pair. The 32-year-old will also likely play a big role on the penalty kill. 

Video: BOS@PHI: Niskanen goes upstairs with heavy slapper

 

Biggest potential surprise

Robert Hagg could start the season as the seventh defenseman, but he supplies a physical element missing after Gudas was traded. Hagg's 258 hits last season led NHL defensemen, and his 158 blocked shots led Flyers defensemen. He also had NHL career highs with five goals, 15 assists and 20 points in 82 games. He could be in the lineup more often if the Flyers determine they need more physicality.

 

Ready to break through

Farabee won the Tim Taylor Award as the top NCAA freshman men's ice hockey player last season with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 37 games at Boston University. The 19-year-old was expected to need at least some time in the AHL to adjust to the professional game, but his skilled play and high hockey IQ have him looking comfortable already.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Hayes (average draft position: 154.0) should bring value on the second line with potential exposure to van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Claude Giroux -- Sean Couturier -- Joel Farabee

James van Riemsdyk -- Kevin Hayes -- Jakub Voracek

Oskar Lindblom -- Nolan Patrick -- Travis Konecny

Michael Raffl -- Scott Laughton -- Chris Stewart

Ivan Provorov -- Matt Niskanen

Travis Sanheim -- Philippe Myers

Shayne Gostisbehere -- Justin Braun

Carter Hart

Brian Elliott

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