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Flyers turn to youth movement in quest for return to playoffs

Roster could include five rookies, including center Patrick, No. 2 pick of 2017 Draft

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

The Philadelphia Flyers will go with a younger roster, one that could include as many as five rookies, as they try to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Our feeling is now that our young guys have shown enough where they're going to get an opportunity to make our team," general manager Ron 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."

The Flyers lacked consistency last season, becoming the first NHL team to have a winning streak of at least 10 games and miss the postseason. They also struggled at even strength, scoring 128 5-on-5 goals, tied for fourth-fewest in the League.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Flyers, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:

 

5 KEYS

1. Giroux returns to form

Claude Giroux is determined to show that he remains among the elite players in the NHL. "Lot of people are doubting me as a hockey player," he said. "Just feel like I have something to prove. It's a good feeling to have." He had 14 goals in 2016-17, his fewest in a full NHL season, and his 58 points were the fewest he's had since 2009-10. Some of that drop-off was a slow recovery from hip and abdominal muscle surgery in May 2016. But he's healthy and teammates have said that Giroux is skating better than he has in the past.

Video: PIT@PHI: Bellemare intercepts pass, sets up Giroux

2. Patrick becomes key contributor

Nolan Patrick became the centerpiece of the Flyers' youth movement when they selected him with the No. 2 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. So far during training camp, he's shown no signs of being bothered by the sports hernias that affected him last season. With a high hockey IQ and NHL-ready size (6-foot-2, 198 pounds), the Flyers feel Patrick can develop into an offensive complement to Giroux at second-line center.

3. Elliott is upgrade in net

Goalie Brian Elliott signed a two-year contact July 1 to replace Steve Mason. Elliott said one reason for his poor start to last season with the Calgary Flames, when he won three of his first 14 games and had a 3.31 goals-against average and .886 save percentage, was the birth of his first child Oct. 2. Attending to his wife and newborn son left little time to bond with new teammates during training camp. That's not an issue this season. "Grabbing lunches together, dinner, things like that," Elliott said. "It's a great group of guys. People have been asking me if there are any bad apples in the dressing room, someone you know you're not going to get along with. Everybody's been great, everybody's excited."

Video: CGY@VAN: Elliot thwarts Burrows' scoring chance

4. Improved 5-on-5 play

The Flyers' 54 power-play goals were seventh in the NHL, but their 128 5-on-5 goals were tied for 26th. Full seasons for Valtteri Filppula and Jordan Weal could change that. Filppula's 12 goals last season, including five in 20 games with the Flyers after they acquired him in a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 1, came at even strength. Weal scored seven even-strength goals in 23 games after being called up from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Feb. 11. Weal could help replace forward Brayden Schenn, who was traded to the St. Louis Blues on June 23. Schenn tied Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov for the League lead with 17 power-play goal last season, but he had eight even-strength goals in 79 games.

5. New-look defense

The Flyers wanted to get more mobile on defense and will turn to their rich crop of prospects to accomplish that goal. Among the candidates are Samuel Morin, 22, the No. 11 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft; Robert Hagg, 22, a second-round pick (No. 41) in the 2013 draft; and Travis Sanheim, 21, the No. 17 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. Morin and Hagg each looked solid in a one-game call-up last season and could have the edge. Regardless of who makes it, the defense must be faster with its skating and decision-making compared to last season, when the Flyers struggled to clear the puck and would get hemmed in by stronger, faster forwards.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

Giroux will turn 30 on Jan. 12 but remains the Flyers' most dominant presence in all areas. He'll play on the top line -- most likely at left wing rather than center after coach Dave Hakstol experimented during training camp -- and the top power-play unit, and will get time killing penalties. He said he's healthy now and is motivated to show he can be the player he was in 2013-14, when he was third in the League with 86 points and was a Hart Trophy finalist.

Biggest battle

Elliott figures to be the No. 1 goalie, but Michal Neuvirth should push him for playing time. Health is the X factor for Neuvirth, who played 28 games in 2016-17 and 32 in 2015-16 as the backup to Mason. He collapsed in his crease from dehydration and sustained a concussion striking his head on the ice April 1 against the New Jersey Devils. The 29-year-old missed nearly two months because of a knee injury last season, when he was 11-11-1 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .891 save percentage after going 18-8-4 with a 2.27 GAA and .924 save percentage in 2015-16.

Video: PHI@NYR: Neuvirth makes quick pad save on Nash

Most intriguing addition

The NHL Draft Lottery balls bounced in the Flyers' favor April 29, moving them from No. 13 to the No. 2 pick, which they used to select Patrick. The 19-year-old has said he's fully recovered from the sports hernias that hampered him last season, and on his first day of training camp, he was at center on a line with 2017 NHL All-Star Game MVP Wayne Simmonds and Weal.

Biggest potential surprise

Forward Scott Laughton was on the Flyers' protected list for the NHL Expansion Draft. The 20th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, Laughton played two NHL games last season, but after a strong season with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League, he'll be competing with Jori Lehtera, Michael Raffl, Matt Read and Dale Weise for a spot on the fourth line.

 

PROJECTED LINES

Claude Giroux -- Sean Couturier -- Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal -- Nolan Patrick -- Wayne Simmonds

Oskar Lindblom -- Valtteri Filppula -- Travis Konecny

Jori Lehtera -- Scott Laughton -- Matt Read

Ivan Provorov -- Andrew MacDonald

Samuel Morin -- Shayne Gostisbehere

Travis Sanheim -- Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth

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