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Young forwards key element to Flyers lineup

by Corey Masisak

The Ron Hextall era has begun for the Philadelphia Flyers, but his first roster is going to look pretty similar to the last one of Paul Holmgren's tenure.

Hextall is the new general manager, with Holmgren promoted to team president. The Flyers still have a lot of the same strengths (strong group of forwards) and weaknesses (slow/old group of defensemen) and the salary cap situation remains delicate.

Philadelphia shook off a terrible start to the 2013-14 season and still made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There could be increased contributions from young players up front, while the defense corps and goaltending likely will be the same.


Undervalued: Wayne Simmonds -- In terms of fantasy category coverage, it doesn't get much better than Simmonds. The right wing finished third in the League with 15 power-play goals last season behind Alex Ovechkin (24) and Joe Pavelski (16), and was the only player with 60-plus points and 100-plus PIMs. Simmonds' hits (132) and shots on goal (209) make him more valuable, and fantasy owners should begin to consider him once the fourth or fifth round rolls around.

Overvalued: Mark Streit -- Streit, 36, warrants consideration among the top 40 fantasy defenseman because of his point production (nine multipoint games in 2013-14, tied for 12th among D-men), but he has never been a sure thing in terms of rating, shots on goal or penalty minutes. He finished last season on a six-game point streak but had three stretches of five-plus games without a point. Kimmo Timonen is out indefinitely with blood clots in his leg but the Flyers signed Michael Del Zotto, so fantasy owners should have no reason to reach for Streit until later rounds.

Sleeper: R.J. Umberger -- If Michael Raffl isn't ready to assume the spot alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, Umberger could resurrect his career on one of the strongest lines in the NHL. Umberger returns to Philadelphia after he got lost in the Columbus Blue Jackets' deep forward mix and dealt with injury late last season, but he is a five-time 20-plus goal scorer who is more than capable of filling the top-six void left by Scott Hartnell. Umberger saw 2:03 per game with the man-advantage last season in Columbus and could emerge as Philadelphia's fourth productive power-play forward.

-- Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen

Since the seismic shift after the 2010-11 season, the Flyers have won one less playoff series in three seasons than departed stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have won championships. Between 1994-95 and 2005-06, Philadelphia finished first or second in its division each season. The only time that has happened since was 2010-11, and an early playoff exit led to the big trades.

Hextall's mission will be simple: Find ways to alleviate some of the salary cap issues while restoring a higher standard of excellence for a proud franchise.

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Flyers:


Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek

Jason Akeson - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds

R.J. Umberger - Sean Couturier - Matt Read

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Vincent Lecavalier - Zac Rinaldo

Jay Rosehill

The Columbus Blue Jackets earned plenty of praise for trading Umberger for Scott Hartnell, but the same could not be said about the other side of the transaction. Umberger still could be a solid player, but the Flyers probably didn't need another contract like that.

Giroux and Voracek have formed a one of the NHL's best partnerships, but who skates beside them with Hartnell gone is something to be determined during training camp. Similarly, Schenn and Simmonds along with Couturier and Read are strong foundations for three productive lines, though Simmonds or Read could end up next to Giroux.

Bellemare is a bit of a wild card. Lecavalier probably doesn't want to be one of the most expensive fourth-line centers in the League, but he'd have to show he can be a productive player on the wing to move up in the lineup.

Another one to watch is Scott Laughton, who got a small taste of the NHL in 2012-13 before completing his Ontario Hockey League career the past two seasons.


Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn

Andrew MacDonald - Luke Schenn

Nicklas Grossmann - Mark Streit

Nick Schultz

Timonen had a fantastic season in 2013-14, but blood clots that have him hospitalized in Finland have cast his availability for this season into doubt. Timonen and Coburn were expected to handle a lot of the tough minutes.

The Flyers signed Michael Del Zotto hours after announcing Timonen's problem. They also have young defensemen who could help at some point in Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg, but the top seven (plus Chris Pronger, who will be placed on long-term injured reserve) comprise one of the most expensive defense corps in the NHL.

MacDonald had terrible puck possession numbers with the New York Islanders, and a decreased workload with the Flyers didn't help much. Grossmann was the most likely Philadelphia defenseman to be on the ice for a defensive-zone faceoff in 2013-14.


Steve Mason

Ray Emery

The 2013-14 season was Mason's best season since he was a rookie in 2008-09. He also was pretty inconsistent after a strong start (.934 save percentage through the end of November, .909 from Dec. 1 through the end of the season).

Mason also was tied for 20th in even-strength save percentage among goaltenders with at least 35 games played, but tied for ninth in shorthanded save percentage. Members of the hockey analytics community have argued the latter is far more random and difficult to sustain.

The Flyers need Mason to provide slightly above-average goaltending, unless the youth up front helps lead to an infusion of more goals. His backup, Emery, has sandwiched a very good season with two below-average ones, including a .903 save percentage in 28 games (21 starts) in 2013-14.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Scott Laughton, F Andrew Gordon, D Shayne Gostisbehere, D Olivier Lauridsen, G Rob Zepp


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