Rookies' inexperience could spell Flyers' end


Rookies' inexperience could spell Flyers' end

The reason to love the Flyers going forward is the same reason why they can only go so far this spring.

Their rookies have scored 62 goals, helping them to the NHLs third-best team goal total and probably its most relentless shift-after-shift attack. These kids are good, fast, and perhaps just as important in a capped NHL will work cheaply over the next several seasons. With or without Chris Pronger, this nucleus can bring Philadelphia a long awaited Cup sometime over the next few springs.

For this one, though, we have our doubts. As sustaining as has been the play of Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood through four months of substandard goaltending and one of the leagues higher totals of man-games lost, a year from now these kids likely will be telling us there was no way their first NHL regular season could fully prepare them for their first playoff.

We wouldnt be in this situation if wasnt for the way those guys contributed through the course of the year, insisted Peter Laviolette Monday. I have absolutely no doubt that they are going to play a good hockey game for us.

From Ken Morrow to Patrick Roy to Jaromir Jagr to Laviolettes own Cam Ward in Carolina, the history of Stanley Cup winners is filled with rookie heroes. So perhaps there is strength in the numbers or in having only one first-year player Schenn playing on one of the first two lines Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Like Scott Hartnell said Monday, every team is only as good as its first line. But we have seen enough first lines choke from the scrutiny of game plans, fans and media to also believe that the only thing more important than a first line in the playoffs is scoring support from a second and third line. And going against a Pittsburgh team without a rookie, the first step of four for these Flyers, is going to be slippery.

Considering the entire NHL playoff experiences of Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek were one-time one-and-dones for Los Angeles and Columbus, the team resume doesnt report too many battle tests. The Flyers have exactly five forwards who have ever won a playoff series, going up against a team with 11 players who have won a Stanley Cup.

The Flyers have three: Jagr 20 years ago with Pittsburgh, Max Talbot with the 2009 Penguins and Ilya Bryzgalov, who played four playoff games for the 2007 Ducks. Thats a massive difference in experience that likely will overcome whatever doubts the Penguins sustained in substantially losing the season series to the Flyers, or the failure to beat them in a meaningful game at CONSOL Energy Center in the two years since it opened.

To a man, the Flyers marched in front of the microphones to announce the need for discipline against the team of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Obviously, this is the dominant talking point by Laviolette and his assistants. The Penguins, likewise, may feel they have nothing to fear but the Flyers potent power play, so indeed may the smartest team win. Pittsburgh has not played as carefully since Crosbys return, and of course, Philadelphia has a punchers chance.

The Flyers can get after you over the course of a game more than any team in the league, said an opposing coach. But I dont see the structure I see with most of the top teams.

Too many outnumbered breaks, too many guys left alone in the defensive zone. I dont know if you can win in the playoffs that way.

The defensive play got better over the last month with the acquisition of Nick Grossmann, his badly needed physicality and shot blocking working hand-in-hand with an improved Bryzgalov. The vise will have to crank one full rotation tighter to beat Pittsburgh, Boston or the Rangers, much more mature teams than the ones the Flyers beat on their 2010 Final run.

This series is going to be decided by decisions at the blue lines. And the Penguins have a much longer track record for making good ones.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at

2016 Flyers free-agent fit: Maple Leafs RW P.A. Parenteau?

2016 Flyers free-agent fit: Maple Leafs RW P.A. Parenteau?

Each day from now until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, producers Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile some of the league’s top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

P.A. Parenteau, right wing

Age: 33
Height: 6-0
Weight: 200
Last team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2015-16 cap hit: $1.5 million

Scouting report
Parenteau was drafted with the 264th overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks back when the draft went nine rounds and he's enjoyed a relatively productive career.

The 6-foot right winger has played eight seasons with five different teams, with Toronto being his last club. His most successful seasons came in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with the Islanders.

During the '11-12 campaign, Parenteau set career highs in assists (49) and points (67). He used that season to cash in during free agency, signing a four-year, $16 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche, but he never found much success out in Colorado.

Parenteau spent two seasons with the Avalanche, playing in all 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and 55 games in 2013-14. He registered 76 points in two seasons with Colorado before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens in June 2014.

In Montreal, he was hindered by injuries and found himself as a healthy scratch on occasion. In 56 games with the Habs, Parenteau had eight goals and 22 points.

Last summer, he inked a one-year deal with the rebuilding Maple Leafs and enjoyed his best season since 2012-13, his first in Colorado. Parenteau netted 20 markers, tying a career high, and 41 points in 77 games with Toronto last season.

I wouldn't be opposed to bringing in Parenteau at the right price, but he's not a great fit.

He made an affordable $1.5 million last season and scored 20 goals again. If the Flyers are looking for a scoring winger on the cheap, he could be an option.

The problem with Parenteau is, he's easy to knock off the puck and is a one-dimensional player. That doesn't sound like he would get along with head coach Dave Hakstol.

Parenteau is a proven playmaker who's produced points at this level. He could help on the power play and when he has the puck, he controls it well.

It depends on how much general manager Ron Hextall is willing to pay for scoring. If he wants a more complete player, Parenteau is not the answer.

But if he wants to bring in a veteran on a one- or two-year contract with a cap hit under $2 million, then Parenteau could be attractive.

Ultimately, I don't see Parenteau signing with the orange and black.

Time will tell if passing on Kieffer Bellows for German Rubtsov will be right or wrong move

Time will tell if passing on Kieffer Bellows for German Rubtsov will be right or wrong move

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Most times, it takes several years to properly gauge whether an NHL club had a good, bad or even great draft.
Yet even Ron Hextall admitted after this year’s draft ended Saturday that it would difficult to think the Flyers' top two picks this weekend — forwards German Rubtsov and Pascal Laberge — measure up equally to last year’s top two, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.
“We were [No.] 7 last year and now 18 to 22,” the Flyers' general manager said. “Given where we were at, we did really well. The first four guys — shocked they were there that deep. We thought maybe two of three we get or one for sure.
“So we were happy with our whole draft. I am not focusing on our top four guys … you are kind of holding your breath and those two guys were there. We felt we did pretty well.”
Hextall’s goal was to stock up on bigger, more skilled forwards, which the organization is sorely lacking.
The Flyers went in with 11 picks, flipped one for a pick next year and came away with seven forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. They added size and skill, but they didn’t pluck a pure goal scorer.
Rubstov is an all-around center. He’s not Kieffer Bellows, a 50-goal left winger the Flyers should have taken. Both Hextall and Chris Pryor, the club’s director of scouting, said going into the draft that “all Bellows does is score goals.”
Exactly. He’s one-dimensional.
And goal scoring is the one dimension the Flyers desperately needed. All Danny Briere did was score goals, as well. Where does it say every forward on your team has to be a complete, two-way player?
That’s why Hextall stunned people by trading down from No. 18 to 22, thereby leaving Bellows for the Islanders to select at No. 19.
Time will tell whether the Flyers drop-down trade with Winnipeg was the right move.
Hextall believes the team got everything it wanted in this draft, regardless of how people feel about bypassing Bellows. Rubtsov was ranked the fifth best international skater by NHL Central Registry.
“We wanted speed, we wanted size,” Hextall said. “We wanted skill. Obviously, it’s not in every player. But we feel like we got all three elements. We had enough picks.
“It was a lot easier to zero in on. Some of it is combinations like Laberge and Rubtsov and [Wade] Allison. Big guys. Good skaters with speed and skill. We’re excited. Excited about the draft. I say it every year.”
The top four Hextall referenced were Rubtsov, plus his three picks in the second round. Laberge, taken at No. 36, is a 6-foot-1 center/winger who overcame personal tragedy to become a mentally-tough, top U-18 prospect at the world juniors.
Allison, taken at No. 52, is a 6-2 right wing, who had 25 goals in 56 games for Tri-City in the USHL. He’s enrolled at Western Michigan University for the fall.
Carter Hart, taken before him at No. 48, was the Flyers' lone goalie selection. He’s 6-1. Central Registry had him ranked second among North American goalies and he ended up being the first goalie taken in the draft.
Hart played in 63 of his club’s 72 games — the Everett Silvertips of the WHL — with a 2.14 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Hextall said he envisions him as a No. 1 goaltender in the near future. 
Every club tries to locate a sleeper and the Flyers think they might have found one with their last pick. Defenseman David Bernhardt, taken in the seventh round at 199, played for Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League.
European scout Joakim Grundberg spotted him.
“Those kids in the back part of your draft, there are certain elements to their game you grab onto and certain things they need to get better at,” Pryor said.
“Whether it be getting stronger or a little more consistent. Some of those kids at the back part of our draft, our guys have seen a lot of those guys and usually have a real, good feel for them.
“Sometimes those kids slide back a bit and you grab onto them. Like the Bernhardt kid. Joakim saw a lot of him. You know there are some inconsistencies there, but a lot there to like. The Swedes invited him to their Under 20 camp this summer. They think there is something there.”
In a few years, the Flyers should find out if their hunch paid off.
Free agency
It opens on Friday — July 1. The interview period has begun and Hextall said he might sit down with a few people.
Hextall again emphasized that given he still has not re-signed some of his own key players, such as Brayden Schenn and Ryan White, he has salary cap restraints. He was unable to move any veteran players at this draft to create cap space.
Schenn, who had a breakout season (26 goals, 59 points) should get close to $5 million even though he is restricted. The Flyers have less than $12 million cap space. When it’s all said and done, they might have just $6 million left and Hextall wants at least $2 million reserve on his cap.
Barring moving salary via a trade that implies the most the Flyers can spend in free agency is $4 million on a top nine forward.
“If we can add someone for the right term and right price, we’ll do it,” Hextall said.

10 observations from the 2016 NHL draft

10 observations from the 2016 NHL draft

Another year, another draft well done by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall.

Hextall entered the weekend with 11 picks with five in the first three rounds. By the time the Flyers' name was called at No. 18, he traded down and added another second-rounder.

The trade: No. 18 and No. 79 to Winnipeg for No. 22 and No. 36. More on this later.

In all, the Flyers made 10 selections this weekend. They needed to stock the cupboard with forward talent, and they accomplished their goal by adding seven (see story).

It was another eventful draft for the orange and black and the league. It's always a fun weekend for hockey die-hearts. Now, the offseason moves on to free agency (July 1).

But before we get there, let's break down the 2016 NHL draft with 10 observations.

1. I fell in love with the idea of the Flyers drafting Kieffer Bellows at 18.

So when their name came up in the first round and Bellows was still on the board, I thought it was best case scenario for the Flyers. They'll finally get a scoring winger.

Bellows, the son of former NHL sniper, Brian Bellows, fit the mold of what the orange and black needed. He plays wing, has size and is a power scorer. Sounded like a perfect fit.

But it's clear Hextall didn't see Bellows head and shoulders above the available prospects, and saw more value in moving down four spots and adding another second-rounder.

The initial disappointment of the Flyers passing up Bellows was quickly swallowed up by reason. Sometimes we fall in love with certain players and forget the bigger picture.

In the mid-to-late first round — where the Flyers were picking — it's a crapshoot, so the difference between a Kieffer Bellows, a Julien Gauthier and a German Rubtsov isn't much.

Hextall's decision to step back to No. 22 and pick up another second-rounder, too, carried more value than drafting one prospect at No. 18. Reason outweighs emotion all the time.

2. When the Flyers' name came up again at 22, all the pins were lined up.

It appeared the orange and black were going to grab Max Jones, a power forward who was linked to the team heading into the draft.

Both Gauthier and Jones were possible at 18, so to think the Flyers were able to move back to 22, pick up another second-rounder and still grab one of them was intriguing. (Gauthier was drafted at No. 21 by Carolina.)

Instead, Hextall called the name of German Rubtsov, a center whose stock may have fallen because of the Russian doping scandal. It was yet another best player available pick.

Rubstov is a unique Russian prospect because he plays a much more North American game. He's strong on the puck, wins puck battles, skates well and plays a 200-foot game.

He's going to fit in well with what Hextall is building and sounds like a fit for head coach Dave Hakstol's system, which is important to remember here, too.

It's another exciting piece of the Flyers' future. We know about the defensive prospects. We know about Travis Konecny. And now we'll quickly find out about Rubtsov, too.

3. Some initial worry about the Rubtsov pick was the Flyers' glut of centers, which is a fair assessment. There can be a situation where you have too many centers.

But there shouldn't be much concern about Rubtsov being a center. Konecny plays center and wing, and the Flyers envision him playing right wing in the NHL.

If the Flyers view Konecny as a winger at the NHL level, then Rubtsov being a center doesn't really matter. Let's take a look down the road a few years here.

Say Rubtsov doesn't come over for two more seasons — when his contract in the KHL expires. That gives the Flyers Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Rubtsov as their 1-2-3 centers.

Who's on the wing? Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Brayden Schenn — assuming he signs a long-term extension here this summer. That's a really promising top six.

And then Rubtsov gives you a third-line center who can score. Depth is big, and with the BPA at the Flyers' pick this year being a forward, it's all coming together for Hextall.

4. We have to applaud the Flyers' first of three second-round picks. Pascal Laberge was considered a first-round talent by many, but fell into the orange and black's hands at 36.

Laberge penned an essay for The Players' Tribute on Thursday that shed some details on how difficult of a year it has been for the 18-year-old. It puts things into perspective.

You can read it here. Laberge's stepmother died last September because of metastatic cancer, and then his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly after. All of this while Laberge was working hard to accomplish his dream of playing in the NHL.

As for the hockey side, Laberge is a good fit with the Flyers. He swarms the puck and plays with a bit of a physical edge. He's got some good offensive instincts, too.

In a few years, I have a feeling we'll look back at this pick as a steal.

5. Wade Allison is a bit of a project, but one Flyers fans should be excited about.

Allison, the Flyers' third second-round pick (52nd overall), is a big, power forward type who describes himself as a player who likes to drive to the net and shoot the puck.

The one knock on Allison that needs improvement is his skating, which he admitted Saturday. If his skating improves and he continues to grow, the Flyers can strike here.

He'll do so under Andy Murray at Western Michigan University. The Flyers hope their former assistant coach can help groom Allison into an NHL player during his time at WMU.

6. It didn't take long for the first surprise of the draft, when Columbus drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 3. Dubois should shake out as a quality NHL player, but the Blue Jackets needed a superstar and Puljujarvi is going to be that.

Maybe Puljujarvi's minor knee surgery scared Jarmo Kekäläinen away. But the feeling here is Columbus completely whiffed at an opportunity to greatly improve its organization.

Edmonton strikes gold again. Puljujarvi goes to the Oilers to play with Connor McDavid. That's scary.

7. The draft has the reputation of being a place where blockbusters happen, but in recent years, it hasn't really been that way. There have been few, but more smoke than fire.

Still, there was some movement in the first round Friday night. Washington acquired Lars Eller from Montreal and the Canadiens got Andrew Shaw from Chicago in a separate move.

We didn't see the blockbuster this year, but we saw seven trades in the first round and nine on Day 2, none of which fall under the blockbuster category.

There's always next year.

8. Sometimes a step backward is the best step forward. Calgary had a disappointing 2015-16 campaign after making the playoffs in the season before, but make no mistake here.

The future is bright in Calgary. Last season, the Flames finished 26th in the league and earned themselves the No. 6 pick. It was a step backward for a rebuilding organization.

But let's look at perspective. It's important because of the Flyers' situation. The 2014-15 Flames team was not a playoff team, yet squeaked its way into the postseason.

Sound familiar? It should. It's an accurate general description of the 2015-16 Flyers.

Now, Calgary adds a big, goal-scoring winger in Matthew Tkachuk who adds size to a team that needs it and some flare, too.

Tkachuk was expected to be a top-five pick, but fell to the Flames. In this space last year, I praised Calgary for a strong draft, too. This team is on the rise.

And Tkachuk wasn't even the best news for Calgary this weekend. Moments after drafting the winger from London, the Flames acquired goalie Brian Elliot from the St. Louis Blues.

Book it. The Calgary Flames will be a playoff team in 2016-17 and may even win a series.

9. One of my favorite parts of professional sports drafts in today's age of social media is seeing people retweet old tweets from players. It happens in all four sports.

This weekend's NHL draft featured the more of the same. My personal favorite comes from Boston Bruins first-round pick Charlie McAvoy, who "hates the bruins so much," according to a now-deleted tweet from 2013.

A runner-up comes from the Flyers' Allison. He doesn't like people who pour milk before pouring cereal, which I agree with. Who does that?

10. The Steven Stamkos watch is officially on. Get your popcorn ready, sit back and watch the Sabres throw "geography" at Stamkos because that is always the deciding factor when superstars decide to leave their original team. But seriously, I think he goes to Buffalo.