You don’t need to be clairvoyant to predict that Jason Akeson is going to get another look from the Flyers in Game 1 of the playoffs this week against the Rangers.
In fact, it’s almost certain the 23-year-old winger will replace Steve Downie in the lineup.
Akeson had an impressive outing in his only game this season Sunday during the Flyers' 6-5 regular season-ending shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes (see story).
He set up a Matt Read goal in the first period and looked comfortable on Sean Couturier’s shutdown unit with a plus-1 rating in 13:22 of play.
Could we see him this week?
“Yeah, sure,” Berube said. “He's a heads-up player. He's got skill and he has composure with the puck. He's a skill guy, but he's got composure and I thought he played a good game.”
The key words were “heads-up” and “composure,” two things that are at the heart of why Downie was benched the final two games of the regular season.
Downie, who has been undisciplined (read: composure) in too many games, had two significant mental lapses (read: heads up) that cost the Flyers two goals in the loss at Tampa Bay last week. A loss that allowed the Rangers to clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Berube wasn’t happy. He doesn’t forget those things, which is why Akeson figures to be his replacement.
Akeson, who scored 24 goals and had 64 points with the Phantoms this season, now has a goal and an assist in two NHL career games.
“It’s pretty easy to get an assist when guys put it home like that,” Akeson said of his helper on Read’s 22nd goal of the season.
This was no easy fill-in on the Flyers' top shutdown line. Also, you have to consider Akeson was handed one shot to make an impression before the playoffs begin. That’s pressure.
“I just wanted to make an impact and kinda show what I got and what I’ve been working hard all year for,” the native of Orleans, Ontario said. “If it does come and you get that call, you got to be ready.
“It’s a little bit nerve racking out there, especially on my first time playing in Philly in front of home fans. It’s pretty exciting, I had a good time and hopefully, I made a good impact.”
He admitted he hoped Berube would keep him around, too.
“That’s what you’re gonna do if you come out here and play,” he said. “You don’t want to give them a bad reason to not play you. I just want to give them every reason to get the call.”
You also had to like that Akeson pulled a veteran move by talking to fellow Phantom goalie Cal Heeter, who made his NHL debut Sunday and had a rocky first period with three goals against on nine shots (see story). Akeson gave his teammate some words of encouragement.
“Obviously he was little bit nervous,” Akeson said. “I know that I was nervous out there. He’s been working hard all year and he’s had a great year.
“It’s one of those things that, we had a couple of tough goals but he bounced back though. We got that point. He played really well the rest of the game.
“He’s the kind of guy that keeps himself a bit. He knows what he’s got to do. You just kind of have to let him be, give him a bump on the pad and tell him we’re there for him.”
Akeson played well defensively on Couturier's line.
“I just came to the rink and saw the lines on the board, and that’s who I was playing with,” Akeson said. “I just tried to make an impact with those guys. I thought we did well tonight… good offensive zone time.”
Read was impressed with Akeson.
“Akey is a smart player and easy to play with,” Read said. “He made a great pass to me tonight. He’s made a couple passes even to Coots. When he has the puck, he creates time for himself to make plays like that. He’s an all-around player.”
The second winger on this line had been Downie, then Michael Raffl, and even Tye McGinn this season. Now it may shift to Akeson.
“We try to make it as easy as possible out there and play a smart, simple game,” Read said. “We talk. It doesn’t matter who our third guy is. We keep it simple. No turnovers … We go against the top line. We have to play defense first. Take care of our defensive zone and goals will come.”
Akeson was calm and joking before the game in the dressing room.
“He looked like he’s been here before,” Read said.
Looked like he’s going to stick around, too.