Philadelphia Flyers

End to End: If Nolan Patrick makes Flyers, where does he best fit?

End to End: If Nolan Patrick makes Flyers, where does he best fit?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: If Nolan Patrick makes the Flyers, where is he best featured in the lineup?

Boruk
Despite the surge of momentum that led to Nico Hischier going No. 1 overall to the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers were more than thrilled that Patrick fell into their lap. Here's a player the organization and its scouts had seen for two seasons playing with Ivan Provorov when the two were teammates with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Sources connected to the Flyers' organization had told me that Patrick's skill set coupled with his size, leadership and hockey sense had him ranked higher on its draft board than Hischier, who may have a little more of a learning curve when it comes to developing into a solid two-way center.

Patrick should make the opening night roster coming out of training camp with the only concern being his health. Will he have any setbacks from the core muscle surgery he had back in June? Assuming he's with the Flyers, there's absolutely no way he doesn't play center, and it doesn't appear Ron Hextall is willing to experiment. Patrick has played only a few shifts at wing, but even he admitted it's not a position he's too comfortable with.

With that said, where do you slot the rookie when you have Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera, whom all primarily played down the middle last season. First, I would like to see the two Finns (Filppula and Lehtera) on a line together, with Lehtera at center since Filppula is a more versatile forward. Couturier is the team's best two-way center at even strength, and if he stays healthy, this could be his breakout year (which seems to be the most repeated phrase over the past three years).

So why not experiment a little during the preseason? How about a Jakub Voracek-Patrick-Giroux line just to see how well they could work together? Giroux has been the opposition's bullseye for the past five years and his body has taken a toll as a result. He led the team in 2010-11 with 76 points primarily playing right wing, so this wouldn't be a novel idea for him. The Flyers need to find a way to extend Giroux's career since he's locked up through 2022. I'm not sure the Flyers have entertained the thought, but during the preseason you have very little to lose.

Where Patrick can really assert himself is on the team's second power-play unit that really struggled last season to contribute anything, especially when the top unit was mired in a drought. The natural inclination would have Patrick replace Schenn on that No. 1 unit, but as long as the Wayne Simmonds-Giroux-Voracek-Shayne Gostisbehere combination remains in tact, Patrick would give the second unit a little more firepower.

Dougherty
This one is simple. It's either second- or-third line center or the WHL. He is not playing wing. He will not be in a fourth-line role. It is as clear-cut as that. I'm a firm believer Patrick will be here in 2017-18. I don't see how he doesn't make the team. Where does he slide into the lineup? I see him as the third-line center.

We can get carried away with labels — first line, second line, third line, whatever. It doesn't matter. You need to be able to roll four lines to be successful in today's NHL. The Flyers should be able to do that. Whether Patrick is on the second or third line, it doesn't matter. For the logistics of this discussion, I'll proceed with how I see it playing out.

I believe Couturier will start the season as the second-line center and play penalty kill with Patrick as the third-line center and seeing power-play time. Couturier will still see top minutes against opponents' top lines and be in a role in which he's proven he can succeed. He'll still make his linemates better and score efficiently at even strength. Everyone will be happy.

Patrick will give the Flyers a formidable third line — a line that could see fellow rookie Oskar Lindblom and the veteran Filppula on his wings. Whether Patrick remains on the third line all season long is another question. I can see him moving up to the second line and Couturier taking over as the third-line center.

The point I'm making is this: With Patrick here, the Flyers will be able to roll out four lines with skill on each one centered by legitimate NHL talent. Giroux, Couturier and Patrick is a helluva one-two-three punch.

Hall
It's important to remember if Patrick makes the roster, his presence is big for the Flyers, but it's also significant developmentally for the teenager.

As an organization, you always want to put your players in spots where they have the best chance to succeed. With Patrick, this might be a special case.

So what does he do best and what makes him feel most comfortable?

By those who know him, Patrick has been lauded for his ability to make others better, and it's not just that sports cliché here. Patrick may not be a dynamic goal scorer, but surround him with talent and he'll thrive by augmenting others.

"If he's playing with some skilled guys, he will get them the puck, he will make plays," Patrick's uncle, James, said to CSNPhilly.com in June. "He's shown that he can do that. Certainly, the last three years in the Western Hockey League, put the best players on the ice with him and they will get chances, and chances all night. I think that's what his offensive upside is."

With that said, Patrick should play in a top-six role. Give him the minutes and setting to make a true impact in which he can develop through playing. Giroux is this team's obvious first-line center. Couturier can center the third unit in which there will be greater offensive depth but still the defensive focus.

So for Patrick, I'd love to see him flanked by Jordan Weal and Simmonds. Both are scorers that finish plays and bring a variety of ways to put the puck in the net. The skill sets of Weal and Simmonds complement Patrick's, while the three would compose a nice mixture of size and speed, a tough-to-play-against second line.

The fun thing is the Flyers should have options — much more than before — depending on roster decisions at the end of training camp. How the lines are constructed by Dave Hakstol will be even more polarizing in 2017-18.

Paone
Let's get something out there loud and clear to start this off: You don't fall backwards into the No. 2 overall pick and arguably the most talented player in the draft only to move him out of position and have him basically start from scratch as a 19-year-old in a new position in the best league in the world.

Patrick is a natural center and will be playing center for the Flyers. No questions asked.

OK, now that we have that issue all tidied up, the question now shifts to where Patrick fits into the lineup when it comes to linemates.

Giroux is still the Flyers' top-line center. Couturier is likely slotted in at the second-line center spot. 

You don't take an uber-talented 19-year-old and put him in a fourth-line, defense-based role where his minutes become limited. He needs as much exposure as he can get on the ice.

Those factors above are why I feel Patrick has the third-line center spot sewed up to start the season, granted he's healthy.

It's a good spot for him because it'll give him time to feel out the NHL game and make the coming adjustment period to this level a little smoother because the pressure to produce won't be as great right away as it would be if he were in a top-six role. There is wiggle room to ease in.

Time for another question shift — who plays alongside Patrick on his wings? It's an important question and it's obviously way too early for Hakstol to even tip his cap yet as to what he's thinking for the Flyers' line combos.

But, if we're just spitballing here with the current roster as of Aug. 5, here's what I believe the Flyers' third line could look like: Filppula-Patrick-Michael Raffl.

Having Filppula alongside Patrick gives the rook a veteran presence who's a natural center himself to guide him when on the ice. That's a valuable intangible. In Raffl, you have a veteran who's not afraid to go into the dirty areas and do the greasy work to free things up for Patrick to make plays. Lindblom is another name to watch for Raffl's spot, but having two rookies on the same line may not be an enticing endeavor for Hakstol, knowing the way he operates.

And of course, if Patrick excels while others in the top-six roles meddle, the door is open to moving up the lineup as soon he's proven he's ready.

And don't be surprised to see him on the power play, either.

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — The last time Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott started a game, things ended quickly and didn’t end well.

Starting for the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round series last April against the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott gave up one soft goal on three shots and was pulled 5:38 into a 3-1 series-ending loss.

It was only preseason, but Elliott made a Flyers debut that helped him forget that lackluster performance and get off to a fresh start with his new team Thursday.

Elliott stopped all 18 shots he faced during his two periods on the ice in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (see observations).

“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “Just trying to see pucks and basically get acclimated in a game situation. We haven’t seen that in camp at all. So playing a game is fun, to get back in there, you forget how actually fun it is to play a game.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1 for more than just fun. They want him to combine with Michal Neuvirth to give them the type of successful goaltending tandem they’ve lacked for a while.

Elliott, in turn, wants to prove they were wise to move on from Steve Mason and bring him in. Elliott had some highlights during his season with the Flames, including an 11-game winning streak and a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over his last 21 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was a bust with an 0-3 record and .880 save percentage.

In addition to getting back into action, Elliott wanted to impress his new team.

“A little bit. You just want to play the same anyways, doesn’t matter what team you’re on or how long you’ve been with the guys,” he said. “But for sure when it’s your first time, you want to make a good impression. You only get one first impression, right. But it’s just a stepping stone, working towards that first game of the season here.”

The Flyers had several power plays early in the first period and Elliott wasn’t tested much until he gloved a shot from Bruins forward Anders Bjork on a 3-on-2 at 8:46.

After a television timeout, the Bruins put more pressure on the Flyers and Elliott remained sharp. He blocked away a point shot from Brandon Carlo and then gloved Bjork’s attempt on the rebound from the slot at 9:18.

Elliott made 10 saves in the first period.

During a power play early in the second period, Elliott had to be at his best as the Bruins kept the puck in the attacking zone for the first 90 seconds. Elliott made five saves during the penalty kill, including two difficult ones on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron from around the slot.

The Flyers' attack picked up the pace in the second half of the second period and took some of the heat off Elliott. He had earned the respite and then coach Dave Hakstol switched to Alex Lyon to start the third.

Hakstol has seen Elliott live up to the Flyers’ expectations so far in camp and in his preseason debut.

“I think he got in early and I just think I’ve seen every day at camp him kind of building his game,” Hakstol said. "I don’t think he tried to come in with a finished product on Day 1. I think he kind of started on the ground floor of building his game, obviously, after a good summer. And every day he seemed to ... kind of build his game. His last couple of days of practices have been really good, really clean and he carried that into the game tonight. So it’s a good start for him. It’s nice to see that.”

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

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BOSTON — It's still early in preseason, so the Flyers have a lot of time to iron out their power-play problems.

And they have a lot of problems.

Even with their most veteran-laden lineup of the preseason on the ice against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Flyers went 0 for 9 on the power play and lost, 2-1, in overtime at TD Garden.

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch had most of the Flyers’ weapons but the man-advantage didn’t score, didn’t threaten and did little to build momentum.

Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim scored a 4-on-4 goal at 4:57 of the third period to make it 1-0. The Bruins answered at 6:39 with a goal by defenseman Paul Postma to tie it 1-1. Kenny Agostino scored the game-winner 3:20 into overtime, as the Flyers fell to 1-1-2 in preseason action.

On to the observations:

• The loss and the power-play struggles aside, the Flyers avoided one potential nightmare. Second-year forward Travis Konecny had to leave the game after just 18 seconds of first-period play. But he returned to action later in the period.

Konecny was hit late and high at the red line away from the puck by Bruins rookie forward Jesse Gabrielle just before the whistle came 18 seconds into the game. Konecny returned with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first period.

Konecny looked himself when he nearly scored in the final minute of the first period, but his redirection of a Sanheim pass on a 3-on-2 went wide of the Boston net.

Gabrielle, trying to make the Bruins as a bottom-six forward, should hear from the NHL department of player safety, although Konecny’s return might’ve gotten Gabrielle off the hook.

• Goaltender Brian Elliott made his Flyers preseason debut and made 18 saves on 18 shots through two periods before Alex Lyon replaced him at the start of the third (see story). Lyon made nine saves, including one on Anton Blidh on a 2-on-1 late in the third period and one on Zach Senyshyn on another 2-on-1 in overtime to preserve the 1-1 tie.

• Sanheim was strong at both ends throughout the game, getting active on offense even before the game. He made a big play to break up a 2-on-1 with a Flyers power play late in the second period. Sanheim could make it difficult for the Flyers to pick among their three rookies for two spots on defense. Of course if Brandon Manning isn’t ready to start the season, there could be three spots available.

• Despite practicing as a left winger on Tuesday, captain Claude Giroux made his preseason debut at center between Oskar Lindblom and Jakub Voracek.

Giroux looked himself throughout the night, both 5-on-5 and on special teams. Early in the second period he canceled out a Boston power play by drawing a holding penalty on Bruins defenseman Postma during a race to the puck in the Boston end. He was also in the box for Sanheim’s goal and just exiting the box when Postma scored for Boston.

Coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday morning he would like to test Giroux out on the wing during a game later in the preseason.

• Voracek made his preseason debut and had his skating legs early as he won a race with Bruins forward Blidh into the Boston zone and drew a slashing penalty with a drive to the net.

• The Flyers dodged a miscommunication in the first period shortly after the Gabrielle penalty expired. When Konecny’s linemates Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier jumped on the ice for their shift, no one jumped over the bench with them and the Flyers played with four skaters for about 10-12 seconds. The puck changed possession a couple times in safe areas of the ice. And one could say the strategy worked because during the next shift, Voracek drew a penalty.

• Flyers forward Colin McDonald nearly joined Konecny on the sidelines near the three-minute mark. Off a faceoff win, Andrew MacDonald’s slap shot hit his teammate. McDonald hobbled to the bench. The Flyers didn’t need any more friendly fire considering they were already without Konecny.

• Lindblom joined Giroux and Voracek on the Flyers’ first line and that carried over to the power play, where Lindblom was part of the first unit along with Giroux, Voracek, Ivan Provorov and Wayne Simmonds until late in the second period. After the Flyers' power play had gone 0 for 5, Hakstrol switched Lindblom with Valtteri Filppula and that seemed to jump-start the man advantage. The Flyers didn’t score but put more pressure on Tuukka Rask during their sixth power play.

• Thursday morning the Flyers reduced their roster by 18 players. Forwards Connor Bunnaman (Kitchener — OHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville — QMJHL), Ivan Kosorenkov (Victoriaville — QMJHL), German Rubtsov (Chicoutimi — QMJHL), and goaltender Carter Hart (Everett — WHL) were returned to their junior teams.

Then the Flyers assigned forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Tyrell Goulbourne, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev; defensemen James de Haas, Mark Friedman, Maxim Lamarche, Phil Myers, Reece Willcox; and goaltenders Leland Irving and John Muse to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley (more on moves here).

Here’s a look at how the Flyers lined up to start the game:

Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Taylor Leier-Valtteri Filppula-Colin McDonald

Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg