Flyers-Blues: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blues: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (37-25-7) will aim to win their fifth straight game when they host the St. Louis Blues (47-15-7) Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. (CSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Wayne’s world
All eyes have been on Claude Giroux over the past few months -- and rightfully so -- but Wayne Simmonds reminded everyone Thursday night why he’s been a key to success for the Flyers all season long.

Simmonds beat Stars goalie Tim Thomas twice in the Flyers’ 4-2 win over Dallas and moved into a tie for second place in the NHL in power-play goals with 13 after a first-period tap-in marker. Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the league with more goals (20) than Simmonds on the man advantage this season.

The 25-year-old has become a much more complete player since joining the Orange and Black in 2011. He’s been focusing on puck possession and is showing more patience when entering the offensive zone.

Earlier in his career, Simmonds would be more inclined to dump the puck and grind it out of the corners before heading to the front of the net. Now, he’s built up the confidence to gain the zone and either shoot or pass before getting to the middle of the ice.

Simmonds’ growth has paid dividends for the Flyers. He’s become a legitimate threat on the power play and the league is starting to take notice. It’s also worth noting that Simmonds has already set a career high in points with 52, which ranks second on the team, through 69 games this season.

2. Reinforcing the line
Andrew MacDonald has now played seven games with the Flyers since being acquired from the New York Islanders and he’s already done everything that was expected of him.

MacDonald has brought stability to the Flyers’ back end. He has blocked shots, run smooth breakouts and -- most importantly -- has developed chemistry with Luke Schenn.

Schenn has struggled to find consistency this season but has looked much more relaxed and confident since MacDonald came on board.

“We complement each other well,” Schenn said Friday (see story). “He’s helped me out there. He’s a steady player to play with. We knew what type of player he was: steady and consistent.”

MacDonald has just one assist since leaving Long Island, but the Flyers have gone 5-1-1 with him in the lineup. The MacDonald-Schenn pairing has also given the Flyers a more versatile look on the blue line and allows them to use their three pairings in multiple situations. So far, so good.

3. Welcome back
Saturday will mark the first of two meetings between these two clubs this season. Thanks to the NHL lockout that shortened last season to 48 games, the Flyers and Blues haven’t faced off since Oct. 22, 2011.

In that game, Carlo Colaiacovo had a goal and an assist to help St. Louis come away with a 4-2 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Danny Briere and Matt Carle registered the Flyers’ two markers.

The Blues entered the weekend at the top of the NHL standings with 101 points. They are built around an outstanding defensive corps and balanced offense.

St. Louis got even scarier when they acquired netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres just prior to the deadline.

The Flyers will need to play better than they did Thursday if they want to shut down the Blues. They are a hardworking group that has an active forecheck and won’t shy away from contact.

4. Injuries
The Flyers are a healthy bunch.

For St. Louis, Magnus Paajarvi is listed as questionable for Saturday’s matinee with an upper-body injury.

The Blues will be without Jordan Leopold (high right ankle sprain) and Vladmir Tarasenko (right hand).
 
5. This and that
• The Flyers are 23-0-2 when they score four or more goals this season.

• Miller has allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his nine games with the Blues (seven wins).

• With one more marker, Mark Streit will become the Flyers’ ninth player to reach double digits in goals this season.

• T.J. Oshie, who leads St. Louis with 54 points, has a goal and three assists in his last three games.

• Giroux has at least one point in five consecutive games and has collected five goals and 10 assists since the Olympic break.

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, the projected top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, on Saturday afternoon added some CHL hardware to their trophy case.

Patrick won the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award, beating out Hischier and Windsor's Gabriel Vilardi, while Hischier edged Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi and Guelph's Ryan Merkley for the CCM Rookie of the Year Award.

Injuries forced Patrick to play just 33 games this season, but he still produced at a point-per-game pace for Brandon. He finished with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists).

Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads, his first season in the QMJHL after coming over from Switzerland.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. If the draft goes as projected, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier, whoever the New Jersey Devils do not pick.

The 2017 NHL draft is June 23-24 in Chicago.

Missing history
Flyers prospect Carter Hart had a chance to become the first goalie in CHL history to win the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Award twice, but this year's award went elsewhere.

Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven on Saturday afternoon took home the 2016-17 CHL Goaltender of the Year Award. McNiven was 41-9-4 for the Attack this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with six shutouts.

McNiven led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, and his six shutouts were tied with Windsor's Michael DiPietro for the league lead. His 41 wins were tops in the OHL.

Hart, 18, posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games with the Everett Silvertips in 2016-17. His 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and nine shutouts were all ranked No. 1 in the WHL.

Despite missing out on the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award this year, Hart previously did win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year for the second straight season. He was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week and had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 48 seconds during the regular season.

Hart was one of three second-round picks by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft.

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

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 producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.