Flyers can still win with Claude Giroux, but youth is up against clock

Flyers can still win with Claude Giroux, but youth is up against clock

Ron Hextall sat at the press conference table and made his edict.

The kids are coming.

"Our young players, they've done enough," the general manager said Thursday at Flyers Skate Zone. "We'll continue to monitor some of them through the playoffs, but our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."

Those words should be momentous to Claude Giroux.

As the Flyers' captain heads into the offseason with a career low in goals for a full season and a fourth straight drop-off in points, many are pondering not only Giroux's future in orange and black, but also the club's future with him as its maestro.

The Flyers are now watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons, while their core continues to climb the ladder in age. This group of Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier has not won a postseason series since 2011-12.

It's clear time is ticking and the Flyers need more than what's here. Hextall won't make some sexy signing or big trade -- no outside ammunition because he's staying true to his mantra of building through the draft and the organization's youth.

"We're not going to put roadblocks in place where two years from now, we want to be able to sign Player X and we can't do it where Player X is a better fit than the guy we would have signed July 1 this year," Hextall said. "I think most of our moves at this point right now are going to come internally."

Which means Giroux's success and much of his legacy will be heavily reliant on how fast these prospects blossom into NHL difference-makers.

Yeah, no pressure, youngsters.

"I really think that we're not far off," Giroux said Tuesday.

The kids will dictate that.

Giroux can still win here. He's not getting traded. The plan is for the prospects to meet the core, and who says they can't?

There is a lot to like with the reinforcements on the horizon, players to augment the core and Giroux into his 30s. Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal are already here. Konecny, 20, has a full NHL season under his belt and we all know of the playmaking potential. Weal, who turns 25 on Saturday, showed his scoring ability with eight goals and four assists in 23 games as the Flyers went 6-2-0 when he lit the lamp. Oskar Lindblom, a 20-year-old wing prospect drafted in 2014, is looking more and more ready, putting up 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 65 SHL games this season, including the playoffs.

"Oskar, he's had a great year," Hextall said. "He's in a really good league. He's a good hockey player. He's come a long way since his draft year. The Swedish Elite League is a very good league and he's done a good job.

"I hope he's here in September fighting for a spot along with a number of other guys."

And the area most plentiful for opportunity is on the blue line. We all know the names: Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, just to name a few. A younger, faster, more versatile defense can only help as it gains experience. One of the biggest discrepancies from this season to last was the Flyers' allowing 2.82 goals per game compared to 2.56 in 2015-16.

Two spots have already opened up on the 2017-18 defense.

Yes, more youth will be surrounding Giroux and company as Hextall's prudence finally gives way to such.

"It's got to all happen together," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday. "It's one of those things that as a group, the challenge of 82 games of consistency is in front of us. You have to have both the young guys in the lineup stepping up and adding that energy and that ability and some of that youthful enthusiasm, and that has to work in conjunction with your veterans that really, as a group and as a core, are entering into prime years.

"The strength of that core group is what ultimately will drive our team. I believe the two can happen in conjunction with each other. We've got to go out and do that job."

Obviously, none of this means everything will magically change in the Flyers' favor next season. A touted prospect doesn't translate to immediate success and a better team. The Flyers aren't jumping into Stanley Cup contention overnight.

Remember this, though: Giroux is only 29 years old. Never one to admit injury, it was evident Giroux was not himself during the 2016-17 season, whether it was lingering effects from his hip and abdominal surgeries or a separate issue.

"When you try to do something and you can't do it; your mind wants to do something but your body doesn't do it, it's frustrating," he said.

What couldn't he do?

"I think just a little bit of everything," Giroux said. "Like I said, it's frustrating. But you've got to keep working on your game, get stronger and faster. I'm very excited to have a whole summer to work out and really do what I want to do."

Giroux fuels on motivation. This past season might push him more than ever.

"I don't think G had a great year," Hextall said. "He's not on the decline. I know this: I'll be shocked next year if you guys don't ask me in January, 'Well, how has G turned this around?' He's a very driven athlete, he's very driven. I know he's going to train hard this year. We're going to make some minor tweaks in how he trains. He trains hard."

As Giroux trains, the Flyers will start to change, too.

"Two years ago, we were the 29th-oldest team in the league," Hextall said. "It depends on how you crunch the numbers. Last year, we were 17th. This year, I think we were 12th and next year I would project us to go into single digits. That matters, being young."

It matters greatly to Giroux. How fast the youth grows up will matter most.

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

Players on American Hockey League contracts will be eligible to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President and CEO David Andrews confirmed through a league spokesman Wednesday that teams were informed they could loan players on AHL contracts to national teams for the purposes of participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The AHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs saying players could only be loaned for Olympic participation from Feb. 5-26.

The Olympic men's hockey tournament runs from Feb. 9-25. Like the NHL, which is not having its players participate for the first time since 1994, the AHL does not have an Olympic break in its schedule.

The AHL's decision does not affect players assigned to that league on NHL one- or two-way contracts. No final decision has been made about those players.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that the league had told its 31 teams that AHL players could be loaned to play in the Olympics. It was an AHL memo sent at the direction of that league's board of governors.

When the NHL announced in April that it wouldn't be sending players to South Korea after participating in five consecutive Olympics, Andrews said the AHL was prepared for Canada, the United States and other national federations to request players.

"I would guess we're going to lose a fair number of players," Andrews said in April. "Not just to Canada and the U.S., but we're going to lose some players to other teams, as well. But we're used to that. Every team in our league has usually got two or three guys who are on recalls to the NHL, so it's not going to really change our competitive integrity or anything else."

The U.S. and Canada are expected to rely heavily on players in European professional leagues and college and major junior hockey to fill out Olympic rosters without NHL players.

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

VOORHEES, N.J. — At the junior level, scoring was second nature to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, like riding a bike after you figure out the balance aspect.

Goals came in bunches and points piled up — that was his game and it came effortlessly at times, especially over his final two seasons with the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs, posting back-to-back campaigns of 38 markers and 80-plus assists.

"Usually in junior, scoring was always coming naturally to me, having points and goals," he said last week at Flyers development camp.

On the AHL ice last season, it was a whole new ballgame. For Aube-Kubel, Year 1 of pro hockey was a feeling-out process from start to finish. His prolific scoring didn't carry over much at all, as the speedy 5-foot-11 winger finished with nine goals and nine assists in 71 regular-season games for Lehigh Valley.

"Guys are better with the puck," he said of the AHL. "I've always been strong on the ice and skating-wise, too, but translating to the AHL, guys are faster, guys are quicker with the puck and less turnovers."

This was part of toeing the waters in a new surrounding. Not many prospects jump from the junior ranks to the AHL without missing a beat. Aube-Kubel, who turned 21 in May, wanted to fulfill his role and duties first before worrying about scoring. He finished the season as a plus-10, tied for fourth best on the team and tops among Phantoms with 70 or more games played.

"I've always been an offensive player," Aube-Kubel said. "From being my first year in the pros, I was trying more to focus on details and what the coach was telling me. I'm excited for next year and I'll try to step up my game, for sure, and try to do what I was doing in junior."

Following his fourth development camp, Aube-Kubel finds himself heading into an interesting second season with Lehigh Valley. A lot has changed since he was taken by the Flyers in the second round of the 2014 draft. With time, the organization has significantly built up its prospect pool and added depth at forward. 

Aube-Kubel is just fine with that.

"Since I've been drafted, there was depth," he said. "Any way I'm going to play in the NHL, I'm going to make my own spot. No one is going to give it to you. If there are more drafted players, it doesn't change anything."

He's also enjoyed working with the Phantoms' staff, led by head coach Scott Gordon. More development off the ice and a greater workload during games should help moving forward.

"I liked it. They treat you like a pro," he said. "Everyone does their own thing. If you cheat or if you're not serious about it, it's you to pay off. If you're not serious, it's going to be you that gets penalized."

If Aube-Kubel needs any comfort in the quiet start to his pro career, he can look back at his first season of junior play. He tallied just 10 goals and 27 points in 64 regular-season games. Then he jumped to 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 65 games in 2013-14 before scoring at will over his third and fourth seasons with Val-d'Or.

Maybe easing his way in is just part of his hockey DNA.

If so, keep an eye on Aube-Kubel next season.

"This year, I was maybe more focusing on having a role and trying to do what the coach was asking of me," Aube-Kubel said. "Now that it's all set, I'm going to focus on offensive play. I don't want to put pressure on myself, but last year wasn't my best offensive year. It was also my first year. I think I was trying to learn a lot of it and we'll see what happens next year."