Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

Updated: 1:15 p.m.

The Flyers (20-17-4) will try to bounce back from their first loss on their six-game road trip when they clash with the Phoenix Coyotes (20-11-9) Saturday evening.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. (CSN) at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Who gets promoted?
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl have combined for 11 goals and 25 assists since head coach Craig Berube decided to place Raffl on the Flyers’ top line, replacing Scott Hartnell, 10 games ago.

The Flyers went 7-2-1 during that stretch, but lost Raffl to a concussion in the first period of Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

So with Raffl sidelined for the near future, who will get bumped up to the top line? When Raffl went down in Colorado, Steve Downie, Brayden Schenn and Zac Rinaldo all saw time with Giroux and Voracek.

With the recent success of the Schenn-Hartnell-Wayne Simmonds line, it wouldn’t make much sense to split them up. Downie has experience playing with top-line caliber players. He skated alongside Steven Stamkos in Tampa and even saw time with Mike Richards during his first stint in Philadelphia. But this season, Downie has played his best hockey on a line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, who could return Saturday, so Berube may go another route. Rinaldo? Probably not the best route.

How about Vinny Lecavalier? He has just one assist since returning from a back injury six games ago, so playing with the red-hot Giroux and Voracek could serve as a nice confidence booster. 

Update: Berube said Read will not play on Saturday and Downie will move up to the top line. Here's how the offense will look:

Downie-Giroux-Voracek
Hartnell-Schenn-Simmonds
Lecavalier-Couturier-Rinaldo
Rosehill-VandeVelde-Hall

2. Halfway there
The Flyers reached the midway point to the season on Thursday and will begin the second half of their schedule on Saturday.

With 44 points through the first 41 games, the Flyers currently sit in the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division -- two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio recently caught up with Berube to play a word association game, asking him to say the first thing popped into his head about his players’ performances in the first half (see story).  

3. Captain Coyote returns?
It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks for veteran forward Shane Doan.

The Coyotes’ captain last played on Dec. 4 after feeling flu-like symptoms from an illness doctors initially had trouble diagnosing. In mid-December, it was determined Doan was suffering from a form of Rocky Mountain Fever -- a bacterial disease that affects the lining of blood cells and is often contracted by ticks.

The 37-year-old started to improve by taking antibiotics and steadily increased his activities. He returned to practice New Year’s Eve after a slow recovery and was initially expected to return sometime next week. But on Friday, doctors gave him the green light to play against the Flyers.

Phoenix head coach Dave Tippet said “it would be hard to keep him out of the game” because Doan is so anxious to return.  

The Coyotes would welcome Doan back with open arms if he plays, as they have won just four games in his absence. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the significant amount of time missed, Doan still leads the team in goals with 12.

4. Injuries
Read will not play Saturday night after originally be listed as a game-time decision. The 27-year-old, who has 10 goals and nine assists this season, suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday’s win over the Calgary Flames and did not play in Thursday’s loss to the Avalanche.

Out for the Flyers are Raffl and Erik Gustafsson. Raffl (concussion) will be evaluated by team doctors when the Flyers return to Philadelphia. Gustafsson has been sidelined since Dec. 21 with a left knee sprain and is expected to make his return to the lineup in seven to 10 days.

The Coyotes could be missing a key player on defense against the Flyers. Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a nasty hit from Derek MacKenzie in Phoenix’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and missed practice Friday because of an upper-body injury. He played just over four minutes before the violent collision. There was no penalty assessed on the play, but the NHL handed MacKenzie a three-game suspension for the hit Friday.

Fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek will not play Saturday. Michalek has missed the Coyotes’ last seven games because of a lower-body injury.

5. This and that
• This is the second and final game between these two clubs this season. Phoenix came away with a 2-1 win over the Flyers on Oct. 11 at Wells Fargo Center. Derek Morris and Ekman-Larsson scored for the Coyotes, while Max Talbot registered the Flyers’ lone goal.

• Hartnell has two goals and five assists during his current six-game point streak.

• Team USA snub Keith Yandle has two goals and three assists in the Coyotes’ past four games.

• Simmonds has at least one point in seven out of his last eight games. During that span, he’s collected eight goals and four assists.

• Prior to their loss to Columbus, the Coyotes had played in five consecutive games that needed overtime or a shootout to decide the outcome.

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.