Flyers Notes: Are second-year players hurting team?

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Flyers Notes: Are second-year players hurting team?

For much of last year, the Flyers’ rookies were a big part of the team’s success.

This year, though, those very same players might be more of a liability. And there's a few reasons for that, according to Kimmo Timonen.

“I’ll tell you this,” Timonen said. “The second year was the toughest year of my NHL life. And we have a lot of second-year players. You’ve got to work even harder to get to the point where you were in your first year.”

In Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Islanders (see story), the Flyers dressed five second-year players: forwards Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman Erik Gustafsson.

Certainly, those players weren’t the reason the Flyers lost the game, even after leading 2-0 in the first period. But, Timonen said, experienced teams are usually the type that are able to play complete games. Not the type to put in one good period, or a fraction of a good period, and sit back on their heels.

That’s something the Flyers have failed at consistently this year.

"I’ve been on a lot of teams," Timonen said. "And an experienced team plays the same way pretty much the whole 60 minutes. And sometimes I feel like I said earlier a couple weeks ago: We play 30 minutes good and 30 minutes bad, and we lose the game because of that. We’ve got to find a way to play 60 minutes. The teams that are playing 60 minutes usually win the game."

Timonen called it an issue of mental toughness, something that, once again, younger players often struggle with.

“We can’t put the blame on the kids,” Timonen said. “Young guys, they have to learn. Maybe this is the learning period. It’s a tough learning period, but we have to take it. There’s us older guys, we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be the leaders out there and show these young guys how to play the game. It’s too much to put these young guys on the spot and say they’re the reason we are where we are. That’s not the case.”

As for that proverbial sophomore slump?

“Expectations are higher,” Timonen said. “Obviously, first year, you come in the league and you play well and there’s no pressure. But second year, there’s pressure. That’s something you have to learn to play with. That’s how I felt when I was second year in the league.”

Call me, maybe not
Scott Hartnell fought Islanders winger Colin McDonald in the first period because, in his opinion, McDonald threw an ugly hit on Timonen -- and no call was made by the officials.

Later, in the third period, Claude Giroux appeared to have been boarded violently behind the Islanders’ net. Again, no call.

Hartnell wasn’t happy.

“It’s just weird we never get a call these days,” Hartnell said. “A high hit on an all-star, one of the best defensemen in the league, no call. Giroux, at the end, there’s no more boarding penalty than that I don’t think, and no call as well. Linesman had to make the call on the faceoff there to get the six-on-four attack there at the end. It’s frustrating that we’re not getting any breaks that way, but they’re not going to hand games to us, that’s for sure.”

McGinn scratched, Knuble plays
In an unexpected move, the Flyers elected to scratch Tye McGinn from Thursday's game.

McGinn had been recalled from the Phantoms, played a little more than 20 minutes against the Rangers on the Flyers’ top line, then dropped down to a lesser unit, then was scratched against the Islanders. An odd series of events.
 
He sat healthy in the press box. That allowed Mike Knuble to finally dress for a game.
 
Knuble spent eight straight games as a healthy scratch before scoring his third goal of the season late in the opening period against the Islanders.
 
“I think you want to come in and want to play a good game,” Knuble said. “That's your main priority. You want to play strong defensively and try to string some strong offensive shifts together.
 
“Obviously, scoring a goal tonight is a bonus. It is good to get back out there. We are all competitive as players. You want to be out there every night and when you're not playing it hurts.”
 
Loose pucks
Giroux had two assists in the first period. … Danny Briere, who is out indefinitely with a concussion, attended the first two periods only in the press box before leaving. …  The Islanders had a goal waved off at the end of the first period because it was scored after the buzzer. … Hartnell had his first two-goal game of the season. … The Flyers blocked 26 shots, their second-highest shot-blocking total of the season.

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”