As Flyers' season ends, questions remain on Jordan Weal, Anthony Stolarz's future

As Flyers' season ends, questions remain on Jordan Weal, Anthony Stolarz's future

BOX SCORE

The look toward next season for the Flyers officially began Sunday night following their 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

Among those who played in the season finale who will remain high on the radar are goalie Anthony Stolarz and winger Jordan Weal.

Weal is intriguing because he's unsigned for next season and general manager Ron Hextall hasn't indicated whether he will re-up Weal before the expansion draft.

An unknown commodity when he arrived in Philadelphia as part of the Vinny Lecavalier trade over a year ago, Weal now appears fully vested in the Flyers.

Weal never played left wing before and yet he seemed to fit like a glove on Valtteri Filppula's line with Wayne Simmonds.

He picked up one final assist Sunday and finished the season with eight goals and 12 points in 23 games.

"A lot of hockey is the belief you can play at certain levels," Weal said. "I think having some success up here in the last part of the season really gave me that belief I can play here and have an impact and help the team win hockey games.

"I feel like I'm part of the team, for sure. When you get in, it's a great group of guys. For myself, I can take positives out of it."

Weal is a snail-darter-kind-of-player barely standing 5-foot-9 and said he wants to remain a Flyer (see 10 observations).

"I'd love to stay here," Weal said. "This is an organization that gave me a chance to show my stuff. When I came up this year, I was in a position to have success and I'm very thankful and would like to stay here. When you get the players I was able to play with, it's a treat out there."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol threw his support behind Weal.

"He's been a good player for us and it's been a fairly small sample size," Hakstol said. "Training camp probably didn't go as scripted as he would have liked. At the end of camp, we went down to Lehigh Valley and there was no real bump for him."

Weal went down to the minors, proved himself as an AHLer -- again -- and then returned as an NHL player.

"He did a good job for us," Hakstol said. "He was a good player for us playing in a position he hasn't spent a lot of time at -- most of the time playing left wing. I thought Jordan acquitted himself very well and at a tough time of the year."

Stolarz may or may not be the Flyers' long-time goalie. He may or may not even be the backup next season. He sometimes appears a bit awkward in the net and seven games isn't a lot to go on, but there is no rational reason for the Flyers not to give him a long look in training camp.

In retrospect, those 19 games he sat here while Michal Neuvirth was injured could have been better used playing him more than the two starts he actually had, both of which he won. Stolarz went into the season finale with a 1.93 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

What did he learn?

"It's a lot faster than the American League," Stolarz said. "It's a lot of fun being here and I've just gotta keep working hard, working on my game and take everything that I've seen on video and just bring it back to Allentown."

There is one thing Stolarz will bring into training camp next fall that he didn't necessarily have last fall.

"Definitely confidence," Stolarz said. "Obviously coming up here and being able to play at this level and kind of show I can hold my own, kind of makes me want to go out there and just work that much harder and continue to work on my game and just continue working hard so I can try to earn a spot here next year."

There's a decent line of prospects waiting for the crease that includes Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Can Stolarz rise to the Flyers' next No. 1?

"In a few, down the road, I think," Stolarz said. "Of course I need to get some experience. It's not going to just be given to me, so I have to continue to work hard and work on aspects of my game.

"It's obviously a lot different than the American League. I just have to continue to work on little things. Things happen quicker and guys are smarter, so I just have to try to keep up with that."

He didn't earn Hakstol's full trust during Neuvirth's absence, as the Flyers rode Steve Mason night after night.

"There were a couple times where he showed good presence," Hakstol said. "I go back to the game in San Jose coming in after one [in relief] there and he did an excellent job. So I think that showed a little bit about where he was in terms of his mental process.

"He was ready to go, he was confident that night. He went in and he did a good job and his team played hard in front of  him, and I think we've seen a continuation of that every time he's been in that regardless of the situation, whether it was in relief or tonight like he did in a start."

That said, Hakstol wasn't ready to commit on Stolarz. Put it this way, Weal has more of a foothold on a roster spot, whereas Stolarz is going to have to turn his limited experience from this season into a platform to elevate himself above others in training camp.

When asked if he were ready for full-time duty in the NHL, Hakstol gave pause.

"I think it's a small sample size," Hakstol said of Stolarz. "I've seen enough of him to think that he's really making nice progress. In terms of answering your question, I think that's one that needs to be answered over time."

For both of these guys -- and a few others -- it starts in five months.

Ivan the Great
In his final game this season, rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov logged 25:11. Nineteen times this season he was over 24 minutes.

Provorov's season average of 21:58 set a new ice time record for a Flyers rookie regardless of position.

He also became the first Flyers' rookie to appear in all 82 games during a season longer than 80 games. Four other players achieved that during the 80-game schedules of yesteryear: Mel Bridgman (1975-76), Behn Wilson (1978-79), Brian Propp (1979-80), and Jeff Chychrun (1988-89). Chris Therien appeared in all 48 games during the shortened 1994-95 season.
 
In addition to Provorov, Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare each appeared in all 82 games this season. Chris VandeVelde missed his first game of the season as a healthy scratch Sunday.

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

It appears another prospect has signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers.

Mikhail Vorobyov has now done so, according to a report by TVA Sports' Renaud Lavoie on Tuesday night. Fellow prospect Connor Bunnaman signed last Friday.

Vorobyov, a 20-year-old center selected by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, played in the KHL for parts of the past seasons. With Salavat Yulaev, the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder had three goals and eight assists in 44 games this season.

Vorobyov was on the final year of his KHL deal.

Playing for his native Russia in the World Junior Championships, Vorobyov opened eyes with 10 assists and a plus-6 rating in seven games.

At 20 years old, he's more than likely headed for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2017-18.

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 1 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 1 of the forwards

We continue our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the third part of a four-part series. You can find our goaltending review here and defensemen review here.

The core forward group for the Flyers -- Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek -- has been together for six seasons now.

It's sad to say, but it hasn't accomplished anything of significance during that time.

So when fans ask whether it's time to break that core up after a third non-playoff season in five years, it's a legitimate question.

And it's one that general manager Ron Hextall admits he has to think about this summer.

"Pro sports is all about proving yourself year after year," Hextall said recently. "Every one of our players has to prove themselves next year. Will it stay together? I don't know. If we'd have won a couple rounds of playoffs there's obviously a better chance of them staying together.

"Does that mean it's not going to stay together? I don't know what's going to come our way. Am I happy with the team? No. I'm not. How can you be, right? We missed the playoffs and, again, we were capable. I don't know one way or the other whether there's going to be change."

Hextall admitted he was not satisfied with the leadership group, which includes the players above, headed by Giroux, the team's captain.
 
"It's much harder to lead when you're not having a great year because you get a little bit more consumed with your own play because first and foremost you have to perform," Hextall said. "So it does take away. They do tie together.
 
"With G, yeah, there's a little bit of that that happened this year. I'm not singling him out because first and foremost he has to play well for us. He got frustrated by his level of performance. It was up and down. Our leadership can be better, for sure. Again, that's not G, that's our whole group."
 
Here is our look at the forwards (alphabetically) this past season, minus Mike Vecchione, who wasn't here long enough. We will split this up into two parts.
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Age: Turned 32 on March 6
Stats: 82 GP; 4G, 4A, 8 Pts.; minus-1; 12:58
Cap hit: $1.45 million

A tireless worker on the fourth line and penalty kill, Bellemare was rewarded with a new deal that doubles his salary for next season and was given Mark Streit's "A" when the veteran defenseman was dealt at the trade deadline. Like his teammates, there was a drop-off in offensive production. Yet what is troubling is that his effectiveness with Chris VandeVelde on the PK is gone. They routinely generated a shorthanded scoring chance every night and that wasn't the case this season. The PK -- as a group -- was horrendous. If Vecchione makes the roster in the fall, Bellemare is expected to move to left wing permanently.
 
Nick Cousins
Age: Turns 24 on June 20
Stats: 60 GP; 6G, 10A, 16 Pts.; minus-6; 12:00
Cap hit: $840,000

A feisty player with good hockey sense but average speed and hands. Cousins' enthusiasm makes him the kind of role player you can use on any line, which is exactly how coach Dave Hakstol employed him this season. What Cousins has to watch out for now is that the Flyers have quicker, more skilled forwards coming in the next two seasons. And while his ice time was up two minutes over last season, it nose-dived this year in the second half after he was averaging 15 minutes in February. He's the kind of grit player who accepts his role without complaint that Vegas might find attractive in the expansion draft.

Sean Couturier
Age: Turns 25 on Dec. 7
Stats: 66 GP; 14G, 20A, 34 Pts.; plus-12; 18:26
Cap hit: $4.33 million

It's become redundant at this point to say "Coots" should be more offensive-minded. The waiting game is over. When the Flyers drafted him in 2011, the expectation was that they were getting a bona fide 20-25 goal-per-season player who would challenge for the Selke Trophy because of his all-around defensive play. The second half of that prophecy occurred, but the first half has been put to bed. Couturier will never be an offensive centerman and the only thing the Flyers can do now is either trade him or live with it. Yet $4 million is a lot of money for a guy whose goal production is 15 -- at best. That said, his line with Dale Weise and Schenn came alive when Valtteri Filppula arrived because it created better matchups for the Flyers. Also, Couturier was the only Flyer who significantly went from being a minus to finish as a team-high plus-12.
 
Valtteri Filppula
Age: Turned 33 on March 20
Stats: 20 GP; 5G, 3A, 8 Pts.; minus-2; 17:07
Cap hit: $5.0 million

There's still some good tread left on this Finnish centerman's tires. A lot of people had a hard time understanding this move, but Hextall made a convincing argument that Filppula's presence in the middle would create better road matchups that would benefit Giroux and Couturier, and the evidence was there for the choosing in the final weeks of the season. Filppula buys time for the Flyers to get a young center out of the minors or Europe -- perhaps German Rubtsov -- with a steep one-year price but the Flyers were looking short term here and he fits the bill, even though the days of him scoring 20 goals are over. His line with Jordan Weal and Simmonds was excellent. Given his no-movement clause, Filppula has to be protected in the expansion draft.
 
Claude Giroux
Age: Turns 30 on Jan. 12
Stats: 82 GP; 14G, 44A, 58 Pts.; minus-15; 19:07
Cap hit: $8.275 million

Giroux's offseason abdominal and hip surgeries -- much like Shayne Gostisbehere -- ruined his season. He wasn't able to move the way he should. He had no burst of speed, no recovery speed. He made a calculated mistake not admitting his injury held him back until March and allowed himself to become a target of the fans' wrath when he should have been honest up front. Hextall admitted he expected better leadership from Giroux. Some point to Simmonds as the de facto captain. Yet Giroux cares deeply about this team. He was embarrassed at being a minus player this season, too. It's a legit concern that his offensive production has dropped off a cliff since 2011-12, but his salary makes it virtually impossible to trade him in a salary cap world. And there is no indication that Hextall has even considered moving him. Giroux went the entire season without a set line. In fact, Hakstol used him on eight lines. You can't have your No. 1 center playing with that many different linemates. Giroux needs to settle in with steady wingers.

Travis Konecny
Age: Turned 20 on March 11
Stats: 70 GP; 11G, 17A, 28 Pts.; minus-2; 14:05
Cap hit: $894,167

Konecny was Hakstol's personal whipping boy this season, perhaps more so than Gostisbehere. For a coach who staked his reputation on handling young players well and having genuine rapport, this was the complete opposite of what you'd expect. Hextall defended Hakstol in being tough on Konecny because it was about the larger issue of turnovers that were killing the club and skilled players such as Konecny were making too many of them. Give the kid credit. He came through without being terribly scarred and should be even more mindful of what he's doing with the puck next season. Konecny had the talent to score 15 or 20 goals this year regardless, so 11 goals represent a letdown. Yet you see the promise in the kid even if you're not quite sure where he belongs. He was on four different units in the second half of the season. Konecny took 133 shots but had 50 missed attempts. He has much better accuracy than that.
 
Roman Lyubimov
Age: Turned 25 on Jan. 6
Stats: 47 GP; 4G, 2A, 6 Pts.; minus-2; 9:34
Cap hit: RFA who earned $925,000

Whatever it was that impressed the coaching staff in training camp about this Russian import -- perhaps the fact he plays a heavy game -- it wore off quickly with Hakstol. He sat 12 straight games after late February and didn't even dress for the season finale against Carolina. He was slotted on the fourth line and that's where he played when given a chance. Despite good size, the Flyers likely feel they have a quicker, more versatile player in Vecchione, who was signed out of college in April. If the club re-signs him, Lyubimov goes to the Phantoms. If not, he likely goes back to Russia.
 
Michael Raffl
Age: Turns 29 on Dec. 1
Stats: 52 GP; 8G, 3A, 11 Pts.; minus-7; 13:15
Cap hit: $2.35 million

A bad MCL sprain to his left knee suffered against Colorado on Feb. 28 put a premature end to Raffl's season. Interestingly, he could have returned in early April but the club chose to keep him on injured reserve until season's end. What has to be answered, however, is what happened to Raffl offensively from the midpoint of the season -- Game 41 on Jan. 7 -- until he was injured. Over those next 21 games, Raffl didn't have a single point. Then his season ended. Recall, he had 21 goals three years ago in 67 games. Raffl gets a pass because he was just one of many players who had a terrible year. His gung-ho attitude and aggressive nature on the ice sets him apart from others in the dressing room. He could be exposed in the expansion draft and he's one versatile European player who can play anywhere in the lineup, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if Vegas chose him.

Our series concludes Wednesday with our second part examining the forwards.