Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

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Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

Simon Gagne said it almost felt like coming home.

“It feels almost like I never left,” the newest Flyer said after his first game back in Philadelphia. “Just walking in the building before the game, knowing everyone and everybody’s still here. … It definitely helped me tonight to get through the tough travel yesterday, definitely helped me to get through the game and feeling good.”

The Flyers re-acquired Gagne in a surprise move Tuesday (see story), flying him through the night on a red-eye from Los Angeles in time to play in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals.

But Gagne didn’t just fight through fatigue to put in his 16 minutes. His scoring chances started on his very first shift with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot, and he went on to score the Flyers’ third goal of the night, a tap-in beauty on the power play.

He couldn’t have written the script better if he’d tried.

“Not really, I guess,” he said, smiling. “Especially after what happened yesterday, flying late last night from L.A. I tried to sleep a little bit, but at the same time, now I’m excited to be back. It was hard to fall asleep. I tried to get a nice night of sleep, but at the end, coming here and getting a big win, and scoring that tap-in goal, it’s a good scenario for sure.”

Gagne, of course, has a big leg up over most other players who are traded midseason. He is familiar with the area, he knows nine Flyers from his previous stint with the team and he’s already played for coach Peter Laviolette. He even technically still owns a home in Voorhees, N.J., -- he only just found someone to buy it last month.

Fans, too, were ecstatic about his return. Gagne was a crowd favorite during his 10 seasons in Philadelphia, and he was greeted with cheers when he skated on the ice for warm-ups. When a video welcome was played on the Jumbotron in the first period, he received a loud standing ovation.

“I think there’s always a little bit of an adjustment when a player comes to the team,” Laviolette said. “But I think it’s easier when they’ve been there and they’ve played for the coach and know a lot of the players and a lot of the system. I think that does make it a little bit easier.”

Gagne’s new teammates were simply hoping for an emotional boost in his return Wednesday. They got so much more. His goal at 3:54 of the second period was his first since Nov. 17, 2011, and first for the Flyers since March 28, 2010. In his 11 games with the Kings this season, he had five assists but had yet to score.

“Sometimes you just need one to get things rolling,” Gagne said. “And it was good to get that first one in my first game back in Philly.”

The 32-year-old left wing was a casualty of depth with Los Angeles, a healthy scratch for the Kings’ last four games. His injury and concussion struggles over the last couple years were no secret, but Gagne said he’s felt healthy this season and was excited to hit the ice with memories of last season’s struggles (he missed the Kings’ last 47 regular-season games) behind him. He would use only his Stanley Cup victory experience to build on.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to figure out where he fit in on this season’s L.A. roster.

With the Flyers, though, his experience makes his role here obvious.

“Right away, I got a call from Homer (general manager Paul Holmgren) yesterday, and talking to Lavy (Laviolette) on the phone yesterday, they told me what my role’s going to be,” Gagne said. “… As a player, you need that. It was maybe the tough thing in L.A., I wasn’t sure what my role was and didn’t really understand why I was not playing.”

Gagne, who will turn 33 on Friday, has always kept the thought in the back of his mind that he could return to the Flyers one day. He had hoped it might happen, but couldn’t imagine it would have happened less than three years after he left.

He might not be the player he was during his first stint with the Flyers, but he is a wiser player. And that knowledge should only help him -- and his new team -- during this strange, lockout-shortened season.

“[The Kings] thought it was going to be the best place for me to come back and make things a lot easier to try to get my game back,” Gagne said. “I know exactly what I have to do, I’ve got the experience. I know what it takes to play in Philly.”

And Wednesday night, he said, he’ll definitely sleep well.

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.