Jordan Weal

2017 Flyers training camp: 5 questions that must be answered

2017 Flyers training camp: 5 questions that must be answered

VOORHEES, N.J. — On Friday, the Flyers and the other 30 teams across the NHL opened training camp in their pursuit of dethroning the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since 1998.

Every season comes with an entirely new set of questions that need to be answered. For the Flyers, some are obvious ones: Will Claude Giroux regain his form, which rookies will make the opening night roster and who will be the No. 1 in net? Ultimately, how will the pieces come together for the season opener in San Jose come Oct. 4?

Assuming everyone starts the season healthy, here are five more questions worth exploring:

1. Does Valtteri Filppula start the season at center?  
If the answer to this question is yes, then Jori Lehtera would be forced to make the unfamiliar move to wing. And where would that leave Nolan Patrick with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Filppula as your three primary centers?

As you recall, the line of Filppula along with Jordan Weal at left wing and Wayne Simmonds at right wing provided some spark at the end of last season with Weal scoring a goal in four straight games and a point in six of his last seven. Does that late chemistry keep that line together to start this season? Probably not. Center is Filppula’s natural position and he’s reliable taking draws, where he’s been above 50 percent almost every season throughout his 12-year career.

He’s also defensively responsible, and during his brief time in Philadelphia last season, he rarely looked out of position. The 33-year-old Filppula is also versatile enough to play left wing as he’s proven during his time in Detroit and Tampa Bay. I think Dave Hakstol ultimately will utilize Filppula at both positions throughout the preseason to see what combinations work best. While I don’t see him reaching the 20-goal mark, which he hasn’t done since 2013-14, he’s more of an ideal third-line player since he plays a smart, responsible game. 

2. Who are your top two left wings?
Piggybacking off the previous question surrounding Filppula and Lehtera, left wing appears to be the one position that is wide open to competition. I see Travis Konecny, Weal and Oskar Lindblom as three talented, skilled left wingers who will battle it out to play in the Flyers' top six. Weal’s emergence at the end of last season coupled with Lindblom’s potential scoring ability make this scenario rather interesting.

While Weal is certainly capable of playing on a fourth line, that would seem to undermine what type of contributor he could be and why the Flyers elected to re-sign him.

It’s believed Konecny will have a shot at starting the season with Giroux on the team’s top line with Jakub Voracek flanked on the right side. However, Konecny found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse toward the end of last season, when he averaged around 10 minutes over his final 10 games. He knows he needs to sharpen his two-way game.

Lindblom, who was paired with Giroux on Day 1 of camp, is a special player and the coaches have raved about him leading up to training camp, but he’s an unproven commodity. Essentially, you have three players (Weal, Konecny and Lindblom) battling for prime minutes on the Flyers' top two lines.

3. Can you trust the rookies together as the third defensive pairing?
This is the question that needs to be answered with certainty by the time the puck drops in San Jose.

How nice would it have been to ease into the season with a string of home games to acclimate the young guys on defense regardless of if it’s Sam Morin, Robert Hagg or Travis Sanheim? Unfortunately, the Flyers don’t have that luxury. Instead, they begin the season with four straight on the road, which obviously gives their opponent last change. While expectations run high with this group of prospects, it’s natural to think there will be a few bumps in the road.

Considering Shayne Gostisbehere started 68 percent of his faceoff shifts on the offensive side of center ice (league high for defensemen), rarely is "Ghost" called upon to begin a shift in the defensive zone. When the Flyers face bigger teams like the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, Hakstol will have to be wise when and where he employs his defensive pairings. One mark of a quality playoff team is one that has reliable defensemen capable of protecting a one-goal lead in the final minutes of a game, especially on the road. Ivan Provorov is only one guy, which is why the Flyers need a second pairing that Hakstol can trust as much as his first one. Perhaps the head coach finds a way to split up the two rookies to maintain some balance of skill, size and experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if one rookie is a healthy scratch to start the season in favor of the more experienced Brandon Manning.

4. Is the loss of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare a big deal?
Bellemare was left unprotected this summer on the Flyers' expansion list that included Weal, Matt Read and Michael Raffl, to name a few. While Bellemare was not a contributor on the scoresheet in terms of points, he knew exactly what his role was with the Flyers and accepted it. He earned his way onto the Flyers coming out of training camp in 2014 and proceeded to play 237 out of a possible 246 games, mostly as a fourth-line center.  

Bellemare can be credited for doing a little bit of everything. He delivered hits, blocked shots, killed penalties effectively and won key faceoffs, even if his overall numbers were below 50 percent. He was not your typical fourth-liner, averaging over 13 minutes in his three seasons in Philadelphia, and would you believe Bellemare actually finished last season in the top 50 in voting for the Selke trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward?

The Vegas Golden Knights saw the value in Bellemare and snatched him up at a cap value of just less than $1.5 million for the next two seasons. While in the Flyers' grand scheme losing Bellemare won’t prove to be much of a setback, it does create a void for the upcoming season. There are several contenders the Flyers will be considering to plug the gap, and right now I would lean toward Scott Laughton, who the coaching staff raved about for adopting more of a two-way game last season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Interestingly, general manager Ron Hextall elected to protect the 23-year-old Laughton over the 32-year-old Bellemare during the expansion draft because of the youth factor.  

5. Can the Flyers create balance within their power play?
As the longest-tenured assistant coach on the Flyers' staff, Joe Mullen was replaced this past offseason with Kris Knoblauch. Knoblach's primary duties will be handling the power-play responsibilities. It was the Flyers' power play that propelled them to the top of the standings during their 10-game winning streak. Following the stretch, they struggled mightily, falling from No. 1 in the league to middle of the pack by season’s end as the Flyers' top unit was relied upon to perform most of the heavy lifting. It accounted for a whopping 83 percent of the team’s power-play goals.

Only nine of the 54 goals tallied on the man advantage were scored by someone other than Giroux, Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Voracek or Gostisbehere. There has to be a little more balance here if the Flyers want to finish in the top 10 again. Who will provide that element of skill on the second unit? Lindblom instantly comes to mind as the coaching staff has raved about his quick release and impressive skill set. Patrick could be a good fit if he indeed makes the team, as well as Lehtera with his vision and hockey sense. It’s a two-fold process: How will Knoblauch’s setup and design incorporate the strengths of the Flyers' roster, and how will the two units be assembled so they’re both power-play threats?  

Jordan Weal talks nearly going to Vegas, 'politics' that kept him in AHL

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USA Today Images

Jordan Weal talks nearly going to Vegas, 'politics' that kept him in AHL

VOORHEES, N.J. — It was just a week ago that Jordan Weal was faced with yet another nail-biting deadline.  

Only this time he was trying to move all of his stuff out of his Boston apartment before the lease expired. Weal believed he had prepared for everything until he encountered some bad wiring on the rental trailer he was preparing to tow for his trip back to Philadelphia — a problem that took some eight hours to repair, placing his commute in jeopardy.

“It was tense getting things moved out for sure,” said Weal, who found himself more relaxed skating with teammates this week in Voorhees, New Jersey.

Weal’s latest expedition just seemed to sum up what was the most nerve-racking, yet rewarding summer of his professional career leading up to a two-year extension worth $3.5 million. 

“Going into free agency, I had no idea what to expect," he said. "It was kind of a whirlwind with all of the stuff going on, especially with the Vegas stuff. That was changing everything. I was just sitting back and letting my agent do everything."

The “Vegas stuff” Weal is referring to was the expansion draft that took place 10 days prior to free agency. The Vegas Golden Knights had their sights set on Weal, along with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, as their Flyers selection. As humbled as Weal was to be wanted by the NHL’s newest franchise, he made it known through his agent, J.P. Barry, that he wanted to stay in Philadelphia. The Flyers and Weal reached an agreement just days before the start of free agency on July 1.

“I was really happy to get something done with the Flyers and come back here," Weal said. "It's a great organization, one of the best organizations in the league. Just a sense of comfortability, knowing everybody, coming back and building off what we had last year."

Weal proved his worth down the stretch run with eight goals and 12 points from Feb. 28 to the end of the season, primarily playing on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.  

“They’ve been in the league so long, both of them,” Weal said of Filppula and Simmonds. “They’re just great players and I can’t say enough about those two. It was a pleasure to play with them. Hopefully, we can start the year again together.”

The fact that Weal had to wait until February to finally get his NHL shot was frustrating to him and mind-boggling to his former Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote, who spoke about the situation with Broad Street Hockey.

“This guy outgrew the American Hockey League two years ago," Cote said. "Unfortunately, he was screwed with politics last year with the Flyers, and I don’t remember how many games he ended up playing.”

According to the BSH article, Cote didn’t elaborate on what those politics were and Weal couldn’t say for certain what kept him in the AHL perhaps longer than expected, but he had high praise for Cote.

“I’m not sure [about the politics], but Cotesy was an awesome coach and for whatever reason, he’s out of the organization now," Weal said. "Guys down in Allentown really loved him. He’s a player’s coach. He played the game for such a long time in such a hard way. He knew every style of play and every player’s personality and how to coach him. I heard he had some great things to say in that interview.”

If you’re wondering how Weal is wired, more so than his rental trailer, look no further than his parents — his father, Kelly, and his mother, Shelley — whom he calls the “yin and yang” in helping him navigate his NHL career. Dad is the watchdog-type while mom keeps Weal grounded.

“My dad gets a little wrapped in it, but my mom, she definitely keeps me down to earth,” Weal said. "She says, ‘All your buddies back home are sitting at an eight-hour desk job and you get to play hockey for three hours a day.'

"It’s pretty nice to do what we’re doing. You've just got to step back sometimes, and when things aren’t where you want to be or going the way you want, you have to remember you’re playing a game and you have to work hard to get what you want. [The politics] definitely popped into my head a couple of times, but you can’t get all consumed in it, and you’re not doing yourself any favors.”

And as Weal has found out, just getting from Point A to Point B is never as easy as it looks.

Jordan Weal's emergence makes Vinny Lecavalier trade look that much sweeter

Jordan Weal's emergence makes Vinny Lecavalier trade look that much sweeter

When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall traded Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings on Jan. 6, 2016, many applauded Hextall for somehow ridding himself of Lecavalier’s contract.
 
Little was it known then that Hextall acquired a piece from Los Angeles that now has a potential to hit big. No one thought Jordan Weal was anything more than a throw-in.
 
Weal was a player in the Kings’ organization that never found success at the NHL level despite churning out husky numbers in the AHL — 70 points in 2013-14, 69 in 2014-15.
 
“Jordan is at a point where he has been a top American League player and he’s trying to prove himself as an NHL player,” Hextall said after the trade. “He’s gonna have to answer that question. He’s a very dedicated player. He’s got a high skill level.”
 
The Flyers got out from Lecavalier’s crippling contract, L.A. got two veterans for a playoff push while moving on from a 2010 third-round pick, and giving up a 2016 third-rounder.
 
Win-win for both sides. Right? Except now, it appears to be a major coup for the Flyers.
 
On Thursday night, Weal signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension with the Flyers after he went on an NHL tour gauging his interest. He reportedly visited the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Canucks this week but chose to stay in Philadelphia.
 
Weal is expected to have a top-six role with the Flyers in 2017-18. His AHL success finally translated last season when he got the call-up from Lehigh Valley on Feb. 10.
 
The 25-year-old finished the season registering eight goals and 12 points in 23 games. He ended the campaign with eight points in his final 10 games and injected life into the Flyers.
 
The Jordan Weal we saw from Feb. 11 on was a completely different player from the one we saw last training camp and preseason, and in the four games he played here in 2015-16.

Weal was hungrier than we saw in camp and stronger in puck battles. A natural center, where he played with the Phantoms, he found a spot on the wing with the Flyers.
 
“They gave me a great chance last year to play with some great players, and I think this is a group that’s heading in the right direction,” Weal said Thursday. “The way we were playing hockey, it was a good brand, a good style.”
 
Weal spent most of the time last season playing left wing on a line with Wayne Simmonds (207:31) at right wing and either Claude Giroux (119:33) or Valtteri Filppula (107:02) in the middle.
 
He especially clicked with Simmonds. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol kept the pair together even when mixing up his lines to spread the wealth. It’s a good guess Weal and Simmonds will be together next season, but the center of the line is where it gets interesting.
 
Ten of his 11 even-strength points last season came while playing with Simmonds. Three came with Giroux in the middle, three with Filppula and one with Sean Couturier.
 
It sounds like Hakstol expects a much larger role for Travis Konecny in his second season, and it’s fair to speculate that means a top-six role for Konecny too. We know Giroux will be the top-line center, but no one expects Filppula to stay on the second line anymore.
 
With Nolan Patrick in the mix — and yes, all signs point to him being a Flyer next season — and Couturier, Filppula’s best bet is to shift to third-line wing or fourth-line center.
 
Lines will come together in camp, but a line of Weal, Couturier and Simmonds has the potential to be a productive trio. It would certainly satisfy the Corsi community. Weal (55.9) and Couturier (54.5) led all Flyers who played significantly last season.
 
“I think [Weal] can be a big part of where we go in the near future and the long future here,” Hakstol told The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday. “Most importantly on game nights, he’s a guy who goes out and gets the job done. He finds a way to impact and affect the game.”
 
There was some concern over the money. The term wasn’t the issue. The concern was how much would Weal catch on the open market? Could he be another Jonathan Marchessault?
 
But at $1.75 million per over two years, it’s an extremely reasonable contract. If Weal continues to produce like he did last season, it’s a major hit. Weal turns into a 40-plus point player at a reasonable price. The next contract is where he’ll hit paydirt.
 
If Weal doesn’t produce at the same rate, then his $1.75 million cap hit isn’t debilitating, and the Flyers avoid a Ville Leino situation. (Sorry, Buffalo.)
 
As for the Kings? They were bounced in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
 
The Lecavalier trade was already a win for the Flyers.
 
Now with Weal’s emergence, it's lining up to be a major steal for Hextall.