It’s about time. While I enjoy the summer months, I much prefer to watch hockey and the time from the presentation of the Cup until the season cranks up the next fall is too long for my taste!
The Flyers have again reloaded for the 2010-11 season. Holmgren gets a lot of blame for not being patient, but his deals have been solid. So let’s look at the upcoming season and see if we can prognosticate how the Flyers have positioned themselves for this year.
The Flyers have the makings of three fully qualified scoring lines. That is 9 guys capable of putting the puck away. Not too many teams have that kind of depth. I spent the first weekend at training camp in Vorhees, NJ watching the Flyers closely. At the moment, I am assuming that the Flyers sign Guerin to a contract based on his play. That puts the opening night lines like the following (wings could change around – but the top 9 are set):
JVR – Richards – Carter
Hartnell – Briere – Leino
Guerin – Giroux – Zherdev
The 4th line will be Lapierre and Betts (once the shoulder is fine). To start with Powe might take that spot unless one of the youngsters gets a shot. The final wing spot is between Shelley and Carcillo. I don’t like one of these guys as the 13th forward. I prefer a guy like Powe for that role.
As I stated, I was at camp and Leino is definitely a top winger in this league. The guy has moves and a great, well positioned shot. He rarely misses the net. Other impressions are:
• Guerin can really skate still and possess a great shot
• Briere looks stronger and faster than last year
• Hartnell is a heart and soul guy on this team
• JVR looks fast and seems to be stronger on the wall during cycle drills
• Zherdev is exactly as advertised, a sniper that will never be a defensive presence on the team – but the team needs snipers too!
• Giroux still has the confidence from the playoffs and in his mind he has the top center mindset with the puck. The good part is that he won’t see many top defensive pairs on regular strength
The deepest defense in the league got deeper over the summer. Pronger, Timonen, Carle, and Coburn now have some running mates on the 3rd pair. The 4 or 5 guys battling for those last 2 spots are:
• Mezaros –plays very physical even in practice drills. He will surprise many with his ability to pass and shoot the puck too. He is a stay at home guy that can form a shut down pair.
• O’Donnell – the guy is a warrior and he moves the puck well. He looks to be smart, and makes quick decisions. He is the perfect 6 or 7 for the Flyers. He is a veteran with a Stanley Cup ring and he is a leader. He talks often with his partner and can probably play with anyone on the team to be a solid pair.
• Bartulis – after watching him, I really think he will be better in the AHL playing lots of minutes. He has nice skills, he just has not figured out how to maximize them during the game.
• Erik Gustavsson – now most of you will say “who?” This kid has a bright future. He moves the puck quickly, smartly and can skate away from trouble. He would probably be best as a top pair in the AHL this year, but he might be NHL ready already!
• Walker – this guy is a 6 or 7 at the NHL level at best. His skills are average or below. He doesn’t skate great, his shot is ok, his passes were frequently off the mark. He does play a nice physical game, but I see guys beating him off the rush at a higher percentage than other guys on this team. His cap number may cost him the NHL this year. If they need to purge salary, he could end up in the AHL all year.
My pairings for the Flyers defense are:
Pronger – Carle
Mezaros – Timonen
Coburn – O’Donnell
7th – Bartulis
Some other impressions on the back end of the Flyers are:
• Pronger might be the best passer I have ever seen from the defense position. He routinely makes really long passes on the tape of guys flying. He was working on faceoff circle to opposite blue line in full stride and he completes 8 out of 10. He also shoots so accurately! He is a freak of nature – and a true Flyer!
• Timonen is amazing. Smaller than you think he is, but he plays like the size of Pronger. Also so smooth skating and passing the puck. He is a luxury to enjoy on our 2nd pair for a few more seasons.
• Carle is a nice fast skating defenseman. He is not a true top pair guy, except with Pronger. He has the ability to play up with respect to big minutes and can skate away from most trouble.
• Coburn looks like he finally realized that he is a big guy. He was more physical than I can remember him being, except during the playoffs last year.
The Flyers have a lot of “nice” goalies. I watched Backlund a lot as he skated with the injured guys each morning. He was only using stand-up methods and no butterfly yet. Betts could not score often but Leino scored on about 60% of his shots. Leighton looks very solid. I think Holmgren made the right move by rewarding his performance last year with a new contract. The combination of Boucher and Leighton will be fine for the makeup of this Flyers team. The team is loaded up front and on the blue line. If the forwards perform and control the play while the defense keeps things to the outside, then the goalies will only have to stop the shots from the sides and make a key save or three each night. If the system that Laviolette is teaching is played the Flyers goalies should see between 6 and 8 shots per period and should post a few shutouts of the 18 shot variety.
I really like Bobrosky. This kids dazzles with his quickness, but if anyone thinks Hasek or Checkmanek looked funny stopping the puck, wait until you see this guy! Against non-NHL players he dominates even on 3-1, 2-1 and breakaway drills. He is HUGE and very fast. Dear Paul Holmgren, resist the temptation to play him this season in the NHL until after New Year’s Day. Let him dominate on the AHL level and get used to the smaller ice rink.
Good Night and Good Hockey!
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