I love a shutout win as much as the next guy, but I think we can all agree that the Flyers' 4-0 preseason victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight was more about recognizing several standout players for the purpose of evaluating the final roster, rather than the cohesiveness of the team's play as a whole.
The good news is that there is a whole lotta upside to the Flyers newbies/young guns.
Here are my picks for the Flyers young-gun standouts after game 1 of the preseason -
1. Sergei Bobrovsky
At first glance, I wasn't entirely sure who was in net for Philly when the Leafs took their first shot. It's obvious that Bob has worked hard on his position game over the summer. It still needs some work, but I was impressed with his improvement in not getting down too low too early, or over-committing himself to the shooter on opposing teams' scoring chances in this game. I thought he did a fair job of avoiding those things tonight. Again, it's only one game, but you can't argue with his performance tonight against several of Toronto's top scoring threats.
2. Matt Read
This is a name that I am willing to bet you will be hearing a lot more very soon. I was pretty high on this guy even before training camp started and I'm glad I've been given the opportunity to gloat in my accurate assumptions based on his level of play tonight. Every time Read touched the puck, the potential for a scoring chance to occur dramatically increased. He very much resembled a veteran player tonight, both with and without the puck. Part of this showing could be due to his flat out desire to win a roster spot, but it's obvious he has the vision and instinct that really can't be taught in order to succeed in the NHL. In short, Read might not have much more need for development before hitting the big show.
3. Jakub Voracek
Having not seen Voracek play a full game before, I was very impressed with his skill on the puck and his skating ability. The claim that his conditioning is a concern was not evident to me in tonight's game. That's different than the rigors of a full NHL season, but he handled the puck well while creating offensive opportunities with his speed. There was even one point towards the end of the game when he continued to hang onto the puck, took a hit and made a long, screened backhand pass cross point to a defenseman joining the play at the blue line. There are some serious Ville Leino similarities in his passing skills and it comes with a physical endurance bonus. If he gets enough ice time, Voracek should easily match Leino's point totals from last season.
4. Wayne Simmonds
There isn't too much to say about this guy except that I love how he plays the game. His grit and physical game feeds his offensive opportunities and he has a strong net presence, which ended up giving him a deflection PP goal. If he can keep this style of play consistently this year, he should be able to surpass his point totals from previous seasons, depending on who he plays with.
5. Brayden Schenn
Schenn played a very solid game overall. He did the little things that are necessary to win aside from getting onto the score sheet, despite the fact that he finished the night with an assist on Simmonds goal from a great faceoff win in the offensive zone. But more than that, Schenn played one hell of a defensive game. The fact that many scouts believe Schenn plays a Mike Richards game but has more offensive upside is VERY promising, considering he had such a monster defensive game, with several great blocked shots, while also creating turnovers. I believe that along with Read, Schenn is most ready to step into an NHL role right now. We'll see how he performs in the rest of the preseason, but I think his time has come.
6. Sean Couturier
Couturier's performance in the Flyers-Caps rookie game strongly suggested he was not ready for the NHL. However, after seeing his play tonight, that wasn't as clear. He definitely made some strides in his physical game tonight and ended up scoring the final goal. Sure it was off of a poor play by Toronto in their own zone, but he made the most of his opportunity. He still needs to improve his strength on the puck and his skating, but he definitely improved tonight over his previous performance in the rookie game. I still think he would benefit most by going to the AHL and it is really unfortunate that he will have to return to juniors if he doesnt make the big squad.
7. Blake Kessel and Zac Rinaldo
Kessel's strengths came out tonight in this game as we saw his ability to help out in the offensive zone by pinching in from the blue line to continue the cycle and he definitely improved his positional game from his performance in the Flyers Caps rookie game. Likewise, Rinaldo's game was out in full form tonight as he made several big hits, scored the opening goal on a great diving backhand that I'm sure very few people (including myself) thought very likely in the first preseason game. Unlike Kessel, however, Rinaldo has a good shot at making the big club this year if he can maintain a similar sense of self-control as he did in tonight's game.
On the whole, I thought the entire team played a solid game with only a handful of seriously poor plays/puck decisions. Other players such as Gustafsson and Harry Z also played solid games, but the players listed above, to me, stood out the most.
Fly on, my friends.