The Flyers are taking this whole youth movement thing pretty seriously. A few weeks ago we took a look at the ages of every pro athlete in Philadelphia and noted that the Flyers may end up averaging slightly older than our calculations if some of the younger players were sent down to the minors or back to juniors after camp. Well, here they are, most of them at least, ready to play for the Flyers as the team drops the puck on the 2017-18 season tonight in San Jose. Faceoff is 10:30 pm ET on NBCSN.
How young are the Flyers? They have more players born in the 1990s than in the 1980s, and on the official roster (as of Tuesday) they have six players born as recently as 1995. This is “Sixers-level” young, and at key positions, too. Of the three projected defensive pairings to start the season, only Andrew McDonald was born before 1990 and those groupings don’t include Samuel Morin who, along with Robert Hagg, should make the opening-day roster. So, too should Travis Sanhiem if you listen to any reasonable analyst this preseason, but he’ll be the odd rookie out as the season begins. Sanheim is the youngest of the three rookie defensemen, having turned 21 in March, but he is nine months older than Ivan Provorov who feels like a veteran on the back line at this point in his pro career.
And Provorov should. He played all 82 games last season and now, at age 20, has more time served than possibly seven of his teammates.
Shrewd drafting has begun to pay off for the Flyers. Morin and Hagg were taking in the 2013 draft, which, given the advancement of Scott Laughton and Shayne Gostisbehere through the system to the lineup — both 2012 draft choices — this should be the year for the defensive duo to make their mark with the Flyers. Taylor Leier, who has just 16 NHL games to his name, was also taken in the 2012 draft.
Sanheim and Oskar Lindblom, who will be on the Phantoms to start the year, were taken in 2014. Provorov and Travis Konecny, both first-round picks in 2015, are already mainstays with the team. Konecny played 70 games last season.
The Flyers have never been afraid of putting young players on the ice. Laughton and Gostisbehere each have more than 100 games with the Flyers and Sean Couturier, drafted the year before those two in 2011, has played 416 games at 24 years old! It’s just, this year feels lot a lot of young (and inexperienced) players all at once.
This is where we’d say “trust the prospects,” which is a play on the Sixers’ mantra Trust the Process but for the bevy of prospects the Phillies have employed over the last few months. But some of these kids on the Flyers were never really even prospects. Nolan Patrick was drafted No. 2 overall like 15 minutes ago, made the team during camp and could be on a line with Wayne Simmonds when the puck drops to start the season. He’s going to be here for quite a while.
For the first time, FlyersTV Originals brings you the up-close and personal moments with the #Flyers.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 3, 2017
And so with that, this is shaping up to be an odd year for the Flyers, more similar perhaps to what the Phillies are going through than the Sixers. The first half of the 2017 Phillies season was supposed to be promising, but it turned out to be a complete disaster. Then they called up a bunch of their prospects once the season was lost and low-and-behold they started to win. Would a bad first half full of growing pains coupled with a strong finish be a successful season for the Flyers? Probably in the long run, yes, but as the season begins there still a good amount of “win-now” talent on the roster. So the Flyers should try to win. Now.
Claude Giroux isn’t getting any younger. In fact, he’s getting old, certainly in hockey terms, as he turns 30 in January. The Flyers just assigned Matt Read to the Phantoms after he cleared waivers, if for no other reason than he’s 31 years old and makes too much money. So how many other aging players will find themselves traded or released before the year is out, to make room for more of these stud rookies?
And what will that mean in terms of wins? Do wins even matter? According to Oddshark, which pulled Stanley Cup odds on Sept. 20, the Flyers were 50-to-1 to win the Cup this year, tied with four other teams, and ahead of the Red Wings, Avalanche and Devils, to name three of just six teams with worse odds.
In USA Today‘s season preview, they picked the Flyers to finish tied for last in the Metropolitan division with 85 points, more than 20 behind the Penguins and Blue Jackets and the fourth-fewest points in the league.
As the season opens and the puck drops, know this could be a long year for the Flyers. But like the Phillies and the Sixers the last few years, it’s going to be hell of a lot of fun to watch the development of so many young players, and the promise of youth grow as the year goes along.