We are officially 27 days away until the start of the 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers season. (Yes people, get excited.) And with an introductory post to the Total Sports Live community, I figured I’d start with a list. Bare with me here, I usually write in list form.
Now, last year’s Flyers season left little for Flyers fans to enjoy (I think you all remember the 10-game streak…), and with that playoff elimination game against the Rangers, many were booing and hissing at the team’s effort heading out of that 10-game streak.
We are from Philadelphia and we expect playoffs. I get it, especially for a team that had made it to the playoffs before; it was disappointing having to watch the playoffs without the Fly Guys. (We won’t mention the team that won last year.)
But in order for the Flyers to have the successful season that fans and players are looking for, there are five (well technically seven, I’ll explain) Flyers players that will need to improve this season for the team to go back to their winning ways and make another playoff push.
Before I get to the five players, I’ll give one honorable mention.
My honorable mention for Flyers that need to improve belongs to the man who wears #14, Sean Couturier. I’ll give you fair warning now, if you’re going to follow me along this journey of a season, you’ll realize very quickly that I am a Sean Couturier supporter. Well, maybe more of a Sean Couturier advocate.
I tend to talk a lot about Couturier’s play in real life, in writing, and tend to have to defend him around other Flyers fans including my co-workers. It is mind numbing. Couturier can play offense, defense and manage to shut down number 1 top lines. (I’m looking at you Penguins.)
As much as the Flyers front office and fans would love to see a bump in offense (14 goals, 20 assists, and 34 points in 66 games) from what will most likely be the third line center, there’s one more important issue that needs to be addressed.
In order for Couturier to improve, he needs to stay on the ice for a full season. In the past two seasons, Couturier has not played a full season due to injuries, missing a good chunk of playing time trying to get back into action. He has not played a full 82 games since the 2014-15 season and that’s not a good thing. If Couturier can stay on the ice and has the same type of performance that we saw at the beginning of last season (the 3 goals in 2 games on the West Coast) and the end of last season, then there is no doubt that Couturier will improve.
Kait’s really early 2017 prediction: Couturier is going to play all 82 games for the first time since 2014-15. He will get his career-high in goals scored but only by 1. (His current career-high with the Flyers is 15) and will have about 23 assists for a grand total of 39 points.
So now that the honorable mention is out of the way, here are the top 5 Flyers that NEED to improve this season in order for the team to have the successful season they so desperately want.
5. Travis Konecny
The man known as “TK” is not a teenager anymore. He’s not a rookie anymore and that’s a good thing. For those who are worried about the sophomore slump that happened last season to Shayne Gostisbehere, he and Ivan Provorov are two players I’m frankly not too worried about with this. Although, I tend not to believe in slumps. There’s a chance that I’m completely wrong though.
I loved the way that Konecny played last season as a rookie. Sure, they may not have been the numbers that many were expecting from Konecny in his rookie season (11 goals, 17 assists for 28 points), but he also missed 12 games due to being benched. But rookie players seem to get a lot more comfortable in their second seasons where they know the ropes and are ready for the challenges that the NHL faces.
There always comes that risk of a sophomore slump, but I’ve seen a lot of players who were able to beat that slump rising in the past few years. Take Connor McDavid, for example. In McDavid’s second season, he produced double the amount of goals (30) and double the amount of assists (70).
No, I’m not comparing Travis Konecny to the probable future of the NHL in Connor McDavid, nor do I think Konecny has the talent that McDavid has. But maybe if we’re lucky, that sophomore slump will not affect Konecny or Provorov this season. With a full year (hopefully) of playing time, I expect some great things from TK.
Kait’s really early 2017 prediction: Konecny is going to be one of the five (yes, 5) Flyers that will have a 20-goal season. Before you think I’m crazy, Konecny is a talented, first line player, who has natural skating and puck moving abilities and is super fast. On that first line with a healthy Claude Giroux, the combination is pretty intense. And if the Flyers find that other winger to match in production and puck handling, well, you’re looking at a pretty powerful first line this season.
4. Jake Voracek
Voracek is a pretty tricky pick for me to put him on the list, for this reason, he produced last year. He led the team in points (61), third in goals (20), and second in assists (41). After the very, very shaky season that Voracek had two years ago, seeing him being able to produce the way that he did last season was a sigh of relief.
However, as a leader on the team, there’s a lot riding on him to keep producing to the level that he did last season, along with Wayne Simmonds and hopefully Giroux. As much as I like to see the production increase in Voracek’s play, I think the most important thing that Voracek needs to work on is his leadership.
As the captain, Giroux already slides well into the leadership role, looking out for the younger guys, cheering them on, and inspiring them. But as another strong leader and veteran on the team, Voracek needs to be a little more adjusted to that role. And stop being so serious man, have a little fun. Or else you’re going to get annoyed by another season full of woos.
Kait’s really early 2017 prediction: It’ll be another year of Voracek in the 20-goal range and he will bounce back and forth between the first and second line. Voracek will also continue his high assists totals, reaching up to 47 this season for a total of 69 points. Or potentially higher. We would all like higher, but I think around the same production levels for now with Voracek.
3. Goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth
I told you there were technically seven. Here’s why I lumped the goaltenders together. This is the season that Hextall and Hakstol finally and strongly enforce the goalie tandem that they had been looking to do last year with Neuvirth and Steve Mason. There was only one problem with that though, Mason was definitely not in favor of a goalie tandem.
That being said, Steve Mason left for Winnipeg in the offseason, and the Flyers signed former Calgary Flames goaltender Brian Elliott. Elliott finished last season with a .910 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average, which was a down season for him. His partner in Neuvirth struggled last season posting a .891 save percentage and 2.82 goals against average. Neuvirth, however, managed to get the contract that both him and Mason were fighting for last season.
If this goalie tag-team is going to work successfully, both goalies are going to have to post around a .920-.930 save percentage mark. It may be a little difficult with Neuvirth’s issues staying healthy and Elliott’s age. Or it may really work out. Goaltending was a shaky subject for the Flyers last season and if they have any hopes of improving this season, the combo of Elliott and Neuvirth needs to be on their A-game.
Kait’s really early 2017 prediction: Elliott, having more experience as the starting goaltender will get the start on Opening Night against the San Jose Sharks. Game 2 is completely up in the air. Elliott will probably also play more games than Neuvirth will and you’ll definitely see multiple games from Anthony Stolarz this season.
2. Shayne Gostisbehere
Ah, the Ghost Bear. There’s a reason that he’s number 2 on this list and not number 1. But we’ll get to that. He really took a hit last season compared to his rookie year. He knew during last season that he wasn’t playing up to the level that he had been and even got benched for a few games to clear his head.
I think a lot of his issues last year were related to the offseason surgery that he had. He was never fully healthy last season and it showed by the dramatic dip in his production. With the stellar rookie season that he had, Gostisbehere had a lot of expectations in his first full year and dropped the ball a little bit. He might have also been in his own head a little bit but this season, with Ghost fully healthy and a little more motivated to do better, I think we’ll definitely see some improvements.
Kait’s really early 2017 prediction: Don’t be afraid Flyers fans; it’ll be a slow climb for the Ghost Bear to get back to his rookie season numbers. I think Ghost manages to get into the 10-goal range, but barely by the end of the season. I think Ghost will make more of defensive impact this season as well because his pairing will be a little different and hopefully a little better considering he is fully healed and ready to go. He also looked like he was having fun at the NHL Media Day, which is good news. This will definitely be a better year for Ghost.
1. Claude Giroux
And finally topping the list, the Captain Claude Giroux. There’s been a lot going on about Giroux these days including the comments from Jeremy Roenick about Giroux getting inside his head too much, which he agreed to. Plus CSNPhilly.com recently published an article talking about Giroux’s responses to some of the writers who may or may not have bashed him.
Let me get this clear right now. Claude Giroux is not a bad captain and is not a bad player, despite what many Twitter Flyers fans have said. He is right though; he was in his head A LOT last season. He was also never fully healthy. His skating seemed a bit off, he didn’t take the kind of shots that Flyers fans were used to seeing. He actually shot on net 199 times last season, compared to the past 3 seasons where he’s shot well over 200.
After three seasons of solid offense, it was a little disappointing for Flyers fans to see. However, from all the reactions I’ve seen, this is all just motivation for a guy like him. And I say the more hate the better at this point if he’s going to come out here and prove everyone wrong (and me right). There is no way that Claude Giroux is letting himself have the season that he had last year. He has too much pride not only in himself but in his team to let what happened last year happen again. When Giroux is on his game, he’s incredibly productive, smart, and talented with the puck. And I think this season; Giroux is fully healthy and coming out with a little chip on his shoulder, watch out Sharks.
Kait’s really early 2017 prediction: Giroux hits the 20-goal mark after missing it last season and ends up leading the team in points and assists. Yes, this is a lot of heavy expectations on the Captain early in the season, but if anyone can live up to the hype I’m providing, it’s that guy. Also he’s going to have a lot of power play goals, again. That man loves scoring on the power play.