Flyers Future Sky High
The Philadelphia Flyers management led by Bobby Clarke have been criticized and rightly so for some of their moves such as the signings of Jeremy Roenick, John Leclair and Chris Gratton that have had a direct effect in the rising costs of doing business in the NHL. Also their inability to find a quality goaltender, especially for those strong Lindros led teams has left Philly on the outside looking in, running their streak to 30 years without a cup win.
However the future is very bright for the Flyers. Despite having one of the oldest teams in the league, soon they may have one of the strongest young teams if they continue with their strong drafting and restocking of their farm system.
After seeing the likes of Hextall, Snow, Burke, Vanbiesbrouck, Cechmanek, Boucher fail for Philly over the years, the Flyers now finally have someone who could put them over the top. Robert Esche is probably the best goalie they have had since a young Hextall broke in back in the mid 80s. Esche fared very well in his first playoff and there are no signs that he cant continue that trend. He is only 26 and should only get better. The Flyers also have a solid prospect in Antero Nittymaki waiting in the wings. He should at least be backup next year for Philly. He has had back to back solid seasons with the Phantoms and is yet another solid goalie to come from Finland.
The Flyers for the last decade have been carried on defence by Eric Desjardins. After stealing him from the Habs, he has turned into one of the best two way defencemen in the league. However the last few years he has started to look his age and has slowed considerably. Marcus Ragnarsson has also stepped in and done a great job in his own end and has really been a great mentor to the younger players. But he too is getting old and more injury prone. But the Flyers do have a couple of guys in their prime who can lead their defence for a few more years. Kim Johnsson is one of those players that Ragnarsson has helped considerably. Johnsson has greatly improved his play in his own end and is much more reliable in all situations. and his offence has not been sacrificed. Danny Markov still has a few good battles left in him.
But the future of the defence lies in the hands of Jani Pitkanen, arguably the Flyers best young player. Like any young blueliner, his defensive game needs work at the NHL level, but he has all the skills to be a top notch offensive defenseman. He could put up big numbers if Hitch***** lets him free. Denis Seidenberg is another solid young blueliner in the system. he is a decent two way player who simply needs strength to handle the rigors of the NHL. With the likes of Rosario Ruggeri, Alex Picard and Randy Jones who still need time to develop but with potential to make it, the Flyers indeed have sufficient blueline depth for the future.
The Flyer forwards are considerably old. Roenick is one concussion away from retirement. Primeau is no longer a top scorer but has become an excellent two way threat. He is however 34 and not getting any younger. Leclair and Amonte are a couple of vastly overpaid, over-the-hill former stars who have been plagued with injuries and are producing less and less as more time passes. Kapanen is in his 30s as well but can still skate like the wind. However he cant seem to find the net the last few years. And the Flyers added even more 30 year olds when they signed Knuble and Stevenson. All these players are under contract for next year but how many of them can contribute still remains to be seen.
However the Flyers can be buoyed by the fact that they have some solid young players already with the team and some excellent prospects on the way. Radivojevic and Somik are solid role players who use their size and speed to create havoc for opponents. They are good grinding wingers. At 6’5 and around 220 pounds Handzus is one of the toughest players to handle in the defensive zone. He is a strong two way player capable of checking the opponents top player or centring the top scoring line. at 28, he has several solid seasons left in him. Simon Gagne has become a regular for Team Canada in international play. His speed, scoring ability and smarts make him a quality two way threat. And he is only 25. Though at times he has struggled to score, he is capable of netting 30 a year.
But with the majority of the offensive minded players either gone or getting old, the Flyers need pure offensive talent to shoulder the scoring load. And it appears they have such talent in their system. Jeff Carter has the size, speed and skill to be a potent power player in the NHL. Though not physical true power forward like a Cam Neely, he has the strength to cause severe matchup problems down low. The best thing is he knows how to fill the nets. players who simply go out and score are hard to find these days. Mike Richards is a different player than Carter. He is not big but plays physical, is more solid in the defensive end and is more of a playmaker than a scorer. He does not have the natural talent and speed of Carter but has a huge heart and loads of grit. He should be an excellent third line centre for years taking on all the top forwards in the NHL. He may very well be the successor to Primeau as captain. These two players give the Flyers two cornerstones to build with.
But there are some others with good potential including RJ Umberger who has the size and speed to be another Knuble type of player who could be a steady support scorer. Patrick Sharp has the smarts to be a solid two way centre. He has no one area where he is great in but just solid in all facets of the game. And Stephan Ruzicka is a bull, who has good offensive instincts. He has the skills to be a second line winger in the future.
So as you can see, Bobby Clarke has done a very good job in building a solid group of prospects to potentially take over their veteran laden team. It remains to be seen if these youngsters can put the Flyers over the top as the current members of the team have yet to do so. But it will at least give the Flyers a chance to remain competitive for years to come.