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Why patience is key for potential ‘game-breaker’ Flyers prospect Jay O’Brien

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After dissecting goaltending and the defense over the past two days, we turn our attention up front to the point producers.

In our final bye-week installment of the midseason report cards, we break down the Flyers’ forwards.

Sean Couturier

Grade: B+
Stats: 19 G, 20 A, 39 P, minus-3

Couturier, proving that 2017-18 wasn’t a fluke as the Flyers’ No. 1 center, is on pace for back-to-back 30-goal seasons. It took a while for his season to get going following a knee injury he suffered during a charity game prior to training camp. He had eight scoreless games in October alone but just 11 in the three months since.

Defensively, not as flawless as last season when he finished second in Selke voting, but he still does all the little things required of a two-way center. Currently playing some of his best hockey with four goals and six assists and a plus-6 during his six-game point streak.

Claude Giroux

Grade: B+
Stats: 14 G, 38 A, 52 P, plus-4

Would you believe that Giroux has just four fewer points through 48 games than he had at this point last season on his way to a 102-point season? Actually, Giroux has been a better point producer this season at 5-on-5 with 2.94 pts./60 min. compared to 2.81 a year ago. Continues to be a monster in the faceoff circle.

Has already exceeded his shorthanded TOI from last season and his inclusion on the PK has been one reason for the turnaround. Giroux’s move back to center has helped balance the lines. Still has some occasional defensive lapses and his backchecking is lukewarm at times.

Scott Laughton

Grade: B
Stats: 7 G, 12 A, 19 P, plus-5

Currently on pace to become the first Flyer since Joel Otto in 1996-97 to score 30 points in a season — all at even strength or shorthanded. Personally, I think Laughton is more effective at left wing than at center, where he plays a tougher, hard-checking game along the boards and doesn’t have to worry as much with the defensive responsibilities.

So far, 2018-19 has been another positive step in Laughton’s development to become a complete player that can be counted on at both ends of the ice. No Flyers forward has logged more time on the penalty kill than Laughton. He’s had some assignment breakdowns defensively but has shown improvement.

Travis Konecny

Grade: B-
Stats: 12 G, 14 A, 26 P, minus-3

Konecny has been paying more attention to the small details while eliminating high-risk plays and low percentage passes from his game. Still gets caught at times abandoning his defensive responsibilities, looking for that breakaway attempt. Even though Konecny leads the team with 99 shots on goal at even strength, his shooting percentage is down from last season. Expect his goal total to pick up over the second half of the season.  

Oskar Lindblom

Grade: B-
Stats: 5 G, 10 A, 15 P, minus-2

After a very productive road trip in early December that included a five-game point streak playing alongside Nolan Patrick, Lindblom seemed to hit a wall, produced very little offense and was banished to the fourth line, where he went scoreless for the entire month of December. He’s starting to rediscover his game again, including playing some hard minutes on the PK with his TOI back in the 17-minute range.  

Jake Voracek

Grade: C+
Stats: 11 G, 28 A, 39 P, minus-13

Voracek, arguably the most frustrating player on the team, has the ability to dominate at times and is an absolute force with the puck, but it comes sometimes at the expense of trying to force plays that simply aren’t there. Turnover prone and doesn’t exert max effort on the defensive side of the puck as well.

No forward has been more greatly affected by the Flyers’ horrific power play than Voracek, who’s offensive output was dependent on the PP. Last season, 41 percent of his production came on the power play, compared to just 21 percent this season. 

Wayne Simmonds

Grade: C+
Stats: 15 G, 8 A, 23 P, minus-11

Simmonds’ season has been a rollercoaster one with contract negotiations and trade rumors swirling heading into a summer of free agency. Still doesn’t seem to have that explosiveness that he once had and doesn’t carry much speed through the neutral zone. 

As much as the Flyers need his edge, grit, power forward mentality of crashing the net and working the dirty areas, Simmonds still gets caught up with not making the smart, simple play in his end of the ice that can lead to a turnover and eventually a goal. Simmonds also needs to cut down on penalties, leading all Flyers with 12 minors. 

James van Riemsdyk

Grade: C
Stats: 12 G, 10 A, 22 P, minus-5

Suffering a leg injury in the second game of the season derailed JVR’s start to the season. Played very passively trying to understand his role while learning on-the-fly. Could bear down a little more defensively in his own zone. 

Following a meeting with Scott Gordon, JVR has turned it loose with six goals and eight points over his last five games, displaying a net-front presence with an excellent set of hands capable of scoring in a myriad of different ways.

Nolan Patrick

Grade: C-
Stats: 9 G, 8 A, 17 P, minus-3

After having a full offseason regimen without dealing with a major injury, Patrick started the season with nine points in his first 14 games before enduring a major dropoff. From there, Patrick played with no speed and no attacking mentality in the offensive zone, and as a result, the Flyers’ second-year center went through a profound slump from mid-November to mid-January with no goals over a 24-game stretch. 

Defensively, Patrick is rarely out of position and plays like a third defenseman at times. Better suited as a third-line center. Now that he has racked up four goals over his last three games, we’ll see if he carries that confidence over from the bye week. 

Michael Raffl

Grade: C-
Stats: 3 G, 5 A, 8 P, plus-1

If the Flyers can somehow manage a sixth-round pick in a trade for Jordan Weal, it will be interesting to see how the Flyers handle Raffl for the remainder of the season. He could be moved for a mid-round draft pick.

Raffl has been much more involved when playing with more talented forwards like Voracek and Couturier and seems less engaged in a fourth-line role. However, he has been a solid contributor on the penalty kill as he’s been on the ice for just four power-play goals in 36 minutes of PK time.

Dale Weise

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 6 A, 11P, minus-6

It’s been a tale of two Dales. The Dave Hakstol version of Weise saw second-line minutes back and played some solid hockey with three goals in five games, but under Gordon, Weise has been appeared to be going through the motions, not playing with exerted effort and with very little energy. Now that he’s been told to stay at home and wait for a trade, it will be interesting to see how the situation plays itself out.

Phil Varone

Grade: D
Stats: 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, minus-4

Now 18 games played with the Flyers, Varone is one of those “tweeners” where he excels at the AHL level but it doesn’t translate to the NHL. While he has been mindful of playing solid defensively, Varone also spends the majority of his shift in the defensive end. He had a burst to his game early into his call-up but has slowed down since. Doesn’t win too many board battles.

Jori Lehtera

Grade: F
Stats: 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, minus-7

There’s really no value Lehtera brings to the Flyers. Not agile and aggressive enough to help kill penalties. Lacking the necessary foot speed to play center. As a winger, Lehtera is physical but can’t establish himself as an effective forechecker. Much rather see Nicolas Aube-Kubel in that fourth-line role.

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