When the Philadelphia Flyers introduced their free agent acquisitions to the world yesterday at the Wells Fargo Center, Paul Holmgren wasted no time mentioning how deep Vincent Lecavalier makes the team down the middle of the ice as he sees it.
“With [Claude] Giroux, Lecavalier and [Sean] Couturier as your three centers, you’re pretty good. That’s pretty good,” said Homer, after acknowledging the ability of guys like Matt Read and Max Talbot to step in for a few draws as well – something he believes makes the team “better off.”
It’s tough to disagree with the man, and not just because he’s so intimidating. With Giroux, Lecavalier, and Couturier down the middle, the Flyers have two players with a faceoff percentage above 50 percent sporting left and right handed shots, and a third waiting in the wings for an elite defensive assignment and a 21st birthday. Furthermore, having other centers like Read and Talbot littered throughout the lineup give Peter Laviolette the ability to adjust his lines for any situation that might present itself as the games unfold.
This is all good and dandy, but something that stood out to me was the omission of Brayden Schenn from that list of centers Homer mentioned by name. This could very well just be a mistake due to the sheer amount of centers on the team, but either way it doesn’t amount to the highest praise for Schenn down the middle of the ice. To me, this marks an unofficial shift to the left wing for the young forward, giving the Flyers a grand total of ‘three’ to mix into their first three lines with him included: Scott Hartnell, Brayden Schenn, and Tye McGinn.
There has been some talk of pairing Vinny with G on the top line, but the French-Canadian lefty prefers the right side of the ice. Unfortunately for him, this is where Jake Voracek literally made his money last season, and I can’t imagine the Flyers would want to risk his level of play falling off to merely duplicate this performance between Giroux and Lecavalier. Simply put, the potential return seems hardly worth the risk.
That brings us back to Hartnell, Schenn, and McGinn, but who belongs on what line? Logic, salary, and experience would seem to give the edge to the big guy with the curly hair, but Hartnell is not necessarily a lock to return to his 37-goal ways from two seasons ago on the top line. Over his first six seasons with the team, he has only averaged 25.8 goals per 82 games. Is a 25-goal season enough to avoid scrutiny for the Flyers highest paid forward and top line winger heading into next year?
If not, the logical replacement is the younger Schenn. While he has shown flashes of understanding from the perimeter and a desire to throw his weight around along the boards, #10 is still far from a sure thing to thrive on the wing, regardless of his line-mates. One of the few players to start his season in October (as a member of the Phantoms), he took a step back last year in terms of shooting at the NHL level, generating fewer shots on goal with a lower shooting percentage than in his first stint with the Orange and Black. He absolutely has the ability to turn it around and take his game to another level, but we all know this is no guarantee.
Tye McGinn exists as the X-factor. Showing flashes of success in his taste of the NHL, the rookie put up three goals in five points in his first 18 contests while averaging under 13 minutes a game. He also managed to break even in the plus/minus department while never truly looking out of place. He likely won’t be in the running for tons of minutes, but he has the ability to slide nicely into a left wing role on the third line alongside Sean Couturier. The concern here becomes whether or not he can handle the defensive responsibilities that stem from playing alongside the young shutdown center.
While the potential exists for the Flyers to excel down the left side of the ice, there is equal cause for concern. If the Flyers take to the ice with Hartnell, Schenn and McGinn as their top three options at left wing, would you be satisfied?
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