By Dan Charlton (@Dan_Charlton48)
The Flyers are set up for a while in the center position for the top two lines with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier (despite what some may think), the acquisition of Valtteri Filppula as a stopgap gives some of these players a chance to reach their true talent as centers. Along with those names will come the likely addition of Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. Those two players are both projected to be first-line centers one day, and as the Flyers have not officially drafted one of them yet, I will not be analyzing them in this article.
Having good, strong, reliable centers is key in building a cup contender. Having four confident lines that can be rolled out in multiple situations makes it easier on players not having to carry the whole weight of their team. The Flyers are setting up to have multiple centers who will be instrumental in the team’s success for years to come.
CENTER 1: MIKHAIL VOROBYOV (Salavat Yulaev Ufa-KHL)
Drafted: Round 4, 104th Overall, 4th Round
KHL: 44 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 P
KHL (Playoffs): 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
WJC U20: 7 GP, 0 G, 10 A, 10 P
While his numbers may not jump off the page at first, but then you see ‘KHL’. The Kontinental Hockey League is the second best league in the world, filled with former NHLers who either didn’t get an offer from any team, received a more enticing offer in Russia, or those who would rather play in their homeland (ie: Pavel Datsyuk). Vorobyov saw bottom-six usage as a 20 year old in the KHL which is phenomenal for his age. He was named to the Russian’s World Junior National team where he shined. The “Assist King” of the tournament led all players in the marker with 10 and was key in Russia winning bronze. He has some size to him at 6-2 and weighs in at 207 lbs. The Russian center is making the jump over to the AHL next season to play with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and should be competing for a roster spot in 2018-19 to replace the then most-likely gone Filppula.
CENTER 2: RADEL FAZLEEV (Lehigh Valley-AHL)
Drafted: 2014, 168th Overall, 6th Round
AHL: 65 GP, 6 G, 10 A, 16 P,
ECHL: 1 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
AHL(Playoffs): 0 GP, 0 G, 0A, 0 P
From one Russian, onto another. Fazleev, a former sixth-round selection had a great season in the WHL in 2015-16 playing alongside fellow Flyers draft pick Travis Sanheim in Calgary, tallying 19 goals and 52 assists for 71 points in 59 games as well as winning silver at the U20 WJC.. His transition to the pro game in Lehigh was a bit up and down. He was originally used as the fourth-line center, but eventually ended up in the press box and even sent down to the ECHL, albeit for one game. Fazleev is, most likely, not going to be more than a bottom-six center who can score at time, which is more than ideal for a sixth round selection. Look for him to get an increased role with the Phantoms due to veterans Andy Miele and Mark Zengerle leaving.
CENTER 3: GERMAN RUBTSOV (Chicoutimi-QMJHL)
Drafted: 2016, 22nd Overall, Round 1
KHL(Vityaz): 15 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
MHL(Vityazi): 15 GP, 7 G, 8 A, 15 P
WJC: 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
QMJHL: 16 GP, 9 G, 13 A, 22 P
A third Russian, a bit surprising from a team that used to be so anti-Russian during the Bob Clarke days. Rubtsov had an unfortunate case that led to him falling to the Flyers at selection number 22 in the 2016 draft. The Russian national team he had been playing for was given PEDs by the coaching staff, unbeknownst to them. Following that, he played in the KHL where unlike, Vorobyov, was given the “young kid” treatment by Russian coaches. He barely got to play in the KHL, given fourth-line minuets and often was benched mid-game in favor of players with seniority. He played well when sent to the MHL, but was again given the typical Russian young guy treatment at the WJC, before his tournament ended with a broken nose. What happened next was the best thing to happen for his career. His contract with Vityaz was terminated, and he was able to move onto Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. The crafty center quickly adjusted to the North American game and scored at over a point-per-game pace before his season ended with an unfortunate injury that prevented him from playing in the QMJHL playoffs. There is one catch however: he was placed on the wing. Rubtsov could succeed as a center still, but either position may work for the player.
CENTER 4: COOPER MARODY (Michigan-NCAA)
Drafted: 2015, 158th Overall, 6th Round
NCAA: 18 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 P
Marody had an interesting season in Michigan. He was academically ineligible to play for the first semester, but when he returned, he came back big. Marody posted his first career hat trick and tallied enough points to fall just short of a point-per-game pace. With his sophomore season wrapped up, look for Marody to start getting a larger role with Michigan. He seems to be a depth center on the bottom-nine that has some scoring touch. Again, another great find by the Flyers in the sixth round.
CENTER 5: NICK COUSINS (Flyers-NHL)
Drafted: 2011, 68th Overall, 3rd Round
NHL: 60 GP, 6 G, 10 A, 16 P
Cousins is a confusing one. In 2015-16 as a late call-up, the young center performed well in the role he was given on the team, posting six goals and five assists for 11 points in 36 games. Preseason rolled around and it seemed to be a three-horse race for the third/fourth line center role between Cousins, Jordan Weal, and Scott Laughton. Laughton had an injury, but Cousins was chosen over Weal, which in hindsight leaves us scratching our heads. Weal as a call-up, posted almost as many points as Cousins (12 P, 8 G, 4 A) in almost a third of the games (23 GP). And while Weal played on the wing for the entirety of his call-up and played on a higher line than Cousins, Cousins also ended up on the wing. In a sense, the player who seemed to be the solution to a missing third-line center, turned into a decent bottom-six winger and a press box piece. In all honesty, Cousins should have played more than the obvious two choices (Bellemare and VandeVelde), but he was constantly jerked around the lineup which could be a possible explanation for why he struggled this year. Overall it was not a promising year for Cousins as players like Laughton, who outscored him in 2015-16 (21 P, 7 G, 14 A), and Weal, who were both waiting in the AHL could perform the same job to the same extent or better.
CENTER 6: SCOTT LAUGHTON (Lehigh Valley-AHL)
Drafted: 2012, 20th Overall, 1st Round
AHL: 60 GP, 19 G, 20 A, 39 P
AHL(Playoffs): 5 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 P
NHL: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
The tragic case of Scott Laughton, a praised prospect entering the league, had a decent rookie year, but nothing mind-blowing in 2014-15. He played his best hockey of the year on the wing at the tail-end of the 2015-16 season, where he was able to use his speed and great wrist shot. The young forward ended up scratched until the playoff series against Washington, in which he had a scary collision with the boards and had to be carried off on a stretcher in Game 4. Most looked forward to seeing if he would progress, and perhaps see a bigger role on the wing this season. Due to an ill-timed injury, he was sent to the AHL on a “conditioning stint” which turned out to be where he would spend most of his season. He got a brief call-up, but after one costly turnover, Hakstol had already had enough of him and was sent back down to the AHL. There he scored 39 points in 60 games, but wing prospect Taylor Leier got a shot to fill in with the Flyers before him. After seeing his play in the AHL, Laughton seems to have re-found his game at the center position and should be competing for the fourth line center spot with newly signed college center Mike Vecchione.
CENTER 6: MIKE VECCHIONE (Union-NCAA)
Drafted: Undrafted (Signed as a Free Agent)
NCAA: 38 GP, 29 G, 34 A, 53 P
NHL: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
Last year, Ron Hextall and the Flyers landed prized college free agent Alex Lyon. Fast forward to the end of this year and he landed yet another prized free agent in Mike Vecchione. Vecchione played for Union College alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. They helped the team to an NCAA championship right here in Philly in 2014. The young forward was looking for an NHL team that would give him an opportunity to play his desired center position, and the Flyers were willing to give him that as well as burn off his ELC at the end of this season. Vecchione figures to re-sign this offseason and in the limited view that was given of him, he looks like he can handle the fourth-line at the NHL level.
The Flyers have quickly amassed one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. Results are starting to show with standouts Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov making the NHL, Shayne Gostisbehere has looked great, and more than a couple prospects are knocking on the door. At times, the Flyers center depth was called into question, but now with the current addition of Filppula, is slightly more stable. Those days are quickly coming to a close as prospects like Vorobyov, who flew under the radar are rapidly approaching their time to hit the NHL. With the addition of Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick, the Flyers are going to be threatening at the center position for a long time to come.
Photo credit: flyers.nhl.com