Although preseason games obviously don’t count in the standings come the start of the season, they do serve a very important purpose.
Does Jaromir Jagr have enough left in the tank at 39 years-old to be a contributor this season? How will newcomers Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and others fit in with the core of the Flyers team? Will James van Riemsdyk play at the same level that he did in last year’s playoffs? Are Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier both good enough to make the NHL roster this season?
All of these questions have basically been answered already, in just six preseason contests. The Flyers finished with a 4-2-2 record, but the answered questions and the emergence and stellar play of some overlooked players are the true gains of the preseason this year.
When the Flyers first signed Jaromir Jagr this offseason, the biggest question was obviously if the 39-year-old future hall of famer had anything left in the tank. His one-year contract, worth $3.3 million, was thought to be a little high for such uncertainty at his age. At least for now, the doubters have been silenced.
Jagr is tied for the league high in goals this preseason with four goals in just 3 games played. Every other player tied for 1st has played in at least 4 preseason games. He has shown tremendous chemistry with Claude Giroux, and the two are expected to be on the first line together. Giroux finished the preseason second in the NHL in assists with 7.
Giroux and Jagr gelled immediately on the ice during the beginning of training camp, and it has obviously shown in the games as well. During their first practice together, the two forwards played keep away by themselves in the offensive zone for a good 25 seconds, cycling the puck in the slot and along the boards.
Jagr was quick to compliment Giroux as well, saying, "With G at center, it's a lot easier to play. He's a genius."
He also gave the ultimate compliment to Giroux, calling him “a little Mario Lemieux.”
With a team makeover like the one the Flyers had this off-season, chemistry is most often the biggest issue in the beginning of the season. However, the preseason showed us that newcomers like Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier needed little to no time adjusting to the Flyers style of play.
Simmonds was tied with Jagr and others at the top of the NHL leader board in goals with 4. He seems to be fitting in just fine with the Flyers, especially with the physical aspect of his game.
He got into it with the always pesky Sean Avery, who dodged out of a fight with Simmonds during the game. Simmonds may have gotten too heated, however, as he apparently used a gay slur towards Avery towards the end of the game. Simmonds was not fined for the alleged exchange, and wants to put the whole thing behind him.
Jakub Voracek saw less success in the goal scoring department than Simmonds as he was held without a goal for the preseason. That doesn’t mean he isn’t fitting in though; Voracek led the team with 14 shots on goal. It won’t be long until Voracek finds his scoring touch or his luck turns around and one or more of those 14 shots finds the back of the net.
The youngest of the Flyers’ big additions was the 8th overall pick in this year's draft; 18-year-old Sean Couturier. At the beginning of camp, it was believed that Couturier would be a long shot to make the club, and would most likely be sent back to his junior team in the QMJHL. However, after a very strong preseason in which he led the team in plus-minus (+4) and scored 4 points (1G, 3A) in 6 games, many believe that Couturier actually has a good chance to make the team.
Couturier knows he has impressed the coaching staff, saying, “I think since Day One I’ve gotten better and better, and I’ve given a good impression, but I can’t control what they’re going to do with me so I don’t really know.”
The young forward can play up to 10 games in a Flyers uniform this season before he is officially on the Flyers for the season. Since he is 18, he can’t be sent to the Phantoms, so the Flyers can play him for up to those 10 games, see how he performs, then make a decision on whether to keep him on the NHL club or send him back to juniors.
The Flyers other promising rookie, Brayden Schenn, was almost a lock to make the club at the start of camp. It still seems like Schenn will be the 3rd line center come opening night this Thursday, but it’s much more in the air than it was just two weeks ago.
Schenn is obviously a great talent with as much potential as any 20-year-old in the NHL, but he hasn’t quite produced as much as expected. However, giving a player that’s as young and talented as Schenn NHL playing time all season can speed up his growth process tremendously. Schenn is also good at both ends of the ice and Laviolette praised his defensive play, but was disappointed Schenn missed time due to a slight injury.
"I thought he played well. I would have liked to have seen him more. Andreas Nodl, the same thing. We're trying to slot people and find out the jockeying of everything, and that makes it difficult when guys aren't in the lineup."
Unlike Couturier, however, Schenn could start the season with the Adirondack Phantoms and be called up at any point in the season.
One of the main reasons the Flyers may not keep both Couturier and Schenn on the NHL roster at the start of the season is the surprising play of rookie winger Matt Read. Read racked up 5 assists (3rd in NHL) and 7 points (3rd in NHL) this preaseason. His speed and smart play on the ice has impressed Peter Laviolette and Paul Holmgren, and Read is making a strong case for a roster spot.
Another player the Flyers are counting on to score some points is James van Riemsdyk. With the signing of his contract extension this off-season (6 years, $25.5 million) comes high expectations and more pressure on the winger to rack up points for this team. He didn’t disappoint this preseason, scoring 3 goals and recording an assist and a +3 rating in just 3 games played.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov went just 1-2-0 this preseason, but noted that it's harder to get prepared and excited for a preseason game, and he feels much more comfortable now than he did just 3 games ago. On the other hand, backup Sergei Bobrovsky was very impressive, posting a 0.40 Goals Against Average and a .984 Save Percentage.
As expected, the Flyers used several combinations of lines this preseason, but here are Buzz on Broad’s projected lines for forwards.
First Line: LW- James van Riemsdyk C- Claude Giroux RW- Jaromir Jagr
Second Line: LW- Scott Hartnell C- Danny Briere RW- Jakub Voracek
Third Line: LW: Matt Read C- Brayden Schenn RW- Wayne Simmonds
Fourth Line: LW: Nodl/Rinaldo C- Blair Betts RW: Max Talbot
You can follow Buzz on Broad's Flyers Beat Writer C.J. Burns on Twitter at @CJBurns215