Flyers season preview: Chemistry with Ellis, defensemen among keys


The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Coach: Alain Vigneault (third season)

Last season: 25-23-8; sixth in MassMutual East Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs


1. Chemistry with defensemen

The Flyers could have three new defensemen playing in their top six this season, so it’s important they build chemistry with one another as quickly as possible. It’s expected that Ryan Ellis, acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on July 17, will play the right side on the top pair with Ivan Provorov. Rasmus Ristolainen, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, will play the right side on the second pair with Travis Sanheim and Justin Braun on the third pair. Among the candidates to skate with Braun are Keith Yandle, who signed a one-year contract July 28, and rookies Cam York and Egor Zamula.

Ellis was Philadelphia’s key offseason acquisition. In addition to the top pair at 5-on-5, he’s expected to play on the power play and penalty kill and provide leadership.

2. Improved goaltending

The Flyers allowed an NHL-high 3.52 goals per game and had an NHL-low .895 save percentage at 5-on-5 last season. But the belief among management and coaches is that an improved group of defensemen in front of the goalies will make them better.

Carter Hart, who had an .877 save percentage last season that was last among goalies to play at least 20 games, signed a three-year contract Aug. 9 with the expectation he’ll return to his 2019-20 form, when he helped the Flyers reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a .926 save percentage and two shutouts in 14 postseason games. Martin Jones signed a one-year contract July 28 to back up Hart after he had an .896 save percentage the past three seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Jones has familiarity with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh, who was goalie development coach for the Los Angeles Kings when Jones played there from 2013-15.

3. Better penalty kill

Several of Philadelphia’s offseason additions will be counted on to improve the penalty kill, which was 30th last season (73.1 percent). Nate Thompson, who signed a one-year contract July 28, will join Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Cam Atkinson and Scott Laughton as the main forwards. Thompson averaged 2:09 of shorthanded ice time in seven games for the Flyers in 2019-20. Ellis and Ristolainen will join Provorov and Braun as the most-used defensemen.

Video: Philadelphia Flyers 2021-22 Season Preview


Position battles

Without Kevin Hayes, who was expected to need 6-8 weeks to recover from abdominal surgery Sept. 21, the Flyers have openings at center behind Couturier. Giroux and Laughton, each of whom has played center and wing the past several seasons, could be options to replace Hayes on the second line. Possibilities for the third and fourth lines include Morgan Frost, Thompson and Derick Brassard, who signed a one-year contract Aug. 25.

Most intriguing addition

Ristolainen could benefit from a reduction in responsibility. He averaged 24:51 of ice time the past six seasons as the Sabres’ No. 1 defenseman and played a big role on the power play and penalty kill. By comparison, Philippe Myers, traded to the Predators with forward Nolan Patrick for Ellis, played on the second pair with Sanheim last season and averaged 18:52 per game.

Biggest potential surprise

York, the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, made his NHL debut last season. Though he didn’t score a point in three games, he played at least 20:00 in two of them, showing he earned the trust of the coaching staff. The 20-year-old is competing for a roster spot during training camp, or he could begin the season in a top-pair role with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League.

Ready to break through

Frost, the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, could be the biggest beneficiary of Hayes’ absence. He started last season with the Flyers and played two games before a shoulder injury ended his season Jan. 19. The 22-year-old has been working on getting stronger to be durable enough to play in the NHL, and his offensive skills have earned him a long look at camp. In 2019-20, his first season as a pro, Frost scored 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 41 AHL games and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 NHL games.

Fantasy sleeper

Forward Joel Farabee (fantasy average draft position: 168.3) quietly led the Flyers in goals last season (20 in 55 games) and was also among their top five in points (38; fifth) and shots on goal (122; fourth). He excelled regardless of lineup placement and showed flashes of his high offensive ceiling with 10 multipoint games, including four of at least three points. The 21-year-old could be a late-round steal from a potential bounce-back fantasy team in the Flyers. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup 

Claude Giroux — Sean Couturier — Travis Konecny

James van Riemsdyk — Morgan Frost — Joel Farabee

Oskar Lindblom — Derick Brassard — Cam Atkinson

Scott Laughton — Nate Thompson — Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan Provorov — Ryan Ellis

Travis Sanheim — Rasmus Ristolainen

Keith Yandle — Justin Braun

Carter Hart

Martin Jones

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