Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sure it looks bad now, but the Flyers future could be bright

Earlier today, reports surfaced that Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros ruptured his achilles tendon during off season workouts in his native Slovakia and he will miss half - or possibly all - of this upcoming season. To put it in perspective, when the Phillies Ryan Howard tore his ACL in the last game of the year in 2011, it took eight months for him to return to playing shape, so the odds that Mez comes back at all are unlikely. This leaves the Flyers defensive core thinner than ever before, with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov right in the cross hairs of an onslaught of unwarranted criticism on the horizon.
Paul Holmgren looked for multiple different ways to patch the D. Whether it was signings, offer sheets or trades, nothing panned out. With the free agent pool picked clean, the only logical thing to do now is look inside the organization for a fix. As of this moment, anyone who is guaranteed a spot on the roster (a.k.a. Timonen, Coburn, Grossmann and Luke Schenn) practices and works out on a daily basis, but SHOULD NOT see ice time until the regular season. Today until October 11th is a try out for all of the team's young defensemen. They may be inexperienced, but they'll most definitely get their chance to shine in the coming months. Players that could earn a spot on the 3rd pairing include...

- Marc Andre-Bourdon (6'0", 225 lbs. shoots left, 22 yrs. old [3 years w/ organization]) - The most likely choice to get time in the NHL, MAB is the most experienced of the young d-men with 45 games with the big club under his belt. In the past he's shown he uses his strength to his advantage and isn't afraid to lay a hit on the puck handler, but his tendency to over pursue led to more than a few mistakes against good opposition. Can the coaches chalk it up to rookie mistakes or is it just a lack of awareness? Only time will tell.

- Erik Gustafsson (5'10", 180 lbs. shoots left, 23 yrs. old [3 years w/ organization]) - Another guy you may have noticed from time-to-time, Gus has played 33 games with the Flyers in a substitute role over the last two years. However, as an offensive-defenseman he's really shown his worth in 2010-'11 when on Adirondack he tallied 5 goals and 44 assists in 72 games. A big problem though is his size. Normally, d-men are large, imposing figures along the blue line. But if forwards are skating toward Gus and they can practically see over his head, he can hardly be considered a 'physical element'.

- Oliver Lauridsen (6'6", 250 lbs. shoots left, 23 yrs. old [2 years w/ organization]) - Lauridsen is the polar opposite of Gustafsson. He's a humongous-beeg, stay at home defenseman who while doesn't get on the board a ton, proves himself on the ice with his intimidating frame. Unfortunately, he tends to lean on being a big guy a little too much, thinking his size will play the game for him. Plus, his puck work could use some tweaking. Here's hoping he goes into camp with a little more determination so he can get some reps in the big leagues. 

- Brandon Manning (6'1", 195 lbs. shoots left, 22 yrs. old [2 years w/ organization]) - Manning also got some work last year filling in the holes on the injured blue line, but was primarily on the Phantoms as he only played in four games in Philly. He has a prototypical size of an NHL defenseman, and even has a bit of an angry side, which we all know resonates positively with the fans. However, his best trait is also one of his biggest weaknesses as he takes a ton of penalties. If he can cool down, he'll have a legitimate chance of making the team. 

- Blake Kessel (6'2", 210 lbs. shoots right, 23 yrs. old [1 year w/ organization]) - Really the only guy I can truly vouch for, I saw Kessel play in last year's prospects game against the Washington Capitals where his talents as an offensive defenseman were on full display, tallying a goal and two assists en route to a Flyers victory. As the younger brother of Toronto's Phil Kessel, he'll definitely get his chance to produce, I'm just not sure he's old enough 'professionally' to be in contention for the Flyers roster. In 2013 however, I like his odds. 

Before the season's even started, Philadelphia's defensive core looks grim. And with Kimmo Timonen on the verge of retirement, these kids have to grow up fast. If they progress the way they're supposed to and turn into legitimate NHL contenders, then Homer and the rest of the franchise will look like geniuses. But if they don't, well, let's just say the residual effects will reach further than just the blue line.

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