Philadelphia Flyers: No need to Rush the Kids

Sometimes being patient is hard, but the Philadelphia Flyers should consider that most NHL prospect require patience before arriving in the NHL

I’m as excited about the Philadelphia Flyers prospects as anyone else. I can’t wait until the day comes when we are free from the contracts of older players like Mark Streit, Matt Read and  Nick Schultz, and they are replaced with the likes of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny.  Combine players like that with the young core of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere, and it’s easy to see the Flyers as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in a few years.

Here’s the question though. Why do the Philadelphia Flyers fans, and in certain cases the club commentators, feel the need to rush the Flyers prospects up to the NHL club this year? Is it the result of the Flyers playoff run? Do they feel as though these young kids will vault the Flyers from a bubble playoff team in to a Stanley Cup Contender? That they will help the Flyers win a playoff round instead of getting knocked out of the first round of the playoffs?

I was watching Ed Barkowitz on Daily News Live last week  talking about the possibility of Travis Konecny making the team. He said that the Flyers were pretty set when it came to their top six forwards but, that Konecny could play on the Flyers third or fourth line and improve their bottom six. How is a 19 year old player’s development going to be helped by only playing eight to ten minutes a night?

Is the short term gain that may or may not come with bringing these young players up be worth hurting a young player’s long term development? What is more important? Making the playoffs this year and maybe…..maybe winning a round? Or making sure that the Flyers prospects turn in to viable NHL players thus turning the Flyers into perennial Stanley Cup contenders?

Even if the Flyers were to decide to bring up Provorov and Konecny, that is no guarantee that they will improve the Flyers as a team. Both players have been impressive so far in camp. This fools a lot of people in to thinking both of these players are ready for the NHL right now. But, there are other things to consider.

One is that in the preseason, teams only play a handful of NHL regulars in most of their games. On most nights, Provorov and Konecny aren’t playing against full time NHL players. They are playing against NHL hopefuls like themselves who are trying to make their respective teams out of Juniors, AHL and fringe NHL players. This is quite different from when the regular season starts and every NHL team’s rosters will have all NHL regulars  on them.

Neither one of these players has played a full NHL season yet either. You could bring them both up and both could play well for the first part of the year. But, what often happens with rookies who are trying to make the jump directly from Junior to the NHL though  is that they usually hit a wall after around sixty games. So if the Flyers are in the hunt for a playoff spot and neither one of these players are playing well, do they bench both of these players which could hurt their confidence and stunt their development? Or do the Flyers continue to play the youngsters but have that cost them a spot in the playoffs? It would cause a real catch 22 for the Flyers.

Exceptions to the Rule

On numerous occasions I have heard both Al Morganti and Keith Jones imploring the Flyers to bring their young kids up to the NHL club immediately. Their reasoning is that teams all over the NHL are doing it with some success so why shouldn’t the Flyers? But lets  look at this a little deeper.

It is rare that an 18 year old drafted right out of junior hockey makes the jump right in to the NHL. When it does happen, it is usually some one who was drafted with one of the top five picks of the NHL draft. Their skill level is so superior that they are able to make the jump to the NHL right away.

Let’s take a look at some of the 18 to 20-year olds that Jones and Morganti say are making an impact with their NHL clubs. Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Jack Eichel, Aaron Ekblad, Noah Hanifan, Seth Jones, Sam Reinhart. All of these guys were top five picks in their respective draft years, which is the main reason why they were able to make the jump right away.

Sep 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America center Connor McDavid (97) skates with the puck against Team Finland in the first period during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Furthermore, even being a top five pick is no  guarantee that you will be able to make the jump right from Juniors to the NHL. Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome and Michael Dal Cole were all prospects who were taken with a top five pick yet still aren’t NHL regulars. So, in my opinion, Jones and Morganti aren’t really doing their homework when they try and make the argument that the Flyers should promote their prospects to the NHL right away. There is a big difference between having a top five pick making the jump and someone taken later in the first round making that jump.

Model Franchise Practices

Let’s now take a look at some of the most successful NHL franchises over the last ten or fifteen years and their philosophy when it comes to developing young players as compared to some of the less successful ones. The Kings, the Red Wings and the Blackhawks all believe in developing their prospects slowly. Even guys like Duncan Keith on the Blackhawks and Tyler Toffoli on the Kings spent time in the AHL before being promoted to the big club.

Compare that to a team like the Edmonton Oilers who have had all of their prospects jump right from Juniors  to the NHL level. The Oilers still haven’t made a playoff appearance since 2006. It looked as though they had made that same mistake with  Leon Draisaitl, who they had taken with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft. Like they had with all of their other prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, they threw him right in to the fire by putting him in their NHL lineup right away. It was an absolute disaster as he struggled to adjust to the NHL game. The Oilers seemed to have learned from their past mistakes and sent him back down to Juniors. The result was he returned to the NHL as much more confident, well rounded player as he posted 19 goals, 32 assists and 51 points in only 72 games.

Bill Meltzer wrote an article last week outlining how Ivan Provorov making the Flyers roster isn’t a slam dunk. He cited players such as Joni Pitkanen, Janne Niinimaa, and Luca Sbisa, whose development was hurt by being rushed right in to the Philadelphia Flyers line up. Ron Hextall has said this many times and I agree with him. No player has ever been hurt by spending an extra year in the minors but, scores have been hurt by being brought up too early.

Chasing the Short Term

Nonetheless, the majority of the fans and some of the so called experts want to rush these players up to the NHL. I don’t get it. If I have said this once, I have said it a million times. People need to see the big picture when it comes to the Flyers and stop looking at just the upcoming season.

Even some of the respected national publications like the Hockey News have missed the boat when it comes to their commentary on the Flyers. They lamented the fact that the Flyers didn’t add a proven scorer in the off season. They said that the Flyers are a team with a move here or there, could do some serious damage. Is the name of the game to do serious damage or to win a Stanley Cup? And how exactly were the Flyers supposed to make any major moves with only slightly more than a million dollars in Cap space?

There weren’t any moves available to Ron Hextall that would have vaulted them form playoff bubble team to Stanley Cup contender. People need to realize that the Flyers are once again going to be a fringe playoff team this year that may or may not get in. There isn’t anything that is going to change that. I’m as anxious as anyone to see all of these kids in the line up. I don’t know how many times i have said I wish we could just fast forward to the 2017-18 season.

Hopeful thinking aside, I am not going to advocate the Flyers putting all of their kids in to the NHL line up if it isn’t what is best for the team in the long run. Patience is a virtue Flyers fans. It is really tough having to sit and wait for these guys to be ready. But, it will all be worth it in the long run.