There are plenty of pieces and many configurations in the Flyers puzzle.
After writing for years about bad problems, it is nice to finally have one of the good problems. The good problem is the position of center and the multitude of players and prospects who can play the position. This gives the Flyers great versatility and depth at the position and throughout the lineup.
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An NHL team really is a type of puzzle, and the Flyers are no exception. The front office needs to get the pieces, or otherwise known as the players, to fit together in such a way that leads to the team performing well and have good chemistry.
Looking at the center position through the same lens typically a team only needs four centers dressed nightly. When I say center, I don’t just mean taking faceoffs, in fact forwards, centers and wingers, often split faceoff duties.
Center is more defined in terms of defensive coverage, and their role in transition play. Centers are expected to get below the circles defensively if required, and wingers are not.
By virtue of playing deeper in the defensive zone, centers at times are required to move the puck through the neutral zone where turnovers often time lead to goals.
The Flyers have a lot of good pieces at the center position to arrange.
Puzzle Pieces: The Corners
The corners pieces are the easiest to figure out in any puzzle. In the case of the Flyers’ centers, Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes are the easiest to fit together. Couturier racked up 22 goals in the coronavirus-shortened 2019-20 season. Couturier is one of the top NHL centers and should be the top center on the team.
Kevin Hayes is a different story. He does not have the defensive skill of Couturier and he has played on the wing for the majority of his career. Signed as a free agent in the 2018-2019 offseason, he was certainly a revelation for the Flyers.
Hayes played big minutes at the center position and turned in a performance that was of the biggest reasons for the Flyers turnaround.
Hayes was a solid number two center, but a case could be made for Hayes as a number one center as well. The big man scored 23 goals last season, good for 19th in the league for center icemen. Only one of the 18 players in front of him, Adam Henrique, averaged less time-on-ice than Hayes who as at 17:43 minutes per game. What is more astounding is that Hayes only totaled 112:09 of time on the power play. That ranks him at 103rd for the 2019-2020 season.
As a comparison, an unquestioned number one centermen, John Tavares finished with 26 goals, but played 19:32 a game and played 191:01 minutes on the powerplay.
Between Couturier and Hayes, the Flyers have solid top tier centers for their first two lines.