Photo Credit: Bob Fina/Inside Hockey
The Philadelphia Flyers need someone to step up to fill the first line, left-wing position since the team traded Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets this offseason in exchange for R.J. Umberger.
The Flyers had very little cap space to play with this summer so the replacement will have to come from someone already in the organization or on the current roster. Craig Berube has several options including Michael Raffl, Vincent Lecavalier, Brayden Schenn, R.J. Umberger and newcomer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Bellemare would be the longshot to play on the top line because first he has to make the team with a good training camp and preseason. He would then have to develop chemistry with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek in a short period of time. The forward is a hardworking player that the Flyers would need on the top line and he can find open space well. Bellemare has speed, but he would still have to have an amazing preseason to even be considered for the top line spot.
R.J. Umberger can play all three forward positions, which is a big plus for him. The problem with Umberger is that he was on the verge of being bought out by the Blue Jackets before the Flyers acquired him. He had a disappointing season last year scoring only 18 goals and 34 points. He started to lose his playing time after the Olympic Break to the younger players that started to step up for the Blue Jackets. Umberger has the speed, but he’s never played with Giroux or Voracek before in his career.
He doesn’t use his size to his advantage and doesn’t play consistent hockey, which is something Hartnell used to do at times while he was with the Flyers. The Flyers need a gritty guy that can do the dirty work in front of opposing goalies on the first line.
The third option would be to move Brayden Schenn, a natural center, to the wing position. He has the size, plays physical, can score and has the potential to be a gritty, power forward. He is a natural center and that’s where he belongs. The Flyers have tried him on the wing a few times and he just has not looked comfortable there. Schenn did play a few shift with the first line last season but there was no chemistry.
Schenn needs to improve on his faceoffs for the upcoming season if he wants to be the second line center. He only won 43.2 percent of his faceoffs last season. The Flyers will need him to step up because they were not able to resign Adam Hall, who led the team in faceoff percentage last season. Schenn also doesn’t do too well against opposing team’s better defensive players and that’s who he would be facing every night on the top line.
Vinny Lecavalier would have to be considered as a replacement for Hartnell. He would have to move from his natural center ice position to the wing, where he wasn’t too comfortable playing last season. Lecavalier would be an option if he’s even on the roster next season because the Flyers have given him permission to talk to other teams about a possible trade. The center could be the top line, left-wing because he could either set up his linemates or be the finisher on the line. He has the big body that could stand in the crease to get some goals.
Lecavalier doesn’t have much speed and it may be hard for him to play top line minutes plus power play minutes every night since he is getting older. He also had back problems last season that slowed him down.
The final option would be second year forward, Michael Raffl. He’s not as seasoned as the other options, but he seemed to have developed chemistry with Giroux and Voracek when he played on the top line last season. He has speed, doesn’t back down from the physical play, and he puts himself in the right position to score in the offensive zone. He is also a decent defensive playerand was one of four regular forwards that played on the penalty kill for the Flyers last season. He’s not going to be the big body in front of the net, but he’ll find the open spot and get scoring chances.
The obvious option as the new left winger on the top line to most fans would be Wayne Simmonds. He could fill the role of power forward and jump right into Hartnell’s spot. He played on the first unit power play with Giroux and Voracek last season so the chemistry is there, but if Berube did that than most of his offense would be on one line making it easier for teams to shut down the Flyers offense. Simmonds and Brayden Schenn have developed chemistry while playing on the second line together for the past few seasons. Schenn is a better player when at his natural position and Lecavalier tried playing the wing last season but it didn’t work out.
If Simmonds is left on the second line then Schenn stays at center and plays an all around better game. There is also more scoring depth throughout the lineup and it wouldn’t be on just one line.
There could a young player that dazzles in camp, but the preseason play of all the players will likely determine the next top line left winger for the Flyers.