The biggest question mark heading into the season for the Philadelphia Flyers is the defense.
The Flyers have eight defensemen on the roster that are signed to one-way contracts. Those players are Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Yevengi Medvedev, Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning. There isn’t a true number one, shutdown guy among them nor is there a true number one pairing.
The Flyers have a new head coach which means a new system will be in place. There will be a lot of different looks to the blueline during preseason. Dave Hakstol needs to see who develops chemistry, and who is left in the dust. It will be interesting to see the final defensive pairings, and if they stay the same if the team gets off to another slow start to the season.
The Flyers defensive corps as a whole is mediocre, at best. Everyone of the defensemen have something to prove, even if it just means having a bounce back season like Andrew MacDonald. MacDonald was out with injuries last season and was benched at times too. In 58 games played last season, he registered two goals, 10 assists, 12 points and was a minus five. MacDonald needs to limit his turnovers and be in better position in the defensive zone.
Mark Streit is one of the leaders on the defense, but needs to prove that he can still play at a high level at 37 years old. He can put up points in the offensive zone and is a leader on the blueline. Michael Del Zotto needs to prove that he can play a smart, defensive game. He will also put up some points in the offesive zone. Del Zotto needs to not try to do too much with the puck because that’s where he can get into trouble. Del Zotto also needs to remember to join the rush and not to lead the rush because he tends to be out of position when leading the rush.
Luke Schenn needs to prove that he can be a consistent, everyday defenseman. He never backs away from a hit and will block shots. He needs to shoot the puck more and be more aware of his position in his own zone. Nick Schultz signed a new two year contract last season. He plays a decent defensive game, but lacks physicality. He also won’t put up a ton of points in the offensive zone.
Yevgeni Medvedev was signed as a free agent in the offseason. He has spent the last twelve season playing over in Russia, including the last seven playing in the KHL. He may be 33 years old, but this is his first professional season in North America. Medvedev needs to prove that he can adapt to the North American style of play. The biggest concern is how quickly he can adapt to playing on the smaller ice surface.
Radko Gudas had knee surgery to end his season early last year. He hasn’t played in a NHL game since December 29, 2014. Gudas needs to prove that he is healthy and ready to play. If healthy, he adds a physical presence to the blueline. He is also in a contract year and is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Brandon Manning has spent most of his career playing in the AHL. He has potential, but needs to show in the preseason that he deserves ice time. The biggest question is does he even crack the roster, or do one of the prospects beat him out?
If a Flyers defensive prospect wants to make the roster this season then he will have to have an unforgettable training camp and preseason. The camp and preseason will have to leave a memorable image in the minds of the coach and general manager, Ron Hextall. Hextall has said that he doesn’t want to rush the young kids into the lineup, but if one of them proves to make an impact then he’ll have to think long and hard about it. The prospects include Sam Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Ivan Provorov.
The Flyers have a lot of money locked up in the blueline for the next two years, but if the prospects develop the way they should, then look out.