Better With Popcorn

2014-15 Flyers Preview: Forwards

The players

Claude Giroux, C, 28g/58a; Jakub Voracek, RW, 23g/39a; Wayne Simmonds, RW, 29g/31a; Brayden Schenn, C, 20g/21a; Matt Read, RW, 22g/18a; Sean Couturier, C, 13g/26a; Vincent Lecavalier, C, 20g/17a; Michael Raffl, LW, 9g/13a; Zac Rinaldo, C, 2g/2a; Jason Akeson, RW, 1g/0a; R.J. Umberger, LW, 18g/16a with Columbus; Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, LW, 20g/15a in Sweden; Blair Jones, C, 2g/0a with Calgary.

Flyers top players will need a better start

The Flyers are going to rely on a balanced offense this season with the woes coming on the back-end. How fast the offense can start up this season will be key.

The first month of the season won’t be easy either. The Flyers begin their first week with back-to-back games in Boston on Wednesday and home on Thursday against New Jersey. The rest of the month is harder than running the gauntlet with games against Montreal, Anaheim, Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. On the Devils didn’t make the playoffs last season, but were in the Stanley Cup Final two years ago.

That’s why the offense will need to be on top of its game this season. Back are scoring stars Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds as well as the younger corps of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

Last season, Philadelphia had seven 20-goal scorers, returning six of them. One of those players was Claude Giroux, who despite an awful start to the season, finished with 28 goals and 58 assists, earning a third place finish in the Hart Memorial Trophy voting. Whatever Giroux did last season - just six assists in the first 15 games - he needs to do the exact opposite. It became very clear that when Giroux scores, the Flyers win.

Voracek and Simmonds followed up impressive 2013 seasons with great efforts in 2013-14. Simmonds led the team with 29 goals to go with 60 points, and Voracek’s 62 points were second on the team. They will be the key supporting cast for Giroux.

Schenn and Read had good seasons as well, playing mostly on the third line. Schenn’s 20 goals and 21 assists were career highs and Read’s 40 points matched a break-out 2011-12 season. Sean Couturier had his best offensive season too with 39 points, and established himself as one of the best defensive forwards in all of hockey.

On the disappointing side, Vincent Lecavalier managed only 37 points after signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract. He played most of the season on the second line as a left winger where he struggled to score, missed 13 games and even found himself on the fourth line a handful of times. General manager Ron Hextall expressed Lecavalier’s contract is one he wants to drop, but for now will hope to get a more productive season out of the 34-year-old.

One move the Flyers made in the offseason was the trade that sent Scott Hartnell (20 goals, 32 assists) to Columbus for R.J. Umberger (18 goals, 16 assists). Umberger played for the Flyers from 2005-08 before being sent to Columbus. He had four 20-plus-goal seasons before struggling to find the net in 48 games in 2013 and 74 games in 2013-14, tallying 26 goals. Umberger may have been out-scored by Hartnell, but took significantly penalty minutes last season.

The Flyers have some supporting players at the forward position in Michael Raffl, Jason Akeson, Zac Rinaldo and new guys Pierre-Edouard Bellemare from the Swedish league and Blair Jones from the Calgary Flames. A combination of those five will make up a pretty talented fourth line, giving the Flyers their first skilled fourth line in roughly five years. Bellemare will also become the ninth-born French player to make his NHL debut.

Interesting enough, the Flyers will be without a true heavyweight enforcer to start the season. Jay Rosehill and Chris VandeVelde were both waived to Lehigh Valley where they will start the season if not picked up. There isn’t a lack of toughness on the Flyers though as Simmonds, Rinaldo and Jones aren’t strangers to the fighting game, and Schenn and Couturier will scrap once in awhile if needed.

A lot of pressure will be put on the Flyers forwards this season. With top scoring defenseman Kimmo Timonen likely out for the entire season with blood clots in his lungs and right calf, the strain to produce will be up top.

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John Russo
Editor; Featured Writer
Twitter: @Roose_TCL@TCLFlyers
Email: russo@thecheckingline.com