The Philadelphia Flyers went from a solid team to a dangerously deep group in large part because injuries thrust lower line players (and even guys who were often healthy scratches) into bigger roles during the playoffs. Danny Briere ended up being the leader in playoff points even though many in the hockey world gave up on him. Claude Giroux had a fantastic run as well.
Perhaps the most surprising development was Ville Leino’s growth from a disappointing Finnish League project with the Detroit Red Wings to a red-hot scoring force with the Flyers. Leino put up 21 points in the playoffs skating on a line with Briere and Scott Hartnell. With his contract expiring after this season, it will be interesting to see if Leino can follow up that great playoff run with a full season of success.
As coach Peter Laviolette likes to say, though, in hockey, injury breeds opportunity – it’s all about who wants to take advantage of it.
For 19 games last spring, Leino did just that. Partnered with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell to complete the most dynamic line in the playoffs, Leino finished with 21 points in the postseason, an NHL record for rookies. Considering he had a hard time even getting on the ice for the Flyers prior to the postseason, that’s a pretty remarkable figure.
Now, Leino is set to be a fixture on a deep Flyers team with plans of going one step further than it did last season. He will start the season with Hartnell and Briere on what amounts to the Flyers’ second line, and he is being counted on to provide a good chunk of offense for the first time since his days playing in the Finnish Elite League.
Leino has the talent to be a 25-goal scorer. In his final season in Finland (2007-08) he had 28 goals and 49 assists for 77 points for Jokerit. Of course, that was the last time he was allowed to play the game in his style.
“I feel more confident and I have the trust of the coaches and (other) players,” Leino said. “They’re not thinking, ‘What’s he doing?’ I feel confident to play the way I want. You need that confidence and trust if you’re going to go out there and play (well).”
Leino, Giroux and Jeff Carter all have the dangling monetary carrot in front of them this season, so the Flyers could be driven by normal contributors such as Mike Richards and Chris Pronger while benefiting from an especially inspired supporting cast. Many will critique their goaltending, but if Leino & Co. play well enough it might not matter.