Often times when teams rise to the top of the standings they’re being carried by savvy elder statesmen in the NHL. All right, perhaps that’s just how it works in Detroit, but in Philadelphia they’ve been doing things sneakily different. At least it’s different compared to how previous incarnations of Flyers teams have been put together. They’re doing it riding their younger players and those guys are flourishing in the spotlight following their Stanley Cup finals appearance last season.
Sure, the Flyers still have Chris Pronger patrolling the blue line and striking fear into anyone who dares enter the Flyers zone and Daniel Briere, in spite of still looking like he’s 20 years-old, is 33 and using his skills to lead the team in goals scored. But those two older players are more the exception than the norm in Philadelphia now.
The Flyers are captained and led in scoring by 25 year-old Mike Richards. 26 year-old Jeff Carter has 20 goals already this year, and 23 year-old Claude Giroux is a first-time all-star this season and a threat to score on the power play as well as shorthanded. Former first round pick 21 year-old James van Riemsdyk is emerging from his shell and starting to make Flyers fans forget that he was the guy taken one pick after Chicago’s Patrick Kane in the draft. 23 year-old Andreas Nodl has even been a consistent contributor on the third and fourth lines.
It’s not just the forwards as 25 year-old defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn are turning into solid stoppers on the backline. Meszaros is even leading the NHL in plus/minus with a +29 rating while Coburn is averaging just over 20 minutes a game in ice time. This isn’t even taking into account the play of 20 year-old rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who has been a lifeline for the Flyers after Michael Leighton went down with a back injury during training camp. Bobrovsky’s .918 save percentage is tops on the team and his 2.49 goals against average is stellar for a first-year player. His 19 wins don’t look too bad either but that’s a product of how great the team is playing in front of him.
The Flyers last year were a team that eked their way into the playoffs but this year their young guys have grown up in a big way. Instead of waiting for Giroux to break out, he’s arrived and van Riemsdyk is on the verge of doing the same. Seeing Bobrovsky become a force before their eyes is a credit to the work of Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and the scouts in Philadelphia who after years of seemingly not getting how it all works have seen it all come together at once. Getting coach Peter Laviolette in there to help put it all together in just over a year’s time speaks volumes to what he’s capable of doing behind the bench.
If the Flyers can keep things rolling like this the rest of the way, it’s hard to say that we won’t see the Flyers make a run at the finals once again. While the Eastern Conference is certainly tougher to deal with now, the Flyers have played all year like they’re up to the task.