Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.
The topic: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?
There’s a case to be made for several players who fall under this category. Travis Konecny has 30-goal potential. Defenseman Travis Sanheim endured an up-and-down rookie season and needs to develop consistency and Oskar Lindblom proved his game can compete at the NHL level.
But there’s one player that’s almost expected to elevate his game next season and that would be second-year center Nolan Patrick, who’s now two months shy of his 20th birthday. Patrick was primed to be my choice even before NHL Network’s Mike Johnson listed the Flyers' center as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season (see story).
Certainly, Patrick’s game may be still evolving, but from February to the end of the season, he was one of the Flyers' top players and clearly showed he had the skills to slide into that No. 2 center role, scoring 19 points over the final 32 games of the regular season. Against the Penguins, Patrick didn’t appear overwhelmed by the intensity of playoff hockey.
This is the first time since the summer of 2015 that Patrick will have a full offseason to recover, train and prepare for the upcoming season (see story). Patrick should enter the season with a ton of confidence and it wouldn’t surprise me if he explodes out of the gates in October. Realistically, expect him to score between 20-25 goals and 55-60 points next season and possibly more, depending on how much time he spends on the top power-play unit.
Scott Laughton found his footing as an NHL player last season as a fourth-line center and left winger, but it appears the Flyers are banking on him to do even more in 2018-19.
Laughton figures to be the early favorite for the Flyers' vacancy at third-line center. While a prospect such as Morgan Forst or Mikhail Vorobyev could grab it in training camp (see story), Laughton has the inside track. With that comes more offensive responsibility.
The 2012 first-round pick has yet to discover a scoring touch in the NHL but realized his path to The Show was responsible two-way play. We know he's a capable fourth-liner.
But can he elevate his game offensively? He'll have to in 2018-19 if he wants a bigger slice of the pie. The prospects are banging on the door and there are only so many spots.
What is in Laughton's corner, though, is versatility. He proved last season he can be effective at either center or wing, which should give him a spot on the team regardless.
The question will be, though, can he anchor the third line with Lindblom and, say, Wayne Simmonds? We'll find out in training camp and preseason, but he's the Flyer who has to take another step forward this season.
General manager Ron Hextall's work this offseason was a vote of confidence for Sanheim.
The Flyers let Brandon Manning walk and signed only Christian Folin, who is viewed as a seventh defenseman.
It was a clear sign Hextall is putting his faith in the 22-year-old Sanheim to make bigger strides. The 2014 first-round pick played 49 games last season, his first in the NHL. He also saw a stint down in the AHL, where he proved he was above the competition.
If Sanheim can start to bring his offensive ability to the table at the NHL level, while using his mobility and size in his own end, the Flyers will take another step. The lefty shot should have a greater leash to learn and play through his mistakes. He should also see more responsibility. How large of a jump Sanheim can make will be one of the more exciting storylines to watch in 2018-19.