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Cullen: Changes in Philadelphia means new opportunities

Scott Cullen
9/19/2011 12:15:30 PM
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An offseason of change might mean there are different players leading the way for the Philadelphia Flyers but, between young players rising to a more prominent role and veteran newcomers, there should be no shortage of quality options.

Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov arrives in Philadelphia facing a certain amount of pressure thanks to his lucrative new contract, but he's won 78 games and posted a .921 save percentage over the last two years in Phoenix, so something approaching that level of play in Philadelphia would live up to expectations.

Coming back to the NHL after three years in the KHL, Jaromir Jagr is now 39-years-old. He scored 145 points in 155 games over three seasons with Avangard Omsk and tallied 71 points in his last NHL campaign, so it seems reasonable to expect Jagr to put up points, just not at the point-per-game-plus level to which he was accustomed during the majority of his NHL career.

Danny Briere has been a productive player throughout his career, scoring at least 58 points seven times in the last nine seasons, yet last season brought career-highs in goals (34) and plus-minus (+20) and his 87 penalty minutes was two off his a career best. He'll be counted on to lead the Flyers' attack.

Riding shotgun with Briere, winger Scott Hartnell is durable, having missed three games over the last four seasons, and he's scored at least 20 goals and 40 points in five of the last six seasons. What makes him a standout in fantasy, however, is that he produces at that level while piling on penalty minutes, averaging 149.8 over the last four seasons.

With the Flyers' decision to move Jeff Carter and Mike Richards out of town this summer, more responsibility falls to rising stars on the Flyers roster. Claude Giroux hasn't missed a game in the last two seasons and broke through for a career year, which included 76 points and a plus-20 rating. He'll undoubtedly run into more difficult defensive matchups this season, but such is the role that the 23-year-old has been handed.

If Giroux is going to maintain his high level of scoring, it may be because of 22-year-old James van Riemsdyk making a leap in production similar to the one that Giroux had last season. A power forward that has taken time to develop, van Riemsdyk has played under 15 minutes per game in first two NHL seasons, but could move into an 18-20 minute per game role this year. A 30-goal season could be within his grasp.

Jakub Voracek's progress stalled in his third NHL season with Columbus, last year, but he's still only 22-year-old, and his combination of size and skill does leave open the possibility for a breakout offensive season.

One of the top prospects in hockey, Brayden Schenn has a chance to stick with the Flyers after playing in eight games for the Kings last season. Schenn was returned to junior, where he abused the Western Hockey League, scoring nearly two points per game. He won't have pressure to score right away, since the Flyers have Briere and Giroux down the middle already, and that will allow Schenn to play protected minutes and play a complementary offensive role.

Though he plays a very different style of game, Wayne Simmonds has something in common with Jakub Voracek in that both saw their production fall in their third seasons. Simmonds isn't a high-end scorer, but two years ago, when he had 40 points, was plus-22 and racked up 116 penalty minutes, he had plenty of value. Not so much last year, but there is potential for more production if he plays more than 13-14 minutes per game.

Coming off a season in which Chris Pronger played just 50 games, there are higher expectations, as Pronger is expected to be ready for the start of this season after recovering from a hand injury that kept him out of the lineup late in the 2010-2011 season. Pronger's closing in on 37-years-old, but remains productive when he's in the lineup, with his penalty minutes providing additional value for fantasy owners.

Veteran Kimmo Timonen isn't as flashy as Pronger, but is reliable. He's missed a total of 29 games in the last ten seasons and last year's total of 37 points was his lowest since 2000-2001. That would seem to be a reflection of the Flyers' depth on defence more than any significant slippage in Timonen's performance.

Though Matt Carle managed just a single goal in 82 games last year, he finished with 40 points and a plus-11 rating, making him one of ten blueliners to have 40 points and a double-digit plus rating.

Andrej Meszaros thrived in Philadelphia, handling an increasingly heavy workload down the stretch when Pronger was hurt, ending up with 32 points and a plus-30 rating. Aside from the 2008-2009 season, when he missed 30 games, Meszaros has been very durable, playing at least 81 games in five of his six NHL seasons.

When looking for sleeper value on a deep team like the Flyers, consider tough guy Tom Sestito, who was acquired from Columbus last season. Sestito had four points and 40 penalty minutes in nine games with Columbus last year and added 35 points and 237 penalty minutes in 57 AHL games, so it appears that he's capable of chipping in, at least a little, offensively in addition to fisticuffs.

First-round pick Sean Couturier may still be headed back to junior for another season, but he could surprise and stick as an 18-year-old.

A deep sleeper to keep an eye on is Matt Read, a free agent collegiate signing, who put up 13 points in 11 AHL games upon turning pro last season. Considering the overhaul on the Flyers' roster, maybe Read will force his way into the lineup.

There's no question that the Flyers will look different this season, but it remains to be seen whether they will actually be better. When it comes to fantasy, the challenge will be finding which players are going to raise their productivity due to new opportunities.

Depth Chart - Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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