Fantasy Puck Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Cullen
9/21/2008 12:05:05 PM
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Coming off a turnaround season, the Philadelphia Flyers generate a lot of fantasy interest with a deep crop of forwards and two premier defencemen.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Flyers will be, if everyone is healthy, getting enough quality ice time for all their skilled forwards.

Returning from injury, Simon Gagne is a game-breaking talent who topped 40 goals in each of the two seasons before last year's concussion-shortened campaign. It may be optimistic to expect an immediate return to that level, but 30 goals seems well within his reach.

Last summer's big acquisition, Daniel Briere, was productive enough -- scoring 72 points -- but his minus-22 rating was ugly and simply has to be better when playing a key role on a contender.

Mike Knuble has fashioned an impressive career as a complementary power forward, providing the right mix alongside some of the most talented players in the game. While that should continue, the 36-year-old could start to decline as he gets pushed by younger Flyers.

One of those younger forwards figures to be Joffrey Lupul, who impressed with 46 points in 56 games after coming over from Edmonton. Assuming a healthy season, Lupul could be set for a career season.

Mike Richards broke out last season, going from solid young checking centre to the face of the franchise and leading scorer. While it's prudent to be cautious concerning Richards' production, his tireless work ethic pretty much assures that any drop won't be too dramatic.

There's not a lot of mystery with winger Scott Hartnell, who has found his level -- scoring 20 goals, 40 points and putting up 100 penalty minutes -- and kicked it up a notch with 159 penalty minutes last year. It's not elite production, by any means, but it makes Hartnell as solid depth addition.

With two quality lines already, that leaves the Flyers with some intriguing forwards further down the depth chart who will have to scrap for quality ice time.

Centre Jeff Carter proved last season that he was capable of a more significant offensive role, scoring 29 goals, but opportunity may prove to be his biggest challenge this year.

Carter tends to play well with Scottie Upshall, who was on the fringe of fantasy value with 30 points and 74 penalty minutes in 61 games last year and he still figures to be ascending in value.

For those seeking the rookie sleeper, winger Claude Giroux should have a good change to play coming off three straight 100-plus point seasons in the QMJHL (to say nothing of his 51-point playoff last year). If Giroux can make the transition to the pro game, he could climb the depth chart quickly.

This deep stable of forwards makes it tough for an agitator like Steve Downie to get enough time to be valuable for fantasy purposes. He puts up the penalty minutes, but the question will be whether he has enough chances to score.

Kimmo Timonen has gone for 40 points or more in six straight seasons and is one of the top power play quarterbacks in the league. He'll play a big role for Philadelphia again this season.

Fortunately for Timonen, he gets some help from rising star Braydon Coburn, the 23-year-old who emerged with 36 points, 74 penalty minutes and a plus-17 rating last season. He should produce even more this season.

In goal, Martin Biron returned to a starting role and won 30 games, while posting a career-best .918 save percentage and tying a career-high with five shutouts. Biron might be helped with an improved defence corps in front of him, but he should still see a 60-game workload for a playoff team.

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