Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Flyers Under-25 Crew Making an Early Impact

The new-look 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers are off to a hot start, now 4-0-1 on this young season following the 7-2 pounding they laid on the Senators last night.

Six of the Flyers' seven goals came from players 25 years old or younger, including 18-year-old Sean Couturier's first career NHL goal. Matt Read (25) led the way with a goal and three assists. Wayne Simmonds (23) netted his second goal of the year. Claude Giroux (23) scored for the fourth time in five games and added an assist. James van Riemsdyk (22) tallied on the power play with an assist from fellow 22-year-old Jakub Voracek. And Harry Zolnierczyk (24) even got on the board with a goal in his first ever NHL game. Oh, and 23-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 21 shots to pick up the victory in net.

Really, last night's impressive performance across the board from the youngsters is simply par for the course during this young season. Yes, the Flyers have plenty of steady veterans leading the way — Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen (who played awesome last night), Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, to name a few — but the 25-and-under guys are contributing just as much as the elder statesmen.

As it currently stands, the Flyers have dressed 10 players age 25 or younger this season: Sergei Bobrovsky (23), Sean Couturier (18), Claude Giroux (23), Andreas Nodl (24), Matt Read (25), Zac Rinaldo (21), Wayne Simmonds (23), Jakub Voracek (22), Harry Zolnierczyk (24) and James van Riemsdyk (22). That number should bump up to 11 tomorrow night, seeing as the Flyers just brought up 20-year-old Brayden Schenn, the top prospect in the LA organization who came over in the Mike Richards trade.

The Flyers' top five goal scorers thus far are all 25 or younger. Claude Giroux leads the way with 4, while Read, JVR, Simmonds and Voracek each have lit the lamp twice. Add in the goals by Couturier and Zolnierczyk last night, and 14 of Philadelphia's 19 goals have come from players a quarter century old or younger. Claude and Read are also 1-2 on the team in points, and overall, the 25-and-under crew has combined for 28 points and skated to a plus-11 (led by Read and Couturier at plus-4, which is incredibly impressive given they both kill penalties).

Clearly, these aren't your run-of-the-mill young players the Flyers are trotting out there. Giroux is a bona fide star. JVR broke out in last season's playoffs. Simmonds and Voracek are flourishing with their change of scenery. Andreas Nodl has been around for a few years and does his role well. Couturier and Read look much more like grizzled veterans than rookies, evident by the trust Peter Laviolette has in them. Couturier often mans the PK's top unit with Max Talbot, and Read gets time on both special-teams units, manning the point on the top power-play unit and killing penalties as well. Bobrovsky was this team's number 1 goalie most of last season, and he's just 23 and learning from one of the game's best.

Zac Rinaldo is a good banger for Laviolette, though clearly nowhere near as talented as the rest of this bunch — and it's clear he'll struggle to stay with the team. Jody Shelley's suspension is up, and with the recall of Schenn, Rinaldo is back down to the minors, as is Zonierczyk. Still, it's nice to see them not look completely overwhelmed by NHL competition (though I certainly won't miss Rinaldo's dumb penalties).

And it's only going to get more exciting watching the under-25 crew do its thing, especially now that the most celebrated prospect is set to make his Flyers debut tomorrow night.

Look at Schenn pummel former Flyer Luca Sbisa

I gotta admit, I was upset with the Flyers this summer, but man is it fun watching this team and these young guys play right now. And as the great Roy Halladay once said, it's only gonna get funner.

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