Predictions for Flyers roster

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Flyers' toughest decision likely revolves around Scott Laughton, 19.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Flyers' toughest decision likely revolves around Scott Laughton, 19.
Posted: September 24, 2013

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - With a week between preseason games, it's made for a rather quiet training camp for the Flyers. But opening night is in just 9 days, meaning it's time for a few bold (or boldly stupid) roster predictions.

Forwards

We know of 11 locks already on the roster - Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Adam Hall and Max Talbot - and we also can go one step further.

It looks like Giroux definitely will start the season centering the top line with Voracek. Wherever Lecavalier lines up, it almost surely will be next to Simmonds.

Where does that leave everyone else?

I'm making the (dangerous) assumption that winger Jay Rosehill will be on the roster, fulfilling the "enforcer" role that Jody Shelley played the last 3 years. Regardless of whether you think that's necessary or not, Rosehill did sign a 2-year extension last year and he isn't going anywhere. That doesn't mean he will play every game - though he is a decent skater and his hands aren't made completely of stone.

That leaves two spots left for three players in camp: Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and Chris Vande Velde. My money is on Laughton and Raffl sticking around. Vande Velde has surprised, but he doesn't provide an obvious trait to make him more valuable than anyone else.

The Flyers' toughest decision likely revolves around Laughton. For one, Laughton has played his natural center the entire preseason. The Flyers would need to shuffle the deck to get him better-than-fourth-line minutes at center - or have Laughton slide to the wing.

Is Laughton, 19, better served learning in the NHL with somewhat limited minutes? Is it also worth burning a valuable year on his contract, at a manageable salary, to play limited minutes? Or is he better off heading back to junior hockey after another nine-game tryout?

Mentally, Laughton plays, lives and trains like a player significantly older. It's difficult to tell how much he'd get out of another year in junior, since he'd be playing against lesser competition. Then again, Laughton hasn't been thrilled with his preseason games.

"I think that there's still another gear that he can find in his game," coach Peter Laviolette said of Laughton. "When he came in last year, he was flying. He had played in lots of games when our team was just getting off the mark from a lockout. So it's a bit of a different scenario for him - he comes in on equal ground with everybody else."

Raffl, 24, also entered camp on equal ground with everybody else - and the Flyers have liked what they've seen. He needs to make a huge jump from Sweden's second league to the NHL, but he has proven he can produce when playing with talented players. There is no harm in starting the season with Raffl to see whether he can produce. It's a low-risk, high-reward gamble.

Defensemen

When completely healthy, the picture of the Flyers' defense corps is clear. The only problem is that Andrej Meszaros (44 percent) and Nick Grossmann (31 percent) have missed big chunks of the last two seasons with various injuries.

With Grossmann and Meszaros in the lineup, the Flyers will dress the league's most expensive blue line at $26.85 million. That also includes locks Kimmo Timonen, Mark Streit, Braydon Coburn and Luke Schenn.

Erik Gustafsson, 24, is likely to be the Flyers' extra, healthy defenseman since he is no longer exempt from waivers for the first time in his career.

After that, it's simply a numbers game. The Flyers are more likely to go with 14 forwards and seven defensemen instead of 13 forwards and eight defensemen because of salary-cap concerns. Since Gustafsson would almost surely be lost to a waiver claim, veteran Bruno Gervais and upstart Oliver Lauridsen would be the odd-men out.

Lauridsen, 24, has been a bit of an outlier throughout camp. Gervais, 28, has held down a full-time NHL job since 2007. He was fourth on the team in total minutes last season. Gervais also would be an important insurance piece in Adirondack, given the Flyers' injury concerns.

So, where does all of that leave Hal Gill? It's clear that Laviolette likes Gill's defensive prowess. Gill, 38, has won points for his professionalism, doing everything he can to make the team. Even though Gill is healthy and plays a similar style to Grossmann, it's hard to figure where the Flyers have room for him - unless he is willing to start the season in the minors.

If Laviolette is dead set on keeping Gill, who would be another insurance policy, his signing would force a tougher decision elsewhere. The odds aren't in Gill's favor: The last tryout to earn a roster was Blair Betts in 2009.

Goaltenders

After spending $23 million this summer to cut ties with the most expensive mistake in franchise history, goaltender is the Flyers' only position where no roster cuts need to be made.

Instead, the biggest question centers around which goaltender will be in net on Oct. 2 against the Maple Leafs. It's a superficial question, since it's likely that Steve Mason and Ray Emery will split the bulk of the starts this season - and there's still three preseason tuneups to see who earns the first one.

If forced to wager, my money would be on Emery getting the nod on opening night. But that's just a hunch.

Slap shots

Claude Giroux said the plan is for him to play in tomorrow night's preseason game against New Jersey. He still needs official medical clearance from a doctor today to play in his first game since severing four tendons in his hand on Aug. 15. Giroux skated at Lake Placid with usual linemates Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek . . . Both Wayne Simmonds and Vincent Lecavalier missed yesterday's practice with the flu.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

seravaf@phillynews.com

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