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December 29, 2017

Keith Jones: Inconsistent Flyers have 'potential to turn it around rather quickly'

Prior to the Flyers’ 3-2 loss to Florida on Thursday night, PhillyVoice got a chance to sit down with former Flyer and NBC Sports color analyst Keith Jones to get his take on where the Flyers are — and where they could go the rest of the season.

The Flyers have hovered around .500 this season and are currently 15-14-8 (38 points), sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division, three points behind the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers are six points from the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, currently shared by the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. 

Jones touched on the state of the Flyers right now, what he likes about them, and where he thinks they may be going. 

PhillyVoice: Are the Flyers where you expected? 

Keith Jones: I would say yes, based on how they’ve played recently. I don’t think they were nearly as bad as they were during that 10-game winless streak, but right now they’re settling into kind of where I thought they would be this season. They’re still a very capable team, the year that Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek shouldn’t go unnoticed.

At the same time, they’re still developing that young defensive corps. There are some bumps in the road, but overall, the future is very bright. Some of the future is here right now. The team is going to get better in the very near future, whether or not it all comes together this year or not I would be surprised.

They have the potential to turn it around rather quickly.

The biggest surprise as we near the halfway point in the season?

Probably just how streaky they’ve been, especially with the solid goaltending they’ve received from Brian Elliott. A lot of teams that have issues outing wins together, and putting together relatively long winning streaks, normally that’s goalie related.

There’s been a real consistency in the net this year for the Flyers, which is something that hasn’t been there in recent seasons.

That’s been the biggest surprise, how well Elliott has played. And at the same time, the fact that they have had a long losing streak, and a relatively long winning streak. 

What areas need work that could be correctable?

I would say the continued development of the young defensive corps. There are going to be, without question, growing pains in that regard, but that fact that Robert Hagg has gone far ahead of his defensive development, based upon the fact that he played three years in the American Hockey League, that’s been very comforting—and it should be to Flyer fans that the potential for a top-notch, shut-down defender is very close.   

To me, that was also one of the more surprising things coming into this season, because he really wasn’t registering on the map as far as I was concerned, because I hadn’t heard a whole lot about him. 

That’s a real positive, along with the offensive development of Travis Sanheim, which will be a process. Right now you’re seeing some outstanding performances from him, and you have some bumps. He’s gone up and down, which should be expected from an offensively gifted defenseman. 

He’s getting a feel for how competitive you have to be in the NHL on a nightly basis. That’s part of the process as well.

Did you see this coming from Couturier? He could be the MVP of this team, scoring as many as 25 goals this season?

He’s been a huge positive, as well. He could score more than 25 goals this season. He used to mentioned potentially as a Frank J. Selke Trophy-type of player, which goes to the league’s best defensive player, but in order to win that award, you have to produce offensively. That’s how it’s gone historically.

Now, it’s not laughable to hear Couturier’s name brought up with Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews. Is he at that level yet, no, but he’s in the conversation and that’s something that the hockey world was a little unsure of.  It’s something Dave Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for, in putting Couturier in a position where he’s asked to do more offensively. He’s excelled at it. I didn’t think that was something that potentially could have happened in the offseason—and it certainly has.  

I can’t help but think as this young team gets more settled that they’re only going to get better this year.

And that may happen — quickly. But the league is full of young talented players that are coming. The most difficult to measure is where you are in regards to other teams and their young prospects. The Boston Bruins jump out at me as a team full of young players that are coming together a little quicker than the Flyers.

I would look at teams like that. Those are the teams you want to use as examples. You think of a Charlie McAvoy, and Flyers’ Provorov and the Jake DeBrusks of the world and the Flyers’ Travis Konecny. Players like that. That’s the way you have to build a team now. The potential, without question, is there. Just how far away the young guys are away from becoming prime-time players is going to decide how quickly the Flyers are back in contention again. 

They’re on their way. They’re not as far away as people think. In some cases, they might be a little closer.

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