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October 11, 2016

Provorov, Konecny poised to usher in a new era of Flyers hockey

The Flyers embark on their 2016-17 season on Friday night when they drop the puck in Los Angeles, but more than that, when that opening faceoff takes place the Flyers will be launched into a new era.

At the same time the organization moves forward after the death of legendary owner Ed Snider, the team will head into the future on the shoulders of 19-year-old prospects Ivan Provorov on defense and Travis Konecny up front.

Think of that – not one, but TWO 19-year-old regulars in the Flyers lineup all season, each of whom could be a huge part of the club’s success – for a very long time.

Think of it this way, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who is looked upon as a babe in the NFL, is four years older than either of these two.

By comparison, take a look at Flyers forward Sean Couturier, who also checked into the NHL at a young age of 19 in the 2011 season. By the time Couturier was 23, he had already played four full NHL seasons including 350 regular-season games, 19 playoff games, and shut down one of the best players in the world when he harassed Gino Malkin of the Penguins in a playoff series.

This is no small matter, and there should be every reason to believe that these two, in addition to sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, will be at the helm of a crew of young players to allow the Flyers to get back into the mix of teams with a yearly chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Consider that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is not in the business of moving players to the head of the class without crossing all their t’s and dotting all the i’s. As witnessed with the development of Gostisbehere, Hextall likes to be super conservative when sending a player onto NHL ice.

The fact that Hextall would place these two on an NHL bench this early is a clear indication that Flyers fans should hope for something very special.

The two offer a pretty cool comparison of styles; Konecny is the kid going 100 miles per hour, wheeling toward the net, a ball of energy and offensive instinct. We can expect to see Konecny on a line with Couturier and Jake Voracek.

Provorov plays wise beyond his years but will likely not provide the offensive fireworks of Gostisbehere. Instead, Provorov at his best will play a lower key, global game of defense. It will likely be a Kimmo Timonen type of game in which all the right things will be done so regularly it won’t be highlighted because of its consistency.

The addition of Provorov and Konecny has put a turbo charge into the hopes of fans who are well-informed on a pipeline of prospects the Flyers have stashed on the Phantoms, in Junior hockey and around the globe.

The long-term future is very bright, but the concern at this moment in October is what we can expect this season. This is not a case of tearing it all down and waiting, this is a matter of a team coming off a playoff appearance with aspirations of going even deeper.

It is a team with a coach, Dave Hakstol, who did a remarkable job in his first year moving up from behind the NCAA bench in North Dakota. Much like the team, the coach appears to be at the start of a successful pro career.

Again, the Flyers will depend heavily on the offense of captain Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. It is especially important that Voracek gets off to a strong start and avoids some early season droughts that have marked his past.

The power-play combination of Giroux and Gostisbehere has already proven deadly, and it should only get better with a year of seasoning.

Despite all of the arrows pointing upwards, the Flyers are still likely to find themselves in a scramble for a playoff spot. In the East, the Flyers will have to deal with a New Jersey Devils team that has added Taylor Hall as an offensive threat to go along with the superior goaltending of Corey Schneider and the solid defensive style.

There is also the matter of Montreal having Carey Price back in goal, along with Shea Weber on defense, making them improved from last season, despite the trading of PK Subban.

The bigger problem lurks to the south where Washington will be superior again and Carolina should be improved. But the real problem will be well further down 95 in Florida, where Tampa is a popular choice to win the Cup with Steven Stamkos under contract and with Jonathan Drouin with a new attitude. And when Florida’s lineup is healthy the Panthers will give any team all it can handle.

Across the state, the defending Cup-champion Penguins will start the season without Sidney Crosby – out again with a concussion, but coach Mike Sullivan will be behind the bench the entire season with the same guidance that turned last season into a parade.

There is likely to be slippage in Boston, and perhaps with the Rangers where the King in goal might be near the end of his reign near the top of the NHL goaltending world.

On balance, watch for the Flyers to elbow their way into the playoffs.

But the real playoff runs might have to wait a couple of years … until the kids are the ripe old age of 21.