Training camp will surely feature many battles. Travis Konecny will be fighting to earn back his spot on the top line. Oskar Lindblom will be fighting for a higher spot in the lineup as well. The most intriguing battle of all could very well be for the fourth line center role.
Jori Lehtera seems to be the default 4C heading into training camp, but there are others that are hot on his trail, hoping to either break into the NHL, or solidify their spot on the Philadelphia Flyers opening night roster. Let’s take a look at a couple options the Flyers may have, including one out-of-house option that has been kicked around as of late.
Scott Laughton v. Jordan Weal
Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal will surely be battling over the 3C and 4C role. With Jordan Weal having more of an offensive upside than Scott Laughton, Weal figures to factor into the 3C conversation, or a 4C winger role.
Scott Laughton has yet to really find his role with the Flyers. After being drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, Laughton became lost in the shuffle. Falling in and out of favor with head coach Dave Hakstol, Laughton played all but one game this past year, totaling 20 points, 1 shy of his career high. With 10 goals and 10 assists, Laughton proved that in a primarily fourth line role, he can contribute. Winning 52% of his faceoffs, Laughton also proved that he can be counted on in the faceoff circle.
Jordan Weal has been used sporadically throughout his tenure with the orange and black. He saw some time at the end of his first season, but saw more last season, totaling 12 points in 23 games for the Flyers. This past season, Weal saw more ice time and more games, putting up 21 points in 69 games. Weal has shown glimpses of the stud he was down in the AHL, but has also become part of a carousel of players that rotate in and out on that fourth line.
If the 4C role came down to these two, and the 3C role was already filled, count on Jordan Weal having the edge over Scott Laughton.
Aside from Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal, the Flyers have a trio of AHL players who could seemingly fill the role of fourth line center.
Reigning American Hockey League MVP Phil Varone is a prime candidate for a call-up, having posted 70 points in 74 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this past season. Varone scored 7 of his 23 goals on the powerplay, which could help bolster an already lethal powerplay unit. He was also a plus 9 over the year, which isn’t too shabby either.
Varone being the MVP of the AHL is a big advantage, but the Phantoms also have another prospect who could end up centering the fourth line of their bigger brother.
Mikhail Vorobyov was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, but has been playing well above his fifth round status. This past year, he posted 29 points in 58 games. His nose for the game is great for the age he is at, providing 20 assists over that span as well. Vorobyov could complement other fourth liners like Michael Raffl, Taylor Leier, even Dale Weise very well if given the chance.
The final AHL candidate for the 4C role is one that Flyers fans have been chomping at the bit to see up with the orange and black. Nicolas Aube-Kubel had a pretty good year considering the multiple suspensions. He played 72 games for the Phantoms, posting 18 goals and 28 assists. The stat that stands above the rest is his plus/minus, which stands at a plus 24. Aube-Kubel makes things happen, whether it’s a crisp pass to set up a one timer, or a snipe past the goalie. If he can check his temper, and refrain from making mindless mistakes in the heat of the moment, Aube-Kubel could be a shoo-in for the fourth line center role.
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The Lone Option
Ron Hextall seems content letting the rest of the offseason pass him by, knowing full well that he has a plethora of prospects at his fingertips. If he so chooses to go out and shop around for a fourth line center candidate, he need not look any further than Nick Shore.
Nick Shore has spent a majority of his career with a team Ron Hextall is very familiar with, the Los Angeles Kings. Shore was their fourth line center this past year, posting 15 points in 49 games, one points in 6 games after being traded to the Ottawa Senators, and three points in nine games after again being traded to the Calgary Flames.
Shore has shown above-average vision and patience for a 25 year old fourth line center. However, he has also shown the inability to really grasp the offensive side of his game. He has yet to score over 20 points in his four-year career, and his faceoff percentages have declined every year. In 2014-2015, Shore had a 53.8% mark in faceoffs. This past year, he posted 47.7% across the three teams he played for. Sure, six percent doesn’t seem like a big drop off, but it is when you consider the difference between Ryan O’Reilly, 1st this year in faceoff percentage, and Vincent Trochek, 24th in faceoff percentage. O’Reilly won 60% of faceoffs, while Trochek won 54.1%.
Aside from his declining faceoff percentages, he also is a career minus player. He stands at negative 15 over four years. It’s not a horrible statistic, but the Flyers have better options considering Jordan Weal is a career minus 4 player, and Scott Laughton is slightly below Shore, standing at minus 13.
Shore presents a unique opportunity, to bring in a young fourth liner at a discount, probably around one million base. However, like with any situation that deals with signing someone, the Flyers should be more worried with extending Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Robert Hagg than bringing in another fourth liner to play at or less than ten minutes a night.
With all being considered, the Flyers would be better suited putting Nicolas Aube-Kubel or Jordan Weal at 4C Aube-Kubel would be ideal because it frees Weal up to play the wing, and to try and find his niche in the Flyers offense. Laughton could easily slot in at wing as well, but would be a prime candidate for the third line center position, considering how he saw a boost in his game after being promoted earlier this past season.
Nick Shore is a viable candidate, but the Flyers don’t need anyone coming in and learning the offense that guys like Jordan Weal and Scott Laughton already know. We’ve seen these signings before (Dale Weise, Ryan White, the list goes on…) There’s no need to bring in another forward, let alone center, to play a position that could easily be won by a Phantom player called up, or a player who just happened to be on the bad end of Hak’s notorious healthy scratch list.
Expect the 4C role to be filled internally, with at least two Lehigh Valley players being given a long look to take the job from incumbents Jordan Weal and Scott Laughton.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports