There are an infinite number of reasons why hockey is the greatest sport on Earth. One of the most noteworthy, in my opinion, is that it is played in so many different places all over the world. The National Hockey League is made up of the very best hockey players from across the globe. At last count, 17 different countries are currently represented in the NHL.
As the nation celebrates its independence over this Fourth of July holiday weekend, and we look forward to the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs rapidly approaching (fingers crossed), I thought it was appropriate to highlight the best American players from the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers. A kind of Flyers “All-American team,” if you will. Please keep in mind that there are only nine Flyers on the current roster who were born in the United States and not all positions are represented.
Sean Couturier was sensational throughout the shortened 69-game season. Coots recorded 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) and a stunning + 21 plus/minus (led all Flyers). He positioned himself as one of the leaders of the Flyers’ late season charge to the playoffs. The center had 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists), five power play points and three game-winning goals in his last 25 games.
The Phoenix, Arizona native also dominated the face-off circle. He led all Flyers with a 59.7% faceoff win percentage in 2019-20.
Couturier has been one of the best defensive forwards in the league for a handful of years now. This season was no different. His defensive prowess on the ice was very evident, especially in the last few months of play. Sean has been in the running multiple seasons for the Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. This season may be his greatest opportunity yet to bring home the coveted hardware.
Kevin Hayes made a tremendous impact for the Flyers this season. In his first year wearing the orange and black (69 games played,) Hayes scored 23 goals and 18 assists. Although some argue that those 41 points were not worth his hefty price tag, it was in a few other vital areas where Hayes made his presence known during the season.
The forward from Dorchester, Massachusetts was a critical piece of the Flyers’ penalty kill. He was a real nuisance for some of the best power play units the NHL had to offer. For the season, Hayes led the team and was tied for the NHL lead in shorthanded goals with four.
The 28-year-old was also a major influence in the locker room. His tunnel talk nicknames, which he would give to his fellow teammates as they made their way to the ice, helped make him an instant fan favorite in Philadelphia. Some of the hilarious nicknames include: “Cahtah Haht” (Carter Hart), “Tiki Bar” (Travis Konecny), “Ghost Malone” (Shayne Gostisbehere), “Coots There It Is” (Sean Couturier) and “Steadzo Glensky” (Matt Niskanen).
Representing the Flyers’ defensive corps is none other than “Steadzo Glensky” himself, Matt Niskanen. In his 13th season as an NHL player and first as a Flyer, Niskanen put together one of the finest seasons of his career.
Nisky brought veteran experience and leadership to a young Flyers roster and it paid huge dividends. More specifically, he was a major influence on his young defensive partner, Ivan Provorov. Together, they made up one of the most dynamic defensive pairs in the league.
As of the NHL’s suspension of play on March 12th, Nisky had recorded 33 points (8 goals, 25 assists); just three behind Ivan Provorov in leading all Flyers defensemen. The Minnesota native led all defensemen in assists and had a plus-15 in the plus/minus column while averaging 21:54 of ice time.
Matt was not afraid to put his body on the line when it mattered most. He recorded 84 blocks (tied for 2nd on the team with fellow Minnesotan and Flyers defenseman Justin Braun) and 124 hits (3rd on the team). As the 15 stitches he acquired back in November after taking a puck to the face and subsequently returning to the same game will indicate, Matt brought a toughness and leadership mentality that the Flyers needed.
Regardless of nationality, these three Flyers had themselves a phenomenal year and deserve the recognition. Together, they represent just a small sample of a very talented and significant Philadelphia Flyers team.
This weekend, as many of us gather together with family and friends to celebrate the birthday of the United States of America, let your pride and excitement grow as we prepare to cheer on our favorite hockey team in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup; a team which just so happens to represent the great city where American independence was born.
Mandatory Credit – © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports