The trade for Matt Niskanen seemed a little puzzling this offseason and there were plenty of fans who had their doubts as to whether or not the 33-year-old would play a significant role for the Flyers in 2020. Just days before the team’s first round-robin game, it’s safe to say all doubts have been banished.
Niskanen’s road to redemption
The 6’1, 203 lbs blue-liner struggled during his final season with the Caps. In 80 games played, he compiled a total of 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists), which was four points fewer than his previous season-low with the Capitals. If we fast forward to a shortened 2019-20 campaign, Niskanen had 33 points (25 assists) through 68 games.
Not only that, but he helped Ivan Provorov massively. The 23-year-old netted an assist against the Pens, explode for 73 points (21 goals, 52 assists) in 62 games. The duo formed an important bond on the back-end and it was one that was re-invigorated during the team’s exhibition game against Pittsburgh. When asked about Provy, Niskanen was extremely complimentary of his running-mate.
Yeah, I don’t think he’s missed a beat. Confident with the puck, smooth-skating, strong in the corners. He seems like he’s got his feel for the game. It seems like that never left. I thought he was aggressive up the ice. He jumped in a few times and tried to make something happen. Moved the puck efficiently. Can defend against the best players. The kid’s a stud. I thought he was really good. Hopefully, he keeps getting better the way he has all year. The old fart next to him will try to keep up.
The duo helped kill power play after power play and shook all lingering rust off quickly. For Nisky, playing in this game was important. Not only in terms of getting on the same page as Provorov, but to sink back into a level of comfort.
It felt like there was almost an echo out there yesterday afternoon. Yelling Provy that he had time or turn it up quick. He had to hear me because I’m used to screaming over a crowd. That’s probably one area that jumps out to me. Our zone exits, our breakouts, our communication will be a little easier without the crowd noise.
I wanted to play. I felt I needed it. Just to get back in the swing of things. I wanted to get some reps at live speed and against a good opponent too. That was good for me personally.
Ahead of schedule
What’s interesting is that Niskanen believes the team are ahead of schedule when it comes to rekindling that winter form. A nine-game winning streak springs to mind when thinking of just how hot the Flyers were, Niskanen was fueling the defensive dominance.
Outside of the last game the team played before the break, Niskanen had a + rating in seven consecutive games. The good news for the orange and black is that confidence is exuding from the skates of the former 28th-overall pick.
“Coming into this, we’re ahead right now of where I thought we might be. That’s a good sign. I still think we have a little bit of summer hockey left in our game that we got to get out. There’s a couple summer hockey habits there. If we can iron them out and get to back to real hockey over the next three, that’s going to help us by the time we get to Game 1. We’re pretty close.
The most important thing is make sure our games at the best possible level for Game 1. I think we’re going to have to continue to get better probably through the first round, in order to win that first round. If we want to get where we want to go, it’s going to take a couple weeks probably until we are reaching our potential.
The Flyers may have a few lumps and bumps to iron out over the next few weeks, but if the pairing of Niskanen and Provorov can come out swinging, that won’t take long…and it appears as though the duo are already winding up.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre