Three Philadelphia Flyers debuted in 2020-2021 at the center position. Which one could replace Nolan Patrick if he leaves this offseason?
Since the season finale victory over the New Jersey Devils, I’ve outlined failsafe options regarding Nolan Patrick. There are affordable free agents for around likely $1.5mil or less who could fill in. Before the NHL Expansion Draft, Patrick has the most trade value before Philadelphia has to go all-in without a future return. His pre-expansion value includes any negotiations that Ron Francis would want to strike a pre-draft deal for a pick.
One place I haven’t analyzed is the in-house options.
Three players emerged as possible replacements at 4C in the Flyers lineup this season. Alain Vigneault spread playing time to Tanner Laczynski, Morgan Frost, and Jackson Cates. Two others who will be free agents this offseason are Connor Bunnaman and Andy Andreoff.
Already, Philadelphia has better options in the system on the brink of the main roster, excluding Bunnaman and Andreoff. One silver lining of the 2020-2021 season is Ian Laperriere had the chance to work with Laczynski, Frost, and Cates at the NHL level. He’ll likely further develop and relate to those three, as he’s the prime candidate for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach position. A buffer between players and management, Laperriere could help the “on the cusp” players transition to the NHL smoothly. Of those three options, which is ready to take on a fourth-line role if Patrick leaves?
Starting with the cheapest of the three options, Morgan Frost has the most experience. He played two games in 2020-2021, suffering a dislocated shoulder. Entering a contract year, Frost would be just as hungry as Nolan Patrick.
Both Frost and Patrick are in the same place after taking different paths. Patrick has to bounce back next season to show the league he’s worth the long-term investment. Frost must cash in on any opportunity and stay healthy in the process. He’ll likely be the odds-on favorite to take on the role.
Additionally, Frost excelled on the penalty kill, scoring shorthanded. All season long, the Philadelphia Flyers were passive during man-down scenarios.
If Patrick stays with the Flyers, he should receive about the same amount as Frost. His $874,125 price tag could stay the same or diminish after his 2020-2021 performance. That reality could be enough for Patrick to make plans to move on with his new agent. Frost would receive $863,333 next season. That’s cheaper than the other two in-house options.
Registering an assist in four NHL games, Jackson Cates signed an entry-level contract. His brother, Noah, is a prospect within the Philadelphia Flyers system.
Under careful development, the Flyers could have an efficient sibling tandem in the City of Brotherly Love.
During a loss to the New Jersey Devils, Jackson had an even-strength assist. He also suffered the worst plus-minus rating of his first few games. With a small sample size to analyze, it isn’t accurate to say Jackson sacrifices defense for offense. He averaged 11:42 minutes of ice time at the end of his stint but faded into the background on the ice.
Of the three options, Jackson represents the unknown. He and Tanner Laczynski will both receive $925k next season. Alain Vigneault favors players who prioritize the importance of a two-hundred-foot game. Currently, Jackson may be the one with the glaring defensive weakness at the NHL level. Luckily, Chuck Fletcher has one more option who excels on defense.
Similar to Jackson Cates, Tanner Laczynski only played a handful of NHL games in his rookie season. Unlike Cates, Laczynski never played the same opponent twice. The variety of opponents could make him the best option out of 2020-2021 to replace Patrick if he departs.
Through five games, Laczynski didn’t pop on the scoring sheet. He is the only one on this list to finish last season with a positive plus-minus rating. Unfortunately, he underwent season-ending hip surgery. Before the early end of his 2020-2021 campaign, he caught Alain Vigneault’s eye.
Vigneault remarked on Laczynski’s game. His two-way style and two-hundred-foot game act as buzzwords when discussing Laczynski.
Everything rides on a standard training camp with these options. If Patrick leaves, these three players will compete for a bottom-six NHL role. Even if he stays, a position battle could be a healthy spark. The Philadelphia Flyers have options within their system to help maneuver under the flat cap. Now, we wait for the Flyers to navigate a delicate situation.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire