Recently, the Philadelphia Flyers chose to sign their 25-year-old center Ryan Poehling to a two-year contract extension worth $3.8 million; this new deal will ensure he gets paid a $1.9 million salary for the next couple of seasons. This deal comes after the team was wise enough to bring in this then-free agent to assist them in trying to fortify their ailing penalty-killing unit. A feat that Ryan proved to be more than capable of doing, seeing that the Flyers currently rank second in the entire league in that particular category.
But was this re-signing really needed? Now, I recognize that under the direction of head coach John Tortorella, there is undoubtedly a set standard that all his centers are to be defensively responsible 200ft. players, but CAN WE GET ONE THAT CAN SCORE A GOAL?
If you take a closer look at the Flyers’ depth chart at the center position, they seem as though they were made from the same cookie cutter-like mold. Let me explain.
Sean Couturier, the team’s 2011 first-round pick that the Flyers chose to take 8th overall that year, has developed into what they think is a capable top-line center. So much so that the team decided to reward this now 12-year veteran with an eight-year 62 million dollar contract a season ago that is due to pay him $7,750,000 until the end of the 29-30 season. Now, I’m not doubting the fact that he is a good player; we all know he won the Selke Trophy back in the 19-20 season for being voted the league’s best defensive forward. He’s just not the stereotypical first-line scoring center most people think of and other teams’ employee. For instance, Sean, who is 31 years old, has played in 766 NHL games with the Flyers to date and has a career-high of 33 goals during that time. But if you take into account his entire body of work, he has only averaged 15 goals a season for his career, or to put it another way, Sean has managed to score only 0.24 goals per game (G.P.G.) That’s not exactly hitting the mark of some others that we will compare these guys to later in the article.
Morgan Frost, for whatever reason, has been viewed by the team as their second-line center for some time now. He is 24 years old and was initially drafted by the team back in 2017 in the first round with the 27th overall pick. He was seen as being a potential offensive juggernaut coming out of the Ontario Hockey League, where he had back-to-back 100+ point seasons while playing for the Soo Greyhounds, but has done very little offensively since turning pro some five seasons ago now. During that time, Morgan set a career-high in goals last season with 19 but has only managed to amass seven this season and just 33 for his career. That means, on average, Frost has only managed to post six goals a season, or 0.16 goals per game. Again, that’s well off the pace for a player taken in the first round.
Scott Laughton is another center that has been around Philly for a long time. Laughton, who is now 29 years old, was taken by the Flyers back in the 2012 draft in the first round, 20th overall. Scott has played 569 games in his eleven seasons with the Flyers and is the consummate professional. It doesn’t matter where he plays up or down the lineup; Scott doesn’t complain. He is a team player and, for that, is viewed as a leader for this franchise. He, too, is a defensive dynamo. He forechecks, he backchecks, he is a 200ft player who gives it his all every time he steps foot on the ice. Although, the only place he doesn’t really seem to help the team all that much is on the scoreboard. Through his 11 seasons, Scott has managed to set a career-high of 18 goals, which came last season playing under Tortorella’s tutelage. But on average he has only been able to amass seven goals a season, or if you want to look at it this way, 0.15 goals per game. If you’re starting to keep count now, that’s three centers drafted in the first round by the Flyers, who can’t manage to put the puck in the back of the net consistently.
Ryan Poehling, now that you see where I am going with this, let’s take a look at why I say Ryan might not have been exactly what the Flyers needed moving forward. Again, I am not trying to put Poehling down here. I liked the team’s decision to sign him this season, especially considering they had just traded away Kevin Hayes and had Coots just coming back from an extensive injury at the time. But Ryan is yet another center that the team now has on their roster for the next couple of years who was a first-round pick back in 2017 that can’t score. This season, Ryan has five goals in 45 games played. That’s good enough to see him average 0.11 goals per game. I would like to say this is below average for him, but it’s not. Throughout his five-year career in the NHL, Poehling has played in 183 games and has only managed to put up a career-high of nine goals. And if you do some quick math, that means that during his career, he has averaged just five goals a season and only 0.13 goals per game.
That’s now four former-round picks playing center for the Flyers right now, who have played a combined 1,716 games in the NHL and have only been able to compile 335 combined goals to date. So, when you factor Poehling’s new contract in, that means Philadelphia has chosen to pay $14.75 million next year to four men who lineup in the dot and collectively score at a rate of just 0.19 goals per game. And you wonder why this team is ranked among the worst in the league in both goals per game (2.86) and power play percentage (13.29).
Something has to change. This type of defensive center is great to have on the roster as long as they’re playing on the team’s third or fourth line, but it is not conducive to winning games if all four of your centers are like this. The team has to stop coveting this type of player and draft someone who plays down the middle that can score! Now, I know the Flyers thought they had done just that when they selected the injury-prone Nolan Patrick second overall back in 2017, but that mistake was made more than seven years ago. Since then, what have they done to try and rectify the problem? Please don’t say draft Cutter Gauthier because he was at the time and, in my mind, is still best projected to be a winger. The Flyers were trying to coerce him to be a center out of necessity, and we all saw how that worked out for them.
I’m sorry, but if you look around the league, practically every team has a dominant first-line center who is a primary contributor offensively. But to make this article not drag on, we will not be taking a look at Western Conference teams like the Edmonton Oilers, who aren’t even playing fair in this sense since they have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who combined have scored 897 NHL goals thus far in their careers. Instead, we will just stay focused on teams in the Eastern Conference.
Boston – is trying to find who will be their next first line center, seeing that long-time Bruins Center Patrice Bergeron just retired. But at this time they seem to be managing just fine with veteran Charlie Coyle filling in until they can draft Bergeron’s replacement.
Buffalo- has 26-year-old Tage Thompson, who was taken 26th overall back in 2016. He scored at a rate of 0.60 goals per game last year, totaling 47 lamplighters in 78 games played, as well as 22-year-old Dylan Cozens, who scored at a rate of 0.38 G.P.G. last year, totaling 31 goals in 81 games played.
Carolina – has Sebastian Aho, who is 26 years old and wasn’t taken until the second round of the 2015 draft. For his career, he has 235 goals and has scored at a rate of 0.41 G.P.G
Columbus- has youth on their side, with players such as 20-year-old Cole Sillinger already manning the faceoff circle on the team’s top line and would probably benefit more from letting both Adam Fantilli and Kent Johnson revert back to center instead of making them play wing.
Detroit- has Dylan Larkin, who has 22 goals at the midpoint of the season and is scoring at a rate of 0.51 goals per game right now.
Florida- has Alexsander Barkov, who has managed to average well over 20 goals a season during his 11 years playing thus far.
Montreal- Is another team that is in the middle of a rebuild but has youth on their side, with players like Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, and Alex Newhook continuing to develop.
New Jersey- who was smart enough to pass on Nolan Patrick, now has a young duo of Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes to continue to build upon. Hughes of course surprised many last season by scoring 43.
The Islanders- traded for Bo Horvat, who has 20 goals already this year.
The Rangers- have Mika Zibanejad, who, against the Flyers alone, has 18 goals in just 42 games played versus the orange and black.
Ottawa- has the 22-year-old German-born center Tim Stutzle, who looks promising, seeing that last year he was able to light the lamp 39 times.
Pittsburgh- as we all know, our cross-state rival has had much success from having had the duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who both have combined for 652 regular season goals) having played for them for almost two decades now. But they also added insult to injury when they brought in former Flyers Jeff Carter a few years back, who, although now showing some signs of slowing down, still brings with him the experience of scoring 436 NHL goals.
Tampa Bay- for years, had Steven Stamkos leading the way down the middle but now he has since moved over to the wing. But Stamkos who managed to help bring multiple Cups to the Gulf region by scoring a career 536 goals in 1,050 games played, has averaged over half a goal a game for his career. And he has turned his former role over to Brayden Point, who managed to put up 51 goals last year while centering the Lightnings top line.
Toronto- well, this one is easy, Auston Matthews. What can I say about this player that his highlight reels don’t already? He is currently scoring at an unreal rate of 0.86 points per game right now with him already netting 40 goals in only 46 games played this year. Since he came into the league some eight years ago, he has managed to average 42 goals a year. He is only 26 years old, but if he keeps up at this pace, he could find himself in talks with the likes of Gretzky, Ovechkin, Howe, Jagr, and Hull real soon. If that wasn’t enough, the Maple Leafs also have John Tavares manning the dots for them. And he isn’t anything to sneeze at either since he has managed to post 440 goals through 1076 career games thus far.
Washington- is making the most out of other teams’ discarded players like Dylan Strome, who is a former top-three pick who went from one bad team to another when the Arizona Coyotes drafted him and then traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks. But Strome has since found a home in our nation’s capital. Now, in his second year with the Caps, Dylan finds himself playing on a line with Alexander Ovechkin and has managed to score 19 goals of his own so far this season.
So, you can see, although it is nice having so many centers that can be defensively responsible like the recently re-signed Ryan Poehling, it would behoove this team (that we all love) to seek out someone with a little more offensive capabilities. Although they may already have some impressive centers like Massimo Rizzo and Denver Barkey in their system, they, too, are cut from the same pass-first, defensively responsible mold. And until the Flyers find themselves a legitimate 1st line center who can score 30-40 goals a year like they had in Bob Clarke, Eric Lindros, Jeff Carter, and Jeremy Roenick, they will continue to fall short of expectations.