When the Flyers used their No. 5 overall pick on Cutter Gauthier in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, they figured they were on to something pretty good.
But they probably could not have dreamed just how fast he would mature into such a seasoned player.
Only a couple weeks ago the Flyers announced that Gauthier would be headed back to Boston College for a sophomore season.
That decision, however, was made before the current IIHF World Championships in Finland.
Playing for the United States, the Swedish-born player has turned the tournament upside down with his astonishing play.
When play ended Sunday (with Canada taking the gold medal and the United States finishing fourth), these were just a few of the 19-year-old’s accomplishments for the undefeated Americans:
>The only player among the top 30 scorers under the age of 20.
>Tied for second in goals with seven, trailing only the eight scored by 27-year-old Czech forward Dominik Kubalik, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings and has competed in 283 NHL games and one other player.
>Eighth overall in scoring with nine points.
Ahem, maybe the Flyers might want to think twice about sending him back to collegiate hockey for one more go-round.
It’s not like the Flyers haven’t shown faith in 19-year-olds before.
Remember back in 2016 when a couple under-20s named Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov turned pro? How did it work out for those two?
Well, Konecny played 70 games his rookie season, popped in 11 goals and then went on to score 24 goals in each of the next three seasons during ages 20-22.
Meanwhile, Provorov played in all 82 games during that 2016-17 campaign and, with the exception of a brief forced absence during the COVID pandemic, has played in all 532 career games the Flyers have had on their schedule.
Suffice to say, when training camp opens in September, there are going to be a lot of eyes trained on Gauthier (who registered 37 points in 32 games for BC his freshman year) to see if the timeline to a professional contract might be shortened a bit sooner than expected.
>Back to the outdoors
Even though the Flyers at this point are expected to be nothing more than a borderline playoff team, at best, next season, they still have managed to garner an invitation to another outdoor NHL game.
It was announced recently the Flyers will take on the Devils at MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.), home to the football Giants and Jets, in February.
This is nothing new for the Flyers. They’ve played in a couple outdoor games against Pittsburgh (home and home) as well as a pair of Winter Classics (Boston, New York Rangers).
Some would say the novelty has worn off these “back to our pond-hockey/childhood days” affairs but if 70,000 hockey fans keep shelling out the big bucks to freeze their bottoms off, why would the NHL pull the plug?
Plus, for this particular game, the location is convenient for both teams and their followers. It’s just a 10-minute drive from “The Rock” for the Devils and their fans and the Flyers and their faithful can just do the bus-car-train thing and be there in about an hour and a half.
Just be sure to bring your foot-warmers. . .
>Importance of special teams
As we move closer to the Stanley Cup Final in the next week or so, the conference finals have shown us just how much can hinge on special teams play.
Games often can be won or lost on which side of a power play/penalty kill a team falls when play reaches the third period or overtime.
No doubt the Flyers’ brass is watching these games closely and reinforcing their belief they have to get better in these areas.
Safe to say, Philadelphia cannot have a repeat performance of dead-last on the power play they suffered through last year and expect to be involved in postseason play in 2024.
The expected returns of Sean Couturier (back surgery) and Cam Atkinson (neck surgery) should help the cause greatly.
Couturier has worked with the best, including Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk. He knows the power play vastly helped those teams of a few years back, including a pretty good run in 2020.
“I think special teams obviously were a huge part of our success and of our bad sequences,” Couturier said. “I think when we were winning a couple games in a row, you could see the power play was clicking.
“When it wasn’t – and the penalty kill was struggling – then we were losing a couple in a row. I think special teams is a big part in today’s world, whether it’s the players on the way we play. . .it’s something we definitely have to get better.”