With the Flyers pledging to rebuild their development system, early results from the World Junior Championship in Sweden have to be encouraging.
Their top prospect, Swedish native Cutter Gauthier, is picking up right where he left off in last year’s WJC. This year, in his first two games for the United States squad, he registered a total of four assists in 4-1 and 11-3 victories over Norway and Switzerland respectively in Sweden.
In Sunday’s third U.S. game, Gauthier had a goal and two assists in a 10-2 win over Slovakia.
Gauthier had four goals, six assists for 10 points with a plus-7 in last year’s World Juniors. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound Gauthier, who turns 20 on Jan. 19, has been playing well for Boston College this season. In 17 games, he has posted 13 goals/23 points with a plus-6.
Two other Flyers prospects also have been playing well at the World Juniors.
Defenseman Oliver Bonk, who was taken 22nd overall in this past summer’s draft, has held down the sixth spot on Canada’s defense pairings. He’s the son of former NHL star Radek Bonk. Oliver plays for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
Forward Alex Ciernik has been competing for Slovakia. Ciernik, born in Germany but playing for the country of his heritage, was taken in the fourth round (120th) overall in the 2023 draft at Nashville.
>Flyers eye second half
Flyers coach John Tortorella told his team first and then he reminded the media that the NHL’s “real season” starts around late January/early February when more intense play separates the contenders from the pretenders.
So far, the Flyers have more than held their own and have been hovering in the Metropolitan Division’s top four for a number of weeks.
Several stats would seem to indicate the Flyers could be in this for the long haul and a chance to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2019-20 season.
For one, their penalty kill has been virtually second to none since mid-November. As the calendar comes to a close, the Flyers have moved all the way up to the top five at a better than 85-percent clip. Killing off four or five penalties can change the momentum of a game and we’ve seen it happen a number of times this year.
While the Flyers might not be lighting it up on the power play (how about last at barely over 10 percent), the lack of success there doesn’t seem to have hurt the overall numbers that much. In fact, the Flyers were as high as plus-9 (and a far cry from last year’s final number of minus-55) this past week, which was fifth out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers have been fortunate so far in the injuries department. They lost defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Marc Staal at or just after the start of the season and Noah Cates is in the midst of a two-month recovery from an injury of his own. But that’s about it. Philadelphia needs to stay healthy to stay a contender.
Tortorella must continue to get solid play from his defense, led by Travis Sanheim and Nick Seeler. These two come to play every night. The returns of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson have steadied things down in the locker room and on the ice.
Here’s one other number to throw at you: Until a 7-6 shootout loss at Detroit prior to the holiday break, the Flyers had held opponents on the road to three or fewer goals in 13 straight games. That’s a big deal, especially come playoff time.
Things are so tight in the standings right now, hardly any teams are out of the picture. Yet the Flyers seem intent on getting into that photograph once April rolls around.
>Letang sets records; set to visit Philly on Jan. 8
Flyers fans have watched great Pittsburgh players such as Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby light up the orange, black and white over the years but they also know that a defenseman by the name of Kris Letang has done his share of damage, too.
That’s why the Philly boys could afford to breathe a sigh of relief the other night when Letang set several records in the Penguins’ 7-0 demolition of another team, the Islanders.
Letang became the first defenseman in the NHL’s 106-year history to record five points (all assists) in a single period and finished the night with six assists, tied for the most ever in one game by a blueliner.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the first period but then Letang turned on his motor. He was involved in five different scoring plays in the middle frame and added one more helper in the third period for good measure.
Letang wasn’t the only star to leave Islanders fans at UBS Arena in a foul mood. Jake Guentzel scored goals 12 seconds apart (the fastest by a Penguin player in 22 years).
Meanwhile, Letang became the first player (of any position) in Penguins history to post five points in a single period while also becoming the fourth active skater to achieve the feat, following Tage Thompson (Dec. 7, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 17, 2021) and Sam Gagner (Feb. 2, 2012).
The longtime Penguins blueliner also became the seventh player (of any position) in NHL history to notch six assists in a road game and first since the Flyers’ Eric Lindros (Feb. 26, 1997, vs. Ottawa).
Letang, who has recorded 49 points in 63 career games against the Flyers, will be in town on Monday, Jan. 8 at the Wells Fargo Center.
The 35-year-old Letang has survived a pair of strokes in his career but shows no signs of slowing down. Just ask the Flyers.