Young Defensemen Giving a Boost to Depleted Philadelphia Flyers Blue Line

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IApril 18, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 07: Erik Gustafsson #29 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates during the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center on March 7, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers have had more than their fair share of bad luck during this lockout-shortened NHL season, particularly when it comes to the injury bug.

Their defensive corps in particular has been unable to stay healthy, which is a big reason why the Flyers started and have failed to stay above .500 for any portion of the season. They came into the year with a decent group of veteran talent, but almost the entire group has been hurt for a significant length of time.

Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn were both lost almost simultaneously for the rest of the season just a couple weeks ago, that coming after Meszaros missed a chunk of the beginning of the year as well.

Nicklas Grossmann had been dealing with little nicks and bruises for a while before sustaining a concussion a couple weeks ago that has sidelined him since. 

With that, three of the Flyers' top five starting defensemen are out. Luke Schenn and Kimmo Timonen have been solid, but neither have the capability of a game-breaking player who can carry the team. Schenn is too slow, and Timonen is just too old.

Even some of the Flyers' depth guys have been unable to stay healthy. Bruno Gervais was signed this offseason for the very reason that he would be able to fill in for injured starters, but it was announced just a few days ago that he would be undergoing season-ending surgery on his abdominal muscle.

Then Kent Huskins, acquired a few weeks ago from the Red Wings to deal with the rash of injuries, sustained a concussion against Montreal a couple nights ago and is out indefinitely as well.

So what does this mean for a Flyers defense that was already considered to be thin coming into the season? Lots of young prospects are in the NHL right now, that's what. 

Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen have been logging a lot of minutes since the Flyers lost Meszaros and Coburn, and the 24-year-olds will only be given more responsibility with the recent wave of injuries.

Gustafsson got some playing time last year, but he seemed a little overwhelmed, much like how he was when he first got called up in 2013. But as of late, he has really started to come into his own since being called up in February.

The Swede is a deft puck-handler who makes up for his lack of size with great skating and passing ability. His decision-making is still suspect, but he has three goals (one in each of the past two games) and two assists in April while logging over 20 minutes of ice time in five straight games.

Lauridsen got called up on March 30th and has been solid so far. He isn't going to give much on offense, registering just one assist thus far, but he uses his 6'6" frame well in his own zone. He got nearly 20 minutes of ice time against the Rangers on Tuesday and played his best game yet.

With the injuries to Gervais and Huskins, the Flyers went ahead and called up two more players from the AHL, one that Flyers fans may recognize and another they assuredly do not.

Brandon Manning played in only four games last season but seemed to have stuck in Philadelphia fans' memories for his ability to move the puck up ice. He is arguably the Flyers' top defensive prospect.

An assistant captain for the Phantoms, Manning is only 22 but seems to have a good grasp of the NHL game already, showing flashes of promise while registering an assist in the win over the Rangers.

Lastly, we get to an unknown quantity in Matt Konan. At just 21 years old, he actually started the season with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL before moving up to Adirondack, where he has been solid in 42 appearances for the Phantoms.

He was a healthy scratch for the Rangers game, but it's still nice to see him join the other young guys up in the NHL ranks. At this point, the Flyers need to see what they are working with in terms of young defensive talent, and this is a great opportunity to do that.

Even though the playoffs are nearly out of reach, it's still good to get these prospects some familiarity with NHL speed and even give them a little taste of how intense things get down the stretch. It's much more valuable to give them a shot than call on older veterans to serve just as a placeholder for the last few games.


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