Monday April 25th, 2016

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The result was entirely predictable. When the buzzer sounded after Game 6 it was the Washington Capitals who moved on the second round.

But say this for the Philadelphia Flyers: When it all came to an end on Sunday, they left the Wells Fargo Center ice knowing they'd given the league's best team all it could handle.

In many ways, the Flyers exceeded expectations just by getting to the playoffs. A young team with a rookie coach, they stumbled out of the gate, winning just seven of their first 22 games. But they coalesced around a rookie defenseman who arrived in November and strung together a solid second half to earn a surprise invite to the tournament.

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And they might just have created an identity for themselves along the way.

The organization has come a long way in less than a year. But for all they accomplished this season, the Flyers are still very much a work-in-progress.

There are foundational pieces in place. Captain Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Shayne Gostisbehere could be part of a winner down the road. Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning proved they can contribute on the blue line. And both Steve Mason and playoff hero Michal Neuvirth are signed through next season, giving them a solid tandem in goal. But there are still too many holes in this roster to mount a Stanley Cup challenge any time soon. They need two more scoring options in their top-six, and more reliable contributors in their bottom six. They need more speed across their forward lines. And they need an infusion of youth and skill on defense.

That's a lot of "needs." Fortunately, some of those pieces are on the way. Even after graduating players like Gostisbehere, Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton this season, Philly's system ranks among the best in the league. It's light on high-end forward prospects but it's absolutely loaded on the back end and in goal. It is possible that some of those assets could be flipped to address other needs.

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Ivan Provorov (seventh, 2015) has the makings of an elite1 two-way defenseman with top-pairing potential. He's a solid bet to make the jump from juniors to the NHL next season. Travis Sanheim (17th, 2014) is probably another year off, but projects as a reliable top-four puck mover. Samuel Morin (11th, 2013) is a 6' 7" behemoth who'll play a ferocious shutdown game. Robert Hagg (41st, 2013) is coming off a disappointing year in the AHL but has the mobility and shutdown game to possibly mature into a second-pair option. Add in Gostisbehere, the team's best defender as a rookie and arguably their most valuable player at 23, and there might not be a better crop of young defensemen in the league.

The signing of college free agent Alex Lyon earlier this month deepens an enviable goaltender pool that already includes Anthony Stolarz, Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek and Ivan Fedotov.

There's some talent up front as well. Travis Konecny is coming off a feisty 100-point season in juniors and projects as an excellent middle-six option, possibly as soon as next season.

So the pressure now falls on GM Ron Hextall to add a couple of pieces during the summer, and on coach Dave Hakstol to continue refining his approach. He showed a deft touch with rookies and veterans alike (his patience with Voracek during his early struggles ended up paying off) but he has some things to learn at this level.

Still, it's clear the Flyers are headed in the right direction and the skies are blue up ahead.

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