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After a Frustrating 2023-24, Flyers Hoping Jamie Drysdale Has a Bounce Back Effort

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

In a move that shocked the hockey world, the Philadelphia Flyers traded top prospect Cutter Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks for Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 2nd round pick back on January 8th.

Gauthier was tabbed as the organization’s best prospect, he had just won gold at the World Junior Championship, and was having another tremendous season with Boston College. The acquisition of Drysdale was more or less brushed under the rug for a few days compared to the departure of Gauthier – understandably so.

It was announced during the first period of their 4-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins and as the night went along, we heard more and more information from Daniel Brière, Keith Jones, and even Dan Hilferty. The general consensus was that Gauthier no longer wanted to be a Flyer, he had made that abundantly clear to the front office, and he was almost avoiding the Flyers at every turn.

So as we finally shifted towards the present – and the future – with Drysdale, we were immediately welcomed to the prospects of an improved backend and power play.In his Flyers debut against the Montréal Canadiens, Drysdale recorded a power play assist and skated 19:46 in the 3-2 shootout victory.

In his first 6 games with his new club, Drysdale had scored a goal and tallied 2 assists while skating 19:59 per game. In his next 10 games, he recorded just one goal, held a minus-6 rating, and saw his ATOI drop to 18:36. He was then leveled in his next game against Pittsburgh midway through the game and was forced out immediately with a shoulder injury – the same injury that forced him out of the season in 2022-23.

It was a tough time for the Flyers’ defence as they later placed Rasmus Ristolainen and Nick Seeler on IR alongside Drysdale and they also traded Sean Walker. Drysdale came back a month later on the 1st of April but not before the season turned upside down and saw them lose their grasp on a playoff spot. They went 6-7-3 in his absence and were in the middle of their 8-game losing streak upon his return.

He finished the final 7 games of the season with just one assist and was averaging 19:16 of ice time per game but held a minus-9 rating – he was -6 in the 9-3 drubbing against Montréal. In total, he finished his first stint with the Flyers having scored 2 goals and 5 points in 24 games with a -18 rating and having averaged 18:48 of ice time. He also had 1 goal and 5 points in his first 10 games with Anaheim before being traded, was a minus-2, and was averaging 21:45 ATOI.

It was most definitely a tough season all around for 22-year-old native from Toronto. His contract negotiations stretched all the way into the first week of October, he didn’t really have a full training camp, and he suffered through a lengthy lower-body injury to start the year before ultimately being moved to the other side of the country midseason. He had to learn a new defensive scheme, he had to get used to a completely new playbook, coaching staff, and teammates, and his role changed from being the alpha-male in Anaheim to being the third or fourth option in Philadelphia.

All the intangibles that we were told about after the trade was made were on full display. His smooth skating, his offensive acumen, and his ability to quarterback a power play were evident. However, trying to acclimate on the fly didn’t seem to come easy for him, which probably explains his lacklustre debut season for the Flyers. With a full summer of training, acclimating to the city and his teammates, and engorging the Flyers playbook, 2024-25 is going to be an all-important year for Drysdale – one way or the other.

He was drafted during the COVID-interrupted 2020 draft where scouts didn’t have a full grasp of the top prospects. At least there was more than half a season in the books before the draft took place – unlike 2021 – however there was a lot of concern in regards to the top prospects being drafted and Drysdale was one of them. Nevertheless, he was drafted 6th overall after scoring 9 goals and 47 points in 49 games for the Erie Otters in the OHL before making the leap to the NHL and AHL the following season.

Due to the CHL cancelling their seasons in 2020-21 because of COVID, the NHL allowed prospects to play in the AHL, despite the age limitations that were set in place. Drysdale ended up scoring 4 goals and 10 points in 14 games for the San Diego Gulls of the AHL and added 3 goals and 8 points in 24 games for the Ducks. He would then play in 81 of 82 games in 2021-22, where he tallied 32 points while averaging 19:53 TOI.

A lot was expected for his third season ahead of the 2022-23 campaign but he wound up only playing in 8 games after sustaining a season ending shoulder injury. He went without a point, held a minus-3 rating, and averaged 17:37 TOI.

In his absence the Ducks went with a veteran-heavy backend that included Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, John Klingberg, and Nathan Beaulieu. However they also let some of their youngsters get a run in like Simon Benoit and Urho Vaakanainen. Nevertheless, Drysdale was still an important piece moving forward, especially with a lot of the veterans either moving on in free agency or having been dealt at the trade deadline.

Moving on from Drysdale wasn’t an easy pill for Anaheim to swallow but scoring and offense has been a problem of late and when the Flyers were secretly exploring the trade market for Gauthier, the Ducks were one of the few teams that was heavily invested and interested.

Brière attempted to move Gauthier to Montréal ahead of the 2023 draft for their 5th overall pick, which would have allowed them to draft both David Reinbacher and Matvei Michkov. Montréal declined and Colorado also rejected a trade that involved Bowen Byram, which then led Anaheim to be the frontrunner.

While the numbers don’t jump off the page, Drysdale had a decent season according to analytics as well. It was a small sample size but he posted a career-best CF% of 56.5 and a FF% of 57.3 in all situations but also posted a career-high 51.3 CF% and 52.4 FF% while on even strength. He blocked 27 shots and delivered 18 hits in his 24-game stint and the power play improved immediately upon his acquisition.

Prior to the trade being made, the Flyers had a deplorable power play that had scored 14 times on 130 attempts through the first 40 games. In the 19 games that proceeded the trade and preceded his injury, the Flyers clicked at an 18.6% success rate, having scored 11 power play goals in 59 attempts. They had recorded a power play goal in 10 of those games compared to the previous 40 games where they had tallied a power play marker in just 11 games.

The power play then went 6-for-49 in the 16 games that Drysdale missed due to his shoulder injury but even when he did come back they went 0-16 in the final 7 games of the season, which truly crippled their chances of qualifying for the post-season. Going 6 for 65 (9.2%) in the final 23 games of the regular season is a recipe for disaster and something they have to rectify in a hurry before the 2024-25 campaign kicks off.

He might have only registered 1 power play goal and 1 power play assist but his quarterbacking prowess opened up the shooting lanes and duped the opposition ever so slightly since the Flyers never had a quarterback in the first half of the season. There was cohesion, there was a set plan, and the players in front of Drysdale knew what to do and where to set up shop – albeit for a short period of time.

With Travis Sanheim and Cam York ahead of him in the pecking order, Drysdale should be able to thrive as the third option at even-strength and also as the quarterback of the top power play unit. He won’t be asked to defend the opposition’s best players all the time like he had to in Anaheim, and the hope is that he can turn around the abysmal power play that has finished dead last in 3 straight seasons.

The only thing that could hold him back would be another injury and there might be some cause for concern already after it was mentioned during the end-of-season presser that he could undergo surgery in and around his core – which would have him potentially sidelined into December or January. Brière said it affected his skating this season and that there was thought he might need shoulder surgery as well but that improved on its own.

There hasn’t been much mention about whether or not Drysdale will go under the knife and knowing how the Flyers operate, we might not find out for awhile – akin to Ristolainen’s surgery this past season. Drysdale has all the makings of being a top offensive defenseman in this league but injuries have severely hampered his ability to showcase his skill on a consistent basis. The Flyers are really hoping he can avoid surgery altogether, get himself acclimated with the system, go through a full training camp, and be 100% ready for puck drop in October.

The defensive depth of this team will be challenged next season but if Sanheim, York, and Drysdale can remain healthy and produce the way they have in recent memory, then they should be in good hands up front.

However, that’s a big “if”.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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