It's no secret that the center-heavy Flyers have lost a lot of offense from their wingers in the last two seasons.
The departures of Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul, and Simon Gagne have left a void.
Can it be filled?
It better be, or the Flyers will be hard-pressed to match last season's success.
The early returns are mixed.
The positives: Ville Leino has started to shake off the rust caused by off-season hip surgery and seems to be regaining his 2010 playoff form.
The Flyers need big seasons from Leino and Scott Hartnell, who still falls down a lot but is starting to resemble the productive player of two seasons ago - and not the guy who managed just 14 goals last season.
The negatives: In most of the first 10 games, James van Riemsdyk and Nik Zherdev struggled. In the preseason, they were two of the Flyers' best players and seemed headed for big seasons.
The unknown: How will Jeff Carter respond to moving to right wing?
Carter, a natural center, has played mostly right wing this season. He would rather be in the middle, but he will get a lot of scoring chances because of center Claude Giroux's superb playmaking skills.
The farm system doesn't offer much immediate help on the wing, and general manager Paul Holmgren has no interest in signing free agent Bill Guerin. So if the Flyers are going to add a legitimate scorer, they will have to do so with a trade.
Later in the season, Carter might be trade bait, but that remains a long shot.
In other words, the Flyers need to get more scoring from players on their current roster. Period.
"I think the production will pick up when the overall commitment of their game picks up," said Holmgren, who hasn't liked the team's early-season inconsistency. "I'm more concerned about the whole team, not [just] wingers."
The shy, enigmatic Zherdev has had a slow start, but, to be fair, he has been juggled on different lines and has yet to get in sync with any linemates. He also isn't in sync with his coach, who benched him Friday and Saturday, or his general manager, to whom he complained about his playing time.
As for van Riemsdyk, who scored 15 goals as a rookie last season, his slow start is puzzling. He got into the weight room in the off-season, hardened his body, and looked noticeably faster in the preseason.
Yet he was goal-less after the season's first 10 games, though he was plus-2 in that span.
"James had a great preseason, and started out real good, but he's kind of fallen off the last few games," Holmgren said Friday. "If you want to score in the NHL, there is no secret. You have to get in a certain area of the ice, get in your territory."
A lot of expectations surround van Riemsdyk. Rightfully so. In 2007, he was the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL draft (behind Patrick Kane, who has become a star in Chicago), and the Flyers need him to blossom into a 20-plus goal scorer in the worst way.
Van Riemsdyk alone won't offset the offense lost by the departures of Knuble, Lupul, and Gagne - the latter two are sidelined with injuries - but it would make life a lot easier for the orange and black.
"Obviously you want to be successful and score, but you don't want to start gripping the stick too tight, because when you start forcing things, they don't go as well," the hard-working van Riemsdyk said. "I just have to make sure I keep going in front of the net, make sure I keep getting chances, and go from there."
Like Zherdev, van Riemsdyk has had several different linemates in the first three-plus weeks.
"I just try to do the same sort of things - shoot the puck, get to the front of the net, use my speed, and create some offense," van Riemsdyk said. "I've got to just battle through it and work hard. Try to get some greasy rebounds in front."
It's too early in his career to call van Riemsdyk a bust. He's just 21, and he's still learning his way around the NHL. But it's fairly evident he won't come close to the other players recently picked at No. 2 overall, including Eric Staal in 2003, Evgeni Malkin in 2004, Cherry Hill product Bobby Ryan in 2005, Jordan Staal in 2006, and Drew Doughty in 2008.
Flyers management believes the guy they call JVR is going to be a very good player. They would like to see it happen sooner rather than later - especially at a time when most of their wingers are struggling to score.
Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, "Broad Street Bull,"
Subject: Scott Hartnell's donating his cut hair to children who have had medical hair loss.
Response from Irishmedic at 5:02 p.m. on Oct. 23:
Very classy move by Harts. Maybe the extra [weight]
off of his head will help him to stay upright and start scoring.