Going into the 2018 offseason, Flyers forward Jordan Weal was considered by many to be a frontrunner for the vacant 3C position behind Sean Couturier and former #2 overall pick Nolan Patrick. As training camp unfolded, Weal found himself being supplanted by a somewhat surprisingly strong stretch of play by Mikhail Vorobyev. Fast forward to the regular season and Weal was a healthy scratch in three of the first five games, including two straight to start the season. It seemed inconceivable that coach Dave Hakstol would turn to Weal with the game on the line. That’s exactly what he did. Following a 6-5 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers – the team’s first home win – there were plenty of questions centered around the second line center, notably the decision to make Weal the third shooter:
Crossing Broad: When you make the decision to use [Weal] in the shootout, is that decision based on how the game is going, or is that something you’ve though out in advance?
Hakstol: A little bit of both. If you remember, Jordan had a great stretch for us last year where he was our first shooter. He was really effective, then he went cold. He struggled a little bit after that. He was a guy that coming into the game was in my top 4. As the game goes on, we made the final decision. I knew who 1 and 2 were gonna be coming into tonight. Like I said, I had a top 4, he was in that top 4. It seemed like an obvious decision to me as we got to that three spot.
So what was Weal thinking on that play? When asked if he had a pre-determined move, he said, “[It’s] Not every day you see the opposite hand goaltender there, so, I’ve always wanted to be lefty, so I thought I’d try something that only lefties can do on the regular guys and Jake’s move is so effective when he comes down with speed. Just sneaks it in under the stick there, so I thought I’d give it a try… I’ve done it in the past, but every time Jake does it, I love it. It only works when you’re coming down on the blocker side. I thought I’d give it a go.”
NOT TODAY, CATS.
Weal wins it in the shootout! pic.twitter.com/cy64mVHtH0
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) October 17, 2018
There was a belief that Weal’s confidence in the shootout could’ve had something to do with him netting his first goal of the season. Another reporter asked if the fist pump after his regulation goal was an expression of some relief. “Yeah,” he said, ” it was just a bunch of hard work again by our line. We’ve been on the same page getting pucks and going to work, playing below the the goalline.”
Confidence was a common theme in exchanges with his coach:
Reporter: Ron [Hextall] has talked about Jordan Weal as being a guy who gets in his own head. Did he need a game like tonight or do you think the confidence was there?
Hakstol: I think he had that game two nights ago where he felt good. He didn’t have the numbers to show for it like he did tonight. But that game came Saturday afternoon. He played very well, his line played very well. The challenge for him was to come out and do that again tonight. That line did exactly that. They went out and played a hell of a game. Jordan, give him alot of credit, I believe he played really well tonight. Not just offesnively because there’s some numbers behind his name. I thought he was good in the faceoff dot in our defensive zone. He knew what he was doing if he won a draw, lost a draw, and I thought through the game his coverage was good. Pretty complete game.
Reporter: This was Jordan Weal’s probably best game in a long time. Can you talk about what he did tonight?
Giroux: He played well. He’s very good in 1-on-1 battles. He hardly loses a battle for his size, it’s very impresseive. He’s a guy who works hard on and off the ice. Good for him.
Reporter: Can a game like this give you confidence?
Weal: Yeah, I think so for myself I kind of gain confidence through a week of practice, making plays in practice, it extends into games and it keeps building for me. It’s not just one thing that happens and you gain confidence, it happens over time with repetition and work ethic.
Perhaps the most telling exchanges happened in a small media scrum in the locker room. When asked if this is the most confident he’s been since joining the Flyers, he stated, “Not really, I think it’s just an accumulation of working throughout training camp, playing center. Getting a good chance in camp to show what I got. Played a couple games at wing in between. Felt good to get back. Even accumulating from the Vegas game, I thought our line had a solid game. We just kept building off that in practice and then today as well… I’m just trying to make plays, especially in the middle of the ice, I know how to find space and create time and space for myself in the middle and create opportunities for my wingers.”
I asked Weal if there was anything specific that Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom are doing on the ice that’s freed him up. He responded, “I think we’re just getting a chance to play and I think we’re taking advantage of those chances. We’re playing solid in the D zone and when we play solid in the D zone, we’re getting the Puck back quick and we’re spending time in the O zone. I think that’s the biggest thing for us. I think if we continue to do that, and keep working hard in the D zone and outworking [the opposition] in the D zone, that’ll create offense for us.”
Weal’s story is one that screams of a blue-collar worker. After being held out of multiple games to start the season, he’s made the most of his opportunity. Perhaps most impressively, he did it in a shootout – the bane of this team’s existence – and delivered the team’s first victory with the game on his stick. More importantly, he provided Philly fans with a bright moment to the night before the Sixers crapped all over it.
He’s also a pretty funny guy. Anthony and I interviewed him last month on Snow the Goalie. He gave us some great insight on the responsibilities of a center and winger, as well as growing up in Vancouver. He also shared a story of the shenanigans that occurred in the stands as part of a Calder Cup Final game. Anthony and I will be back with a new episode this week, but in the meantime check out our interview with Tuesday night’s hero.