Flyers training camp: Job competition, chemistry top the bill

Ron Hextall

VOORHEES, N.J. – Flyers training camp used to be just about that – training.

In other words, getting into shape.

But in these modern times, things have gotten a lot more sophisticated.

Players train year-round, so they show up for the first day (Friday) in peak condition.

That’s why there are only two days of on-ice drills before the first preseason games. . .this year on Sunday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. against the Islanders.

Now the training camp/exhibition season is really about two things: Job competition and chemistry.

Coach Dave Hakstol will be looking to see how players fit together, right from the get-go, both with his forward lines and his defense pairings.

That won’t be all that easy, given two of his key players, center Sean Couturier and defenseman Andrew MacDonald, are injured and won’t be available – although Couturier is expected back in another week or so from a knee problem.

Yes, there will be competition for jobs. Both rookie defenseman Philippe Myers and forward Morgan Frost are expected to be in the mix, along with several other prominent youngsters, including Mikhail Vorobyov.

But a lot of eyes are going to be on which lines are in place by the time the regular season opens on Thursday, Oct. 4 in Las Vegas.

When Couturier gets back, it’s assumed he will center Claude Giroux on left wing and Travis Konecny on right.

Second-year man Nolan Patrick, the 2017 No. 2 overall draft pick, figures to hold down the second center spot, with James van Riemsdyk on the left side and either Jake Voracek or Wayne Simmonds on the right.

Voracek probably has the inside track on that one, leaving Simmonds on a third line. Michael Raffl factors in there with Jordan Weal a possibility at center.

Also in the mix: Oskar Lindblom, Dale Weise, Taylor Leier, Jori Lehtera and Scott Laughton.

On defense, a first pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov figure to be together. With MacDonald out, second-year player Robert Hagg could be put with veteran Radko Gudas.

Christian Folin and Myers are both right-handed defensemen and Travis Sanheim got some experience in a 49-game trial with the Flyers last year, so there is some depth on the back line.

Goaltender Brian Elliott is taking a cautious approach as he continues his comeback from core muscle surgery last year and the oft-injured Michal Neuvirth is his back-up.

Rookies Carter Hart or Alex Lyon could make an appearance if either of the veterans is sidelined.

General manager Ron Hextall, mindful that his team has given the last two Stanley Cup playoff champions (Washington, Pittsburgh) a good run for their money both in the regular-season standings and the playoffs, wants to see improvement toward that “next step.’’

The quest starts now.

“We want to take a step this year, we believe we should,’’ said Hextall, whose team is coming off a 98-point season and a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division standings.

“We added van Riemsdyk, Folin. Apart from that, our young players with upside have to get better. We’re counting on that. I would suspect a couple of young players are going to be on our team. And I suspect some will join us during the year.’’

Simmonds was severely restricted by injuries last season. A return to form would be a big plus.

“I think ‘Simmer’ is going to be a bit of a bounce-back year,’’ Hextall said. “Weal, too. It’s like every other team, if things fall in place, we’re going to be a real good team. If they don’t, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.

“But we believe we have the pieces in place to take that next step.’’

Veteran players feel the same way.

“I think last year really helped us realize what this team can do,’’ Elliott said. “What we’re capable of, the level we can play at. That probably gives me and everyone in the locker room a lot of confidence.

“We’ve added a couple pieces and going through that tough run last year (battling for a playoff spot down to the final weekend) gives us motivation. You can see it in the improvement of kids like Konecny, Patrick. It’s a good measuring stick of how this team is coming together.’’

Voracek is coming off a career year and believes the Flyers’ window of opportunity is now.

“Every year you have a disappointment (going out in the first round to the Penguins), you try to learn from it,’’ Voracek said. “We’re not looking to make the playoffs this year, we’re looking to do some damage.’’

One area the Flyers have to clean up is special teams. Finishing in the bottom five isn’t going to get it done if a team wants to challenge the big boys.

Hakstol comes into his fourth season with a positive outlook. A fully recovered Patrick (he’s coming off two abdominal surgeries the past two years) and the acquisition of JVR (36 goals last year) should help the cause.

A coach always wants to see a battle for jobs and this training camp should have some good ones.

“Folin, JVR, those guys are proven in what they do,’’ Hakstol said. “We’re excited to have those guys joining us. When you add that to the progression of the younger players, that all lends to a pretty high level of competition.

“The theme for me in here: Let’s get going. It’s time to get after it.’’


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About Wayne Fish 2411 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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