LAS VEGAS – Only one player without NHL experience was good enough to crack this year’s Flyers’ roster and the decision to keep him wasn’t even close.
Mikhail Vorobyev, the young Russian do-it-all rookie, made it known early in training camp he was going to be hard to keep down on the farm, i.e., the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
And as the preseason games went along, Vorobyev just got better and better.
So much so that general manager Ron Hextall didn’t need to think much when filling out his final roster.
Vorobyev figures to center the Flyers’ third line (with Wayne Simmonds and James van Riemsdyk) on Thursday night when the Flyers open their season against the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Hextall liked what he saw of Vorobyev as far back as last year’s training camp.
“I think halfway through (this year’s) camp you start to look and go OK,’’ Hextall said. “Assuming he can go the rest of the way, he has to go all the way through.
“If he maintains it, he had a chance to make our team. To me, it was pretty evident he earned a spot. He wasn’t given a spot.’’
Vorobyev’s ability to fit into almost any line played into it as well.
“He seemed to have chemistry with whoever he played with,’’ Hextall commented. “Wingers like it because they have a center who takes care of the defensive zone. He makes plays, smart plays, he’s hard on pucks. He’s pretty easy to read off of and he reads off the guys with him.’’
The improvement from last year was significant.
“His strength on the puck was a lot better this year,’’ Hextall said. “His knowledge of the small rink is better.
“Since day one he’s been really good. His challenge now is to maintain it.’’
Vorobyev played well enough to move veterans Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal for consideration in that third-line center spot.
“He’s been the best player in that position,’’ Hextall said. “It’s as simple as that.’’
Thursday is a day Vorobyev has anticipated for a long time.
“It’s a dream come true,’’ he said. “Everybody wants to play in the NHL because it’s the best league in the world. I’m very excited and happy to be here and be a part of this team.”
By now, word of his promotion has made it back to Russia. He said he hasn’t called home yet but that’s bound to happen.
“I’m sure they may have heard it by now,’’ he said, “on the news or in the newspaper.”
As for working so well with a variety of linemates, Vorobyev shrugged.
“They are all very smart players and it worked out very well,’’ he said. “We just get along and that makes things easy.”
Coach Dave Hakstol is a big believer.
“He’s a good surprise for sure,’’ Hakstol said. “He’s a young guy who came in and did exactly what we challenge young guys to do. . .come in and earn a job. He did that from day one.’’
What Hakstol likes the most is the versatility in Vorobyev’s game.
“He’s been a complete player,’’ the coach said. “Two hundred feet up and down the rink, so he’s been good in all three zones. And he’s added to our team offensively as well.’’
So much so that you’re probably going to see him on the Flyers’ second power-play unit. That’s where he was in Wednesday’s practice at City National Arena.
“It’s a credit to him what he’s done over the past three weeks,’’ Hakstol said. “And that’s why he’s here. That’s why he will be in the lineup tomorrow night.’’
Captain Claude Giroux had a chance to play with Vorobyev on the power play during the preseason and was a bit taken aback by his skill level.
“He made a couple passes across that I was pretty surprised,’’ Giroux said. “I wasn’t ready for them. That vision that he has is pretty impressive.’’