VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s taken the better part of three seasons, but this could be a breakthrough moment for the career of Jordan Weal.
Acquired in a trade which sent Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to Los Angeles on Jan 6, 2016, Weal has had his ups and downs with the Flyers.
Now, as he fills in for James van Riemsdyk (lower-body injury) for five to six weeks, it will be interesting to see if the 26-year-old can produce up to his projected potential.
Don’t forget, this is a guy who led the Manchester Monarchs to the 2015 Calder Cup (championship of the American Hockey League), winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (playoff MVP) in the process.
Weal will play on a line with Mikhail Vorobyev and Wayne Simmonds when the Flyers take on the San Jose Sharks for their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center.
He knows this could be a golden opportunity to reestablish himself on this team.
“I was just working hard in the summer, trying to get better at the little things in my game that I think I need to work on,’’ he said. “I’m ready to go.’’
Weal comes into the season off an uneven 2017-18 campaign, which saw him scratched for lengthy segments.
While he did have a decent training camp this year, he was unable to crack that group of top nine forwards and there was really no point in putting him on the fourth line in a checking role. That would just be a waste of his talent.
As a result, he sat out the first two games at Vegas and Colorado.
So how important was it to maintain a patient, positive attitude during the waiting process?
“It was important,’’ he said. “But you know what, we have a really good team here. We have 14 forwards that can be in and out of the lineup at any time that can help our team win.
“If you’re in or you’re out, you just have to keep working hard. Keep trying to help the team win.’’
Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek acknowledge Weal has a lot of potential.
“He’s a little shifty guy, he can control the puck pretty well,’’ said Couturier. “He can hold onto the puck and make some plays. He’s one of those guys who is anxious to get going, get an opportunity.
“If he gets it, he needs to step it up and capitalize on that chance.’’
Said Voracek: “When he’s on, he’s a really good player. He needs to be confident with the puck. When he’s comfortable with the puck, he can make a lot of plays happen. If you don’t play and you get back in the lineup, you have to take advantage of it.’’
Weal looked comfortable practicing alongside Vorobyev.
“He’s been playing really well, he made this team right out of camp,’’ Weal said. “He’s earned it. It will be good to go out and play with him. It seems like he’s always in the right spot making good plays.
“If me and Simmer can get out there and win some puck battles, it will be good to work with those two.’’
Weal wants to put the past behind him. Two seasons ago, he put together a strong finish with eight goals in his last 19 games. That resulted in a two-year, $3.5-million contract. Maybe the pressure of a bigger deal affected his play last year.
“It’s a tough league, it’s tough to score in,’’ said Weal, who had only eight goals in 69 games. “I thought toward the end of the year I started to get my feel back, get those numbers back up, some relatively fair third-line numbers.
“Coming back this year, I know I can do more. I know I can help the team more offensively. I’m looking forward to that challenge on the ice and try to pop some goals.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol said this season is a clean slate for Weal.
“He was outside of the top nine (coming out of camp),’’ Hakstol explained. “There’s no shame in that. Jordan had a good camp. But going into the first couple games, he was the odd man out in that group.
“He will go back into that group with the injury to James and it will be a great opportunity for him.’’
Hakstol said Vorobyev was the one who initially pushed Weal to the bench.
“But now he gets an opportunity to go in,’’ Hakstol said. “His play will dictate the opportunity for him.’’