PITTSBURGH – Stability at fourth-line center might not seem like a big deal – at least not until you’re playing three games in four nights like the Flyers are doing right now.
There’s been a revolving cast of characters at that position this season but the music on the merry-go-round might be coming to a stop.
Connor Bunnaman was called back from the Phantoms after the break and coach Alain Vigneault gives the impression that neither of two Russian prospects with previous auditions – Mikhail Vorobyev and German Rubtsov – were ever considered.
Bunnaman made the opening night roster for the game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague, went to Allentown, got injured (high ankle sprain) and had to battle his way back.
But when he returned before the bye-week/NHL All-Star break, he played so well that Vigneault knew he would be an automatic call-back.
“When (general manager) Chuck (Fletcher) and I talked just prior to coming back (from the break), he (Bunnaman) was No. 1 on our list,’’ Vigneault said after Friday morning’s skate at PPG Paints Arena.
“He had played well, he had skated well. He was physical when he needed to be physical, so it’s just like in training camp, we really liked what he had done. We felt the same way with his call-up and the way he’s played for us.’’
Vigneault was asked if he would like to see Bunnaman grab this opportunity and provide some stability on the fourth line down the stretch.
“It would be a bonus for us if we could find somebody who is contributing,’’ Vigneault said with a smile. “Someone who is playing the right way. Obviously we’ve used quite a few players this year. I don’t think that’s bad but at the end of the day, I think a little more consistency would be very useful in that position.’’
The 21-year-old native of Guelph, Ont. was a 2016 fourth-round draft pick who made a big impression last year with the Phantoms, scoring 19 goals in 62 games.
He knows this could be a pivotal time in his career. If he can produce under the pressure of a playoff drive, it could mean big things for his NHL future.
“Before the break my game was pretty good,’’ he said. “It was right where I wanted it to be. Didn’t make too many mistakes, just tried to do what ‘AV’ (Vigneault) tells me to do.
“A bunch of guys have been rotating through. I want to stay here, I want to be here. It’s my dream, it’s where I want to be. I know what I need to do, win my draws – ‘Laughts’ (Scott Laughton) and ‘Coots’ (Sean Couturier) tell me stuff everyday to get better to try to keep me here. Hopefully I can do that.’’
He’s been through a lot but in the end, patience and persistence paid off.
“I’m glad they believed in me to call me back up,’’ he said. “It would be unreal to stay (down the stretch). It would be a lot of experience when I’m young. I think it would be awesome to keep learning from these guys every day.’’
>Another big start for Lyon
With Carter Hart still on the mend from a lower abdominal strain, Alex Lyon has been backing up Brian Elliott and played well in a recent loss against Montreal.
Now he gets another shot in Saturday night’s game against Colorado.
Lyon has now played in 14 NHL games (4-4-1 record) and says he’s no longer star-struck when he walks into an NHL locker room.
Part of the reason for Lyon’s start is because the Flyers are playing back-to-back games and Vigneault does not want to risk an injury to Brian Elliott.
But Vigneault was quick to point out that Lyon also has earned this chance.
When appraised of this, Lyon was appreciative.
“I don’t know if I necessarily deserve it,’’ Lyon said. “I think the coaches here do a great job of instilling confidence in the players.
“It’s good. I have a great deal of respect (for the coaches). I felt pretty good in the Montreal game. There are certainly things I can clear up and get better.’’
The Yale University graduate understands where he needs to improve and that’s half the battle.
“I’m getting to the point where I know what it takes to make my game go well,’’ he said. “I’ve kind of let go a little bit, try to enjoy the process more.
“I feel comfortable here. It takes a little time for that (star-struck feeling) to wear off. I’m as stubborn as they come but it takes an adjustment. I’m getting more comfortable every day.’’
>Flyers, veteran equipment manager part ways
The Flyers announced on Friday that they have parted ways with veteran head equipment manager Derek Settlemyre.
Fletcher would not elaborate.
Settlemyre, the son of ex-equipment manager Dave “Sudsy’’ Settlemyre, ran the locker room for 14 years.
Derek Settlemyre started with the Phantoms some 25 years ago and was employed there for 10 years.
Settlemyre has an impressive resume with Team USA, most recently serving as the head equipment manager for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He also worked for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2007 World Championships in Moscow and the 2006 World Championships in Riga, Latvia.
The Flyers have not yet named a replacement.