VOORHEES – Matt Niskanen knows all about Lord Stanley because he’s lifted him over his head.
Stanley’s Cup, that is. And he’s the only Flyer who can make that claim.
Which is why the 33-year-old defenseman just might be the most valuable man in the Flyers’ locker room when things get going for real on Aug. 11.
A guy like Niskanen knows exactly what to say and when to say it. Got a rookie who’s acting a little hyper on game night? Send him over to Nisky’s locker. Have a goalie who looks like he’s ready to tear the clothes bar out of his locker? Uncle Matt can take care of that.
To top it off, the soft-spoken Niskanen, acquired from Washington in last year’s Radko Gudas trade, sounds like he relishes the role.
“For me, it’s just a feel thing,’’ the Virginia, Minn. native said after Monday’s first day of training camp at the Skate Zone. “I’m not going to set a schedule where I feel I have to say this or that. It’s a little bit more behind the scenes. . .if I notice somebody’s acting differently once we get into that first series.
“If I feel the need to pull a guy aside and have a little chat, I’ll do that. That’s part of my duty as an older player that’s been through a bunch of this.’’
Niskanen and his sidekick, Ivan Provorov, will be piling up a ton of ice time in the upcoming playoffs. Many believe Provorov is coming off his best season and Ivan will be the first to give much of the credit to Niskanen.
This type of wisdom just can’t be overstated.
Media types rush to him after games to get honest assessments of team performance, particularly after losses.
Niskanen speaks with his usual bluntness when he says the Flyers can’t just expect to hit the ice and carry over their momentum from before the pause. It’s going to have to be earned.
“Any momentum we had was gone,’’ he said. “But our job and our goal is to get back to a level we were at and build on it. We’ll have to try to build this quickly so we can hit the ground runnin’.’’
Later, captain Claude Giroux talked about the same subject, that elusive momentum.
“Everybody’s starting from Point A,’’ Giroux noted. “Momentum is obviously huge in hockey. The way we were playing, we need to work on playing as a team. . .the same way we were at the end of the year.
“It’s a unique situation and you need to get the momentum as fast as you can.’’
There were 34 players in camp on Monday, including 18 forwards, 12 defensemen and four goalies.
Questions abound as to which extras will make the semi-final roster of about 30. There are some youngsters, such as Connor Bunnaman, Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski; defensemen Nate Prosser, Andy Welinski, Tyler Wotherspoon and Egor Zamula, plus Belarus goalie Kirill Ustimenko.
One missing name of note: Mikhail Vorobyev has chosen to go play in the KHL for now and then possibly rejoin the Flyers (restricted free agent) next season.
“You’re trying to do what’s right for the player and what’s right for the team,’’ GM Chuck Fletcher said. “And this is the group we’ve settled on.’’
>Friedman signed to extension
Defenseman Mark Friedman, such a handy, versatile depth player, was signed to a two-year, one-way contract extension on Monday. The contract, which kicks in next season, averages $725,000 per year. Friedman got into six games with the Flyers last year and looked quite comfortable. The former third-round draft pick hails from Toronto.