VOORHEES – For the Flyers, there’s been a big difference between Training Camp I and Training Camp II.
Back in September before TC I, when newly signed free agent Kevin Hayes strode into the locker room, practically the only face he recognized was that of his former coach, Alain Vigneault.
And likewise for Vigneault, who had just been hired in April and was just getting to know his new players.
Fast forward to July and things are completely different.
Vigneault, a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach of the year, has done some of the best work of his two-decade career, turning a .500 team into a top-four contender in the Eastern Conference.
A big part of the credit for that success goes to Hayes, who was simply a revelation in all aspects of the game, including clutch goals and important assists.
After Tuesday’s scrimmage at the Skate Zone – in which Hayes scored a hat trick by the way – he noted the contrast between the two camps.
Now, it appears, friendships abound. . .so solid, they feel like they’ve been around for years.
“I feel like right now we kind of have our team,’’ he said. “Training camp, it’s nerve wracking for everyone. You could be a 10-year vet or a rookie and with AV you’re treated the same.
“To have a training camp at the end of the season, we kind of know our role there, we kind of know our team.’’
The Flyers struggled a bit in the first half of the season as they got to know each other. There were lots of newcomers (Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun plus a handful of rookies). But once the chemistry caught on and everyone got a handle on Vigneault’s system, it was like they had been playing together for quite some time.
“The hardest part about September training camp is finding our identity,’’ Hayes said. “I think we’ve already figured that out this year. We’re a fast team that’s skilled and plays the right way offensively. We kind of already know we’re going to bring that to the table. Now it’s just trying our hardest to bring that back there as soon as possible.’’
Once play gets underway, Hayes figures to center a second line with Travis Konecny on the right side and either James van Riemsdyk or Joel Farabee on the left.
>Zamula one to keep an eye on
If you’re looking for a diamond in the rough in this training camp, it just might be 20-year-old Russian defenseman Egor Zamula.
He went undrafted two years ago and signed as a free agent on Sept. 20, 2018.
The Flyers are hoping he’s Phil Myers, 2.0; that is both of these youngsters went undrafted.
What’s not to like? Zamula’s big (6-foot-3), skates well and moves the puck. Two seasons ago, he registered 56 points in 61 regular-season games with the WHL Calgary Hitmen and chipped in with seven assists in 11 games in the playoffs. Last season, with a back injury limiting him to 28 games, he still posted a commendable 28 points with a plus-14.
There was some concern because Zamula eventually needed back surgery but the pandemic allowed him more time to recover.
Now he’s impressing coaches and scouts in this training camp.
“It’s a great opportunity to be on the ice with the high level players,’’ Zamula said through a translator. “I’m really enjoying it and it feels like I am growing every single time I am on the ice with the players. I am getting something new and better every day.’’