While 2020 might not have been such a great year for mankind, it wasn’t a completely forgettable one for the Flyers.
Winning a playoff series for the first time in eight years and getting within a win of the Eastern Conference finals can indicate progress.
So it wasn’t all that surprising when general manager Chuck Fletcher pretty much stuck to his roster during the offseason.
When training camp for the 2020-21 season gets underway Sunday, there won’t be a whole lot of new faces in town at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.
Aside from newly signed free-agent defenseman Erik Gustafsson, most of the faces will look pretty much familiar.
If Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom can return to good health and Samuel Morin completes an adjustment from defense to left wing, the Flyers should be in fairly good shape.
During a Thursday media Zoom call, Fletcher confirmed it should help to have everyone with working knowledge of each other, especially with only 10 days of official practices (and no preseason games) available.
“I think it can,’’ Fletcher said. “Last year if you go back to our camp, AV (Alain Vigneault) and the coaching staff were implementing systems and a lot of teaching going on.
“This year, I think the vast majority of our players are returning players. They have a pretty good feel of what is expected of them.’’
The top six to eight forwards include Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk and Lindblom. Patrick also might be in the mix.
The next six could include Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Joel Farabee, Morin and maybe JVR.
“I’m sure the coaches will make some tweaks,’’ Fletcher said. “I think we’ll be able to spend a little more time on competition and scrimmaging versus just drills and teaching.
“Hopefully that will allow us to get our conditioning back quicker, get into game situations a little quicker and we’ll all be on the same page. There’s going to be challenges for every team. I like our group. We have real good depth and you’re going to need it this year. That’s what it may come down to.’’
Vigneault, who was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy (NHL coach of the year), knows what to expect of these players and they know what to expect of him.
“Every team is going to deal with injuries and illness and uncertainty,’’ Fletcher said. “I think the more players you can seamlessly put in your lineup, the better off you will be. I do think that’s one of our strengths.’’
On defense, the Flyers have a lot of depth. The only question is how the pairings will look. No. 1 defenseman Ivan Provorov will need a new partner to replace the retired Matt Niskanen and the candidates appear to be either Philippe Myers or Gustafsson.
If Myers moves up, Gustafsson is likely to be Travis Sanheim’s new partner on the No. 2 unit. That leaves veteran Justin Braun, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg to compete for the third pairing.
In goal, Carter Hart is coming off a breakthrough campaign while Brian Elliott returns to serve as backup and mentor.
Fletcher sounds confident this team’s players can build on last season’s limited success.
“They look to be in great shape,’’ he said. “We’re going to have to have a good camp like everybody else.
I think a good start to the season will be good for every club in a shortened season. You don’t want to fall behind. The conditioning level of the guys looks very good. I think the way last season ended, there’s a lot of disappointment that we weren’t able to beat the Islanders and move on.’’
The Flyers will report to the Skate Zone on Sunday and begin official training camp practices on Monday. Those workouts, usually well attended, will be closed to the public due to the pandemic.
Take Fletcher’s word for it, there’s still a buzz around this team even if the fans can’t shore it in person.
“Guys, from what I can see at least, worked extremely hard in the off-season, I think they’re excited to come back and take another step this year,’’ he said.
“I really like our depth. I think we have a pretty good mix of veteran players and young players. I think we’re a really well-rounded team. I think it’s going to be a competitive camp. Once we get in the next few days here and get the physicals and fitness testing, we’ll get a better feel for where guys are at. Monday, we’ll be on the ice. We’re just excited to get going.’’
>Ustimenko undergoes surgery
Fletcher reported Flyers goaltending prospect Kirill Ustimenko recently underwent hip surgery and is expected to miss four to five months of action. The Belarus native was a third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In his place, Swedish prospect Felix Sandstrom will be in training camp presumably on the team’s six-man “taxi squad.’’