To put it in poker terms, Chuck Fletcher looks and sounds like the player who just came up with a pat hand.
After finishing last season with a somewhat surprising No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference (by way of a round-robin tournament), followed by the Flyers’ first playoff win in eight years, the GM has reason to be feeling inwardly confident.
All the cards for this hand seem to have fallen into place.
Matt Niskanen retires? No problem, just have defenseman Erik Gustafsson pop out of the deck by way of free agency.
Tyler Pitlick, Derek Grant, Nate Thompson head off to other teams via expiring contracts? Not a big deal. Simply welcome back now-healthy forwards Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom, two youngsters with talent in spades.
Playing all games against the reconfigured East Division (made up mostly of the former Metro Division teams)? Hardly a sweat. The Flyers went 16-4-4 against the Metro last season and knocked off powerhouses Washington and Boston (now in the East) in the round robin.
So hardly anyone would blink an eye if Fletcher pushed most – or all – of his chips into the middle of the table.
“I think given the circumstances (of the pandemic) we’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish in camp, but the real test begins now,’’ Fletcher said during a Tuesday media Zoom call.
“We’re a deep team, we’re going to need to defend well like we did last year and rediscover what we had (a nine-game winning streak) prior to the pause.’’
The Flyers have enough depth to use proven veterans James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek on a third line with Patrick. That’s what Fletcher means by “deep.’’
“I think we’re optimistic about our group,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re excited to get playing and we’ll find out pretty quickly (where they stand). We play Pittsburgh and these are going to be two difficult games.’’
Patrick could be Fletcher’s ace in the hole.
“In my eyes, he’s been the biggest story of camp,’’ said Fletcher of Patrick, who’s attempting to come back after a missed season due to a chronic migraine headache condition.
“Not only to see that Nolan is feeling better physically and able to participate in camp but after all the time he’s missed, he’s been able to go out and play at a high level, which is remarkable.’’
Fletcher said having Patrick back gives the Flyers not only depth at center, but extra strength on the power play and penalty kill.
“To play with that speed, pace, energy that he’s played with has been great to see,’’ Fletcher said. “The skill level has always spoken for itself, he sees the ice so well. . .200-foot player, doesn’t cheat defensively.’’
Let’s see if all these impressive cards leave Fletcher walking away from the table with his pockets full.
>Frost on roster, taxi squad announced
The Flyers announced that Morgan Frost will serve as the 13th (spare) forward for Wednesday’s opener. In addition, the taxi squad was announced. It includes: Andy Andreoff, C; Alex Lyon, G; Samuel Morin, LW; Connor Bunnaman, C; Carsen Twarynski, LW; Nate Prosser, D.
“He (Frost) played well last year when given the opportunity in the NHL,’’ Fletcher said. “He finished strong down in the American Hockey League. I think he has a body of work that the coaching staff trusts. He had a good camp, worked hard to address areas of his game that coaches have asked him to work on. He earned the right to make the team.’’
Two other prospects, Linus Sandin and defenseman Egor Zamula, drew praise from Fletcher but will start the season with the Phantoms when they resume play the first week of February.
Meanwhile, 2020 draft picks Tyson Foerster and Zayde Wisdom also can be allowed to play with the Phantoms if the Ontario Hockey League does not resume operations. That also goes for 2019 draft pick Mason Millman. The AHL age rule has been waived for the time being.
>Gostisbehere listed as “unfit’’ to play
Fletcher confirmed defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere will not play in the first game. The GM cannot go into further detail due to the NHL’s pandemic protocol. Gostisbehere did not practice on Tuesday and there does not appear to be any timetable for his return.