VOORHEES, N.J. – While general manager Chuck Fletcher says he likes the Flyers’ energy in training camp and is confident the addition of veteran players will help his team’s fortunes, he’s still being cautious with his optimism.
Addressing a wide range of topics during a press conference at the Flyers Training Center on Thursday, Fletcher said he believes his team is ready to get back into contention after a disappointing 2020-21 campaign.
“All of us struggled last year,’’ Fletcher conceded. “We’re in a better place (now). I just love the attitude of the group. The guys are excited, they enjoy being around the rink. You hear laughter. Hopefully we’re still smiling a couple weeks from now.’’
Can the Flyers reverse their fortunes with a fast turnaround?
“The guys have come to camp in great shape,’’ Fletcher said. “To me, it looks like the chemistry is coming together. We have a lot of practice time. It looks like we’re trending in the right direction but reality will hit next week (when the season opens). I just like the attitude, it feels like two years ago.’’
As for the assignment of center Morgan Frost to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday, Fletcher was quick to point out the move made sense because Frost missed almost all of last season due to shoulder surgery.
“I was actually pleasantly surprised by Morgan’s camp,’’ Fletcher said. “I anticipated he would be farther behind than what he was. He missed the whole season. I thought his details, his commitment to defense, competitiveness were above what I figured.’’
Fletcher gave the impression Frost will be back with the Flyers at some point this season, be it due to an injury to a player at the NHL level or just by the degree of his play with the Phantoms.
“You see players come back from shoulder surgery, it can be difficult for them to jump right back in with confidence,’’ Fletcher said. “Predictably his timing is a little off. Having him go down to Lehigh Valley and play a lot, play every situation for ‘Lappy’ (coach Ian Laperriere) will benefit him to get his timing back, his confidence back. The next time you see him he will be a vastly improved player.’’
Frost was given every chance to prove he could overcome the odds and make the team. He was centering what amounted to a second line with Joel Farabee and James van Riemsdyk.
“To honest with you, the coaches really like Morgan, his is probably more my decision putting him down,’’ Fletcher said. “I think we wanted to give Morgan the opportunity to show everything he could do. We put him with good players, we put him in important situations. But I think the best thing for him long term is to play and play in an environment where he can get his confidence. It’s the best thing for him, the best thing for us. It’s not a rush to get him to play here. He’s going to play here, let’s make sure we give him a chance to be successful.’’
As for Frost’s reaction to the move, Fletcher said the player was disappointed but doesn’t take it as a complete demotion.
“This is not a punishment,’’ Fletcher said. “I think he admitted his timing isn’t where it will be, which is normal. You can’t miss a season and step right back in and be a hundred percent. He’s a top player, I can’t imagine he’s been cut that much in his life. I think he’s disappointed but understands.’’
>The Vigneault situation
Fletcher wasn’t pleased with the allegations of “pill pushing’’ put forth by Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner against Flyers coach Alain Vigneault.
“. . An extremely unfair accusation,’’ Fletcher said. “I thought he handled it great.’’
>Laughton moving up?
With Frost out of the picture for the moment and Kevin Hayes on the shelf for at least another month due to abdominal surgery, it appears the Flyers will move Scott Laughton up to fill the second line spot with JVR and Oskar Lindblom. JVR, normally a left wing, is scheduled to move to the right side to accommodate this alignment.
“Scott and JVR have played together before,’’ Fletcher said. “I don’t think it will take all that long for that chemistry to happen.’’
>Wilson, Cates still on roster
After Wednesday’s nine-player roster cut, veteran left wing Garrett Wilson was still in town. The 30-year-old left wing, who has 84 NHL games under his belt with Florida and Pittsburgh, caught the eye of Fletcher and Vigneault.
“He has a lot of experience and when AV met with the players at the beginning of camp, he said the players who play the best will be rewarded,’’ Fletcher said. “He (Wilson) has been one of the best players, day-iin, day-out, competed hard and earned the right to be here right now.’’
As for Jackson Cates, he seems like a very efficient player who isn’t mistake-prone.
“Jackson’s a dependable player,’’ Fletcher said. “He fits in our bottom six. What you ask of those players is to be responsible with the puck, kill penalties. He does all of that well.’’
>Six defensemen to start season?
Fletcher left the door open to starting the season with the bare minimum six defensemen, given the team opens with four straight home games. That would leave rookie Cam York and veteran Nick Seeler out of the mix for a potential seventh (spare) role.
“We have six veteran ‘D’ in camp and I think we’re going to run it pretty lean early in the year,’’ Fletcher said. “We don’t need a lot of extra bodies during the homestand. The important thing for young players is to make sure they’re playing (with the Phantoms).’’
Fletcher said he doesn’t believe Wade Allison (high ankle sprain) will require surgery. “It’s a tough injury, it’s really disappointing. I certainly don’t think it will be a quick return to play.’’ . . .Fletcher on a fully healthy Lindblom, who appears to have recovered from his bout with cancer: “He looks stronger, he looks quicker, certainly has a smile on his face everyday. I’m seeing him make plays he used to make.’’. . .Fletcher on the penalty kill, which was ranked 30th last season: “We should be better on the penalty kill, with the players we brought in who are historically good killers.’’ . . .The Flyers will be checking the waiver wire for a player who can upgrade their roster. Fletcher might want to bring in a veteran or two to give him the flexibility of sending a young player to the Phantoms for more seasoning.