One possible silver lining to all these Flyers injuries and illness absences has been the need to call up prospects from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and get a look into the future.
Rookie defenseman Cam York is the first which comes to mind and others, such as Jackson Cates, Connor Bunnaman and (briefly) Wade Allison, have also seen action.
Saturday, former second-round draft pick Isaac Ratcliffe can be added to that list. He will make his NHL debut in an afternoon game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Wells Fargo Center.
Interim head coach Mike Yeo has tentatively placed Ratcliffe, a left wing, on a fourth line with center Connor Bunnaman and right wing Zack MacEwen.
The trio averages about 6-foot-3 in height and might be aptly named the “Philadelphia Sky-Line.’’
It’s been a long journey for Ratcliffe since he was the 35th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He’s performed well each year at Flyers training camp but he always seems to fall just short of making the opening night roster.
Compounding the situation has been recovery from a couple of serious injuries, including a broken rib/collapsed lung in early 2021 which limited him to just 22 games.
But he’s been healthy this season and performed well for Phantoms head coach Ian Laperriere. Although he’s only produced four goals/10 points in 31 games, the important thing is he’s played a strong two-way game and remained healthy.
“I’m getting a great opportunity here,’’ the 22-year-old Ratcliffe remarked after Friday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “I just have to go out and make sure I take care of the puck at both blue lines and do whatever I need to do to help the Flyers win.’’
Ratcliffe’s parents were actually on a flight to Vancouver when the news came down on Thursday that Ratcliffe had been promoted. His folks turned around and flew back east, planning to be at their son’s first game in Philadelphia.
“My brothers are driving down, too (from Canada),’’ Ratcliffe said.
All Ratcliffe needed was some good health to get his game back on track.
“Last year was obviously tough coming off the injury,’’ he said. “It was tough going into every game feeling like I needed to prove something. This year, my focus has been to just take care of myself physically, take care of my body and stay healthy. I feel like I’ve done that. My work ethic has been higher, too, and that’s a big step.’’
Ratcliffe can play a physical game when the situation calls for it and when a team is trying to break out of a franchise-record 13-game (0-11-2) winless streak, now is as good a time as any.
“Personally it’s a good time to come in,’’ he said. “Hopefully I can come in and bring a little spark. Or do something to try to change things a little bit, whether it’s a physical game or just try to bring some energy. I feel that’s going to be my role tomorrow and I’m excited to do that. Hopefully that can spark some energy for the older guys.’’
At 6-foot-6, Ratcliffe can be match up physically with just about any NHL defenseman.
“His size is a big advantage,’’ said defenseman Travis Sanheim. “That’s something that not many people have. You can use that at this level, protect the puck and be hard to play against.’’
>Brassard making progress
Center Derick Brassard, out since Jan. 6 with a nagging hip injury, took part in some non-contact work on Friday and Yeo said that while there isn’t a timeline for a return date, some progress is being made.
“Not a lot of exertion or pace, which is understandable,’’ Yeo said of Brassard’s workout. “You have to progress your way into that. He was able to push himself today which is crucial because one of the main things when coming back is your conditioning.’’
Brassard was out of the lineup starting Dec. 8, played in a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Jan. 6 and then went back on injured reserve.
The Flyers are strapped for centers and there’s hope they can get Brassard back relatively soon.
“Until he can start doing things at a high pace, a high-effort level that (conditioning) is not going to come back to you,’’ Yeo said. “So that was a good first step.’’
The coach hopes to get guys like Kevin Hayes (adductor drain) and Joel Farabee (upper-body injury) back sooner than later.
“I can’t give you a timeline on anything,’’ Yeo said. “It’s weird to say it’s good news there are a lot of guys doing rehab skates but it is compared to where we were a week ago. That’s encouraging and (we are) real hopeful that we can get some of these guys back. It would give our team a huge boost.’’
>Early wake-up call
Mindful of a somewhat sleepy start in last Saturday afternoon’s 6-3 loss at Buffalo, Yeo reminded his players during practice to be ready to start from the opening whistle at 1:05 vs. the Kings.
“Just a reminder that it’s an afternoon game,’’ Yeo said with a grin. “Let’s make sure we’re ready to start that game on time. Obviously the game against Buffalo we weren’t. You have to find a way to make sure you’re prepared – the way you wake up, the way you eat, the way you get your head into it. There’s no pre-game skate, none of the things you normally would have.’’
Sanheim agreed with that assessment. Trying to break a long winless streak should be plenty of motivation.
“We have to be ready to play tomorrow,’’ he said. “There are changes to an afternoon game. You don’t get your pre-game nap or pre-game meal. What you’re eating is different, how much you’re going to eat. The routine changes and it’s how you handle it. Each guy does it differently and we have to be ready to go.’’