VOORHEES, N.J. – Lots of prospects have the physical tools to possibly compete in the National Hockey League.
It’s the ones who have the mental mechanics who are more likely to enjoy productive NHL careers.
Newly signed Western Michigan University defenseman Ronnie Attard just might have both.
Attard is scheduled to make his Flyers debut on Saturday when the team returns from a five-game road trip to play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
During his first press briefing after Thursday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center, Attard even demonstrated a sense of humor.
Attard was asked if he had ever heard fellow WMU graduate and Flyers TV analyst Keith Jones refer to his alma mater as the “Harvard of the Midwest.’’
Without missing a beat, Attard responded with “it IS the Harvard of the Midwest,’’ which elicted laughter from the assembled media.
“I’ve heard that one a couple times,’’ Attard added.
Well, Attard had good reason to smile. The Flyers veterans made him feel right at home for his first practice and there seems to be a feeling he could be a Flyers mainstay someday.
Interim head coach Mike Yeo has no qualms about getting Attard right into NHL action, just as he did the other day with another highly regarded prospect, Noah Cates.
“Obviously he’s a guy we want to get a real good look at,’’ Yeo said. “It’s not going to be one of those situations where he goes out and makes a mistake and doesn’t get back on the ice. We’re going to give him a good opportunity to play; I’m excited for him to play his first game.’’
Attard, a Michigan native, impressed coaches and scouts with his overall game. At 23, he looks to ready to move into the pro ranks.
“I really like what I saw from him in the practice today,’’ Yeo said. “The tool set that he has as an NHL potential player. You’ve got size, mobility, the ability to move the puck. It looks like he has a good stick. His size (6-foot-3) and range is real big for a defenseman.’’
One minute Attard was playing in the NCAA Division I tournament, seemingly the next he appeared in Philadelphia.
“It’s been a pretty hectic week,’’ he confirmed. “A whirlwind of emotions. But it’s been great, the guys have been awesome. It’s only been one day but they’ve done a really good job with me. They made me feel welcome. It’s all moving pretty fast but it’s awesome to be settled in now.’’
In 2018-19 while playing for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, Attard posted 30 goals and that’s pretty good for a defenseman at any level.
He was selected by the Flyers in the third round (72nd overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
“I’ve made a lot of steps in my game since my draft year,’’ Attard said. “Worked a lot on my defensive game, just my ability to close on players. Speed is something I continue to work on. Five or six days ago I was playing a college hockey game and never thought I would be sitting here.’’
>Thompson cleared to play
Center Nate Thompson, out since Nov. 30 due to shoulder surgery, has been cleared to play again and is expected to dress for the Toronto game.
“It will be good to get him in here,’’ Yeo said. “I’ve been through that surgery before, that’s a real tough surgery. He’s a great pro.’’
With injuries like these, the waiting is always the hardest part.
“It (the rehab) was long, it was monotonous,’’ Thompson said. “You do a lot of the same things every day, the same exercises. But I’ve had a couple surgeries before so I knew what to expect. It’s tough, it’s grueling, it’s grinding but at the same time you have to have a positive attitude about it.’’
Thompson was determined to get some games in before the season ended.
“That was the goal,’’ he said. “I wanted to finish the year playing some games. It was important for me to play knowing I played some games rather than finishing it the way I did (injured). I’m happy I was able to achieve that.’’
>Hart to start Saturday
Although he did not practice on Thursday, goaltender Carter Hart is expected to be ready to play against the Leafs. Hart has been dealing with a nagging injury and did not dress for Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss at Minnesota.
Defenseman Keith Yandle did not participate in Thursday’s practice due to illness. His status for Saturday is uncertain. . .Oskar Lindblom was given a day off for maintenance. . .Yeo doesn’t have a plan yet for how much playing time Cates will get down the stretch. “The more they play in the league, the more comfortable they should feel,’’ Yeo said. “Sometimes they might need a mental break. If that first game he played is any indication, he should have no trouble getting into the lineup nightly. . .Scott Laughton (concussion) skated again on Thursday but he not been cleared for a full practice.