VOORHEES, N.J. – The No. 1 question facing the Flyers heading into next season is the health status of defenseman Ryan Ellis.
Ellis, acquired in last year’s trade with Nashville involving Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers, missed almost all of last season with injuries involving his pelvic area.
This summer will be a crucial time for Ellis as he attempts to come back from what amounted to a lost season.
“He’s continuing to progress,’’ GM Chuck Fletcher said at Wednesday’s press briefing. “He’s certainly improved since the end of the season, he’s further along than he was a month or two months ago. In saying that, the bulk of his rehab is still ahead of him.’’
The key is how quickly he can regain strength in his rehab from the injury; however one which did not require surgery.
“His rehab is going well but there are still some steps to go when he gets on the ice,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s difficult to predict where it will be in two or three months. The last month has been encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to do.’’
Fletcher was asked if he believes Ellis will be ready for training camp.
“I don’t know how anybody can predict that right now,’’ he said. “That’s certainly the hope and the goal. We’ll have to see how everything responds.’’
There were high hopes for Ellis when he was acquired last season but he only appeared in four games before he was sidelined.
He’s working extremely hard to justify the Flyers’ willingness to get his services.
“This guy’s a true professional,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s been extremely difficult for him. Physically but also emotionally. You play in only four games and you’re trying to fit in. He’s very excited – bound and determined to get back.”
>Farabee surgery was unexpected
Fletcher received a surprise phone call just over a week ago and the news from the other end of the line was not very pleasant.
The GM learned star forward Joel Farabee had experienced pain in his neck area during a weight-lifting workout. Upon examination by doctors, it was determined Farabee would require disc replacement surgery. He’s expected to miss three to four months.
“It was crazy,’’ Fletcher said. “I think it was one of his first formal workouts of the summer. He was warming up with light weights on the bench and he felt a pinch. So he saw a doctor in the Syracuse area, got some imaging done, we got him down here and got him into surgery four days later.’’
Fletcher insisted the surgery had nothing to do with Farabee’s injury ledger last season. He missed a total of five weeks in two separate incidents where he was sent crashing into the boards head-first.
>Toughness for top pick?
The Flyers have admitted they need a little more toughness in their lineup for the upcoming season. Does that include how they go about using their No. 5 overall draft pick next month?
“I still think you have to make sure you get a high-end talent,’’ Fletcher said. “But you look at Tampa, Colorado, they have a lot of high-end talent packaged in a big, competitive, speedy frame.
“Certainly we want to get the most competitive players we can get. But you have to get talent. Where we’re picking we should be able to find competitive people who have talent.’’
>Backup goalie situation
Fletcher hasn’t decided how next season’s backup goaltending situation will look.
Last season’s backup, Martin Jones, can become an unrestricted free agent next month. There’s a possibility he could return or the Flyers could decide to let prospects Ivan Fedotov and Felix Sandstrom compete for the job in training camp.
“That’s still up in the air,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re going to explore what goalies might be available and talking to teams about potential trades to see what the price would be to do that. In saying that, Sandstrom Fedotov are 25 years old, both have proven they are good goalies at leagues outside the NHL.
“Do you take a leap of faith and save some cap space or do you get a veteran guy and maybe have more certainty? That’s what we’ve been discussing.’’
>Coaching staff filling out
Fletcher said goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh and assistant coach Darryl Williams will be back next season. Head coach John Tortorella’s top two assistants have yet to be named.
“We’re in the middle of that process,’’ Fletcher said. “Whether it’s done next week (or not), that’s what we’re working on.’’
Fletcher disclosed both centers Sean Couturier (back surgery) and Kevin Hayes (multiple abdominal surgeries) are doing well. Both feel very good. “Hopefully there are no more surprises this summer,’’ Fletcher said.