VOORHEES, N.J. – Every September, young players convene at Flyers’ rookie camp with hopes of making a good enough impression to convince coaches they’re worthy of NHL action.
Usually that realistic number consists of one or two top prospects.
But this season the situation has changed a bit. Or maybe a lot.
The Flyers, coming off one of their worst seasons in team history and sporting a new coaching staff, are taking a bit of a clean slate approach.
So up-and-comers such as forwards Tyson Foerster and Noah Cates plus defensemen Ronnie Attard, Wyatte Wylie and Egor Zamula might be feeling a little more optimistic than usual about their chances of making the big team at some point.
All five could see playing time with the Flyers this season, some sooner than others.
Phantoms head coach Ian Laperriere is overseeing the camp at the Flyers Training Center and has had experience with a few of the 26 kids in town.
He’s looking forward to a pair of rookie games between the Flyers and New York Rangers on Friday and Saturday nights at the PPL Center in Allentown, home of the Phantoms.
“I’m excited to see all those guys,’’ Laperriere said during post-workout interviews at the FTC on Thursday. “Just a couple drills (Thursday) here and there I don’t think you can make a team yet. It’s just more individually what kind of skills they have.’’
As for taking a step forward from a physical standpoint over the summer, Laperriere said he was impressed with the early work of Zamula, the Russian-born backliner, and Wylie, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick.
“Good on them,’’ Laperriere said. “That means they put the work in over the summer. For me, I coached them last year and they’re both only 22 years old. That’s why no one is panicking. They realize they need to put weight on (both are up to 195 pounds) and for me, that’s part of being a pro. Recognize your weakness and address them in the summer.’’
Foerster, a 2020 first-round (23rd overall) draft pick, is coming back from major shoulder surgery and has shown a lot of promise when he’s healthy. He got into only nine AHL games last season so there’s a lot of catching up to do.
“That (good health) is the biggest thing,’’ Laperriere said. “He looks like a different kid now. I watched the World Juniors this summer and he looked like a man.’’
Foerster has a lethal shot from the right wing. The Flyers want to see that on display either in the NHL or AHL this season.
“It’s not my decision,’’ Foerster said of his final destination. “Hopefully I can be with the Flyers, that’s my goal. That’s what I want to do.’’
Foerster was part of Canada’s gold medal team at this summer’s World Junior Championships. That might end up being a big part of his recovery from the shoulder operation.
“That was great,’’ he said. “I didn’t have many games last year so just having that tournament in the summer with high-end competition was great for me.’’
Also, Foerster played 13 games with his junior team (Barrie, OHL) and managed six goals/11 points in those matches.
Cates arrived on the Flyers late in the season and looked right at home, recording five goals/nine points in 16 games. He looked comfortable on a “Kid Line’’ with Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett.
“It’s tough, it’s a deep camp with a lot of returning players,’’ Cates said. “I’m just focusing on my game, getting better. They (Frost, Tippett) are younger guys and we’re in the same boat. We’re just trying to put our best foot forward. I’m think that’s the big thing in this camp, trying to prove it to the new coaching staff.
Attard spent 15 games and Zamula 10 with the Flyers last season. Clearly, they’re knocking on the door. Now it’s just a case of pushing it open.
It won’t be easy. Veterans Ivan Provorov, Tony DeAngelo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Travis Sanheim, Justin Braun and possibly Ryan Ellis figure to have jobs and then there’s Cam York and Nick Seeler to consider.
Still, the Flyers set a franchise record for injuries last season and there’s always the possibility of callup opportunities from the Phantoms.
“My biggest focus was getting stronger and faster,’’ Attard said of his summer training. “It’s a quick league and everything happens fast. Just having that extra strength and extra step goes a long way. I learned a lot those last 15 games. Just having that month of experience helped prepare me for this summer.’’
Zamula, a free-agent signee (2018), has made steady progress and saw 10 games with the Flyers last season. He’s still considered a legitimate contender for a job in the NHL at some point in his career.
A 12-pound weight gain over the summer should help him in battles in front of the net and in the corners.
“I had a great camp in Russia with some of the NHL guys,’’ he said. “I need to play faster. I’m learning from everybody on this team. I needed to put on some muscle to be better one-on-one.’’
>Laperriere, Tortorella on same page
Tortorella is giving Laperriere some free reign as far as system play goes but “Lappy’’ said the two are on the same page.
“He (Tortorella) said ‘you play the system you want to play, you do your thing, you have to win down there,’+” Laperriere said. “I’m going to take care of my team. We’re pretty much playing the same system. We believe in a lot of the same thing – hard work, blocking shots, doing the little things right.’’