Fletcher might need young players to fill in for injured stars

Chuck Fletcher speaks at the first day of training camp at Flyers Training Center on Thursday. (Photo by Wayne Fish

VOORHEES, N.J. – Any plans the Flyers might have for returning to contender status hinge on whether they can get enough healthy bodies on the ice in a timely fashion.

At first glance, that situation looks shaky at best.

On Thursday the Flyers opened training camp at the Flyers Training Center and when general manager Chuck Fletcher began his comments to the media, the current injury list stood front and center.

The headliner is No. 1 center Sean Couturier, who currently has been sidelined by what amounts to an aggravation of the back injury which required surgery on Feb. 11 and has kept him out of game action ever since.

Couturier was scheduled to be examined by a specialist Thursday morning and it goes without saying the Flyers are holding their collective breath.

If Couturier misses any appreciable time, the Flyers will have to scramble to fill that vacancy on their top line.

Also of concern for the Flyers is the status of defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Fletcher painted a somewhat bleak picture for the veteran backliner, who missed all of last season due to a complex injury in his pelvic area.

The GM said he expects Ellis will not play this season and disclosed the situation could be career-threatening.

Overall, the Flyers remain optimistic but also must add caution to the equation.

It might all come down to how many of the 10 players under the age of 25 at training camp can show they have the ability to play in the NHL on a regular basis.

Injuries basically demolished the Flyers’ chances last year and were a big reason why they finished last in the Metropolitan Division.

“Last year we dealt with a lot of adversity,’’ Fletcher said. “On and off the ice. Clearly we didn’t meet the challenges that we faced. There’s no ducking that. It was an extremely disappointing season, one we lived with all summer.

“But this year is a clean slate for us. We know there are a lot of skeptics, a lot of people who believe we’re not a good hockey team. I know our players are eager to prove them wrong. There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us but we’re excited about camp.’’

Couturier’s status is certainly on everyone’s mind.

“I know it is in the same area as the last injury,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s been following the guidance of our doctors and the medical staff. I know over the summer he was improving but from time to time he was having some nerve irritation in his glutes.

“He continued to train and sometime over the past week, things deteriorated. What triggered that? I don’t know. Was it a reinjury? It’s a tricky injury. We’ll try to get to the bottom of it.’’

The Ellis injury hurts because he was supposed to be the veteran presence for top defenseman Ivan Provorov, who performed so well when Matt Niskanen was here as his partner in the 2019-20 season.

“Ellis is out indefinitely,’’ Fletcher said. “No timetable for his return to play. My assumption is he won’t play this season. If he does, it will be a bonus.’’

When last season ended, both the Flyers and Ellis were hopeful he could return at some point this season. Now that’s changed.

“He made progress the last two months,’’ Fletcher said. “But it’s been a frustrating injury. Nobody wants to play more than Ryan. But we’re dealing with reality now. He’s not skating so clearly he’s a long way away.’’

According to Fletcher, surgery still might not be an option. And the injury, confirmed the GM, might be career-ending.

Fletcher said that’s why the Flyers went out and secured some veteran talent on the blue line, including the trade for Carolina’s Tony DeAngelo and the return of free agent Justin Braun.

In addition to Couturier and Ellis, center Patrick Brown also underwent back surgery. Right now he’s listed as “week-to-week.’’ He has been skating but has not been cleared for contact.

Joel Farabee, coming off surgery on his neck, has been cleared to participate in camp activities but not for contact drills.

“He’s making progress on when he’ll be cleared for contact,’’ Fletcher said. “It depends on how he feels in the skating portion.’’

Other updates: Bobby Brink, nine weeks clear of hip surgery, is expected back sometime around midseason. Ryan Fitzgerald has a lower-body injury and is one to two weeks away.

With a number of players recovering from injuries, that should create some openings for young players on the rise.

“This is probably the best opportunity since I’ve been here for young players to step up,’’ Fletcher said, “and either earn a bigger role on a National Hockey League team or even make the team.

“We have a big wave of young talent coming into our season. It’s an exciting opportunity for a lot of young players, particularly up front.’’

Bringing in veteran head coach John Tortorella to run the bench should help accelerate the development process.

“This is a really important training camp,’’ Fletcher emphasized. “We brought John in not just to change the culture but he has a proven track record of helping young players get better. Let’s see what we have here.’’

Fletcher listed hopefuls such as Noah Cates, Zayde Wisdom, Tyson Foerster, Ollie Lycksell, Brink, Elliott Desnoyers as possibilities to make the team.

 

>Goaltending picture

 

It looks like Carter Hart could set a career high for games started this year, given the Flyers don’t have a proven backup for the first time in a number of years.

The Flyers expect either Troy Grosenick or Felix Sandstrom to compete for the No. 2 spot. Philadelphia was hoping to have Ivan Fedotov in the mix but he has to fulfill a military obligation in his native Russia.

The Flyers had veterans Martin Jones and before that Brian Elliott as Hart’s number twos. Now they’re going in a different direction.

“We just really feel that we need to start developing more talent internally,’’ Fletcher said. “Let them compete. Let’s see what we have. Instead of bringing in career backup goaltenders.’’

Samuel Ersson is also in the mix.

 

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About Wayne Fish 1793 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.