Atkinson out, Zamula likely in for season opener

Cam Atkinson

VOORHEES, N.J. – All week long, Flyers coach John Tortorella had expressed optimism Cam Atkinson would be ready for a season-opening game on Thursday night.

While Atkinson did stick his toe on the Flyers Training Center ice Wednesday morning, it turned out to be all a tease.

The talented wing, who won last season’s Bobby Clarke Trophy for team MVP, was officially scratched when Tortorella addressed the media on Wednesday.

“Out, day-to-day,’’ began Tortorella’s terse update. “He’s just not ready. It doesn’t affect the lines.’’

On the positive side, it looks like rookie defenseman Egor Zamula will get an opening night assignment and possibly be paired with veteran Justin Braun.

There’s a lot to like about Zamula’s game, including his keen ability to move the puck quickly out of the defensive zone.

“He picks up a lot of space,’’ Tortorella said. “He’s a defenseman who we think sees the ice really well. He lacks experience and he’s going to be under some pressure when the real stuff happens. But we think he can make a play, get us out of our end zone. We like the way his camp has been and he’s one we want to develop.’’

Being paired with a veteran such as Braun should help steady the nerves a bit. Plus, he did get into 10 games with the Flyers last season which should give him some points of reference.

“I talk to him every practice, he tries to help me,’’ Zamula said. “He’s played a long time in this league. He’s a good partner for me.’’

That ability to move the puck was honed with the Phantoms last year under coach Ian Laperriere.

“He told me if you want to play in the NHL, the Flyers, you need to move the puck quickly,’’ Zamula said. “So he told me shoot the puck quick, no D-to-D. We’re going north, we’re going to play fast, aggressive.’’

>Coach’s assessment of team’s chances

Tortorella was unwilling to make any predictions on his team’s ultimate finish this season.

Which makes sense, since there are so many young players and so many question marks. Plus, this is Tortorella’s first year with the team and general manager Chuck Fletcher said the situation with shuttling players back and forth from the Phantoms “will be fluid.’’

“I’m not going to be one of those guys that talks about this, that, the other thing,’’ the coach said. “Because I don’t know what the hell is going to happen. We need to go out and do our business day by day to try and improve. That’s my expectation, that we improve each and every day.’’

Tortorella had said it might take until early next month for the players to fully grasp his system.

“I can’t give you expectations because I don’t know how we’re going to be,’’ he said. “I don’t know. The way we go about our business in the room, there are expectations put on us, about how you play the game the right way. I think when you talk about expectations, it’s always the record.

“I think when you do the small things and there are a lot of things to correct, I think that transforms into the winning and losing. . .hopefully winning more than losing. I’m not going to go on a media tour and say we’re going to be this or that.’’

>Hart says he’s ready

Even though goalie Carter Hart did not see any preseason action due to an injury, he says he’s ready to go Thursday night thanks to an eight-day window for practice time.

“It was nice to have that stretch without games,’’ he said. “Just for guys who had nagging injuries to recover. A lot of time to work on our structure.’’

General manager Chuck Fletcher wants his team’s goals-against number to go way down and one way to do that is to give goalies cleaner looks at shots.

“If you see it, you should stop it,’’ Hart said. “That’s a rule every goalie goes by. We’ve spent a lot of time on our defensive zone structure and defending away from the puck. We were really solid there in 2019-20. That’s something I think we need to get back to.’’

>Ristolainen leaves practice early

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen left practice early on Wednesday and Tortorella had no update on his status for the Devils game.

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About Wayne Fish 1873 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.