Fletcher believes youthful Flyers will compete, be exciting to watch

Chuck Fletcher

VOORHEES, N.J. – At the start of his Wednesday press briefing to discuss the upcoming season, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher cited the excitement generated by the success of the Eagles and Phillies.

Now if his team can only generate a modicum of those teams’ winning ways, Fletcher might be wearing a smile we haven’t seen for awhile.

Coming off two straight non-playoff seasons, the Flyers have something to prove. And with a roster laden with young players (according to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers have the ninth-youngest team in the NHL), there should be a high energy level around here – at least for the start of the campaign.

“The Eagles are off to a great start, the 76ers and us are starting our seasons, too,’’ Fletcher said during the morning session at the Flyers Training Center. “It’s a great time to be a sports fan in Philadelphia.’’

Just how much cautious optimism should there be regarding the Flyers?

“Well, we’re going to get better,’’ Fletcher vowed. “I think we are an exciting young team. We’re going to be fast, we’re going to be aggressive. Right now we’re working hard to come together as a group.

“I see a lot of potential for this group to grow. I think we have some good young talent. I think we’re going to be an improved team that’s really fun to watch.’’

Fletcher and new head coach John Tortorella are trying to blend about as much of this unproven talent into their roster without sacrificing positive results.

“This is a young, fast team,’’ Fletcher said. “There are 12 men on the 23-man roster who are 25 and under. I think nine of them are 24 and under. So they are a little bit unproven, that’s something we’re going to have to work through. We have a lot of work to do but there’s a lot of upside.

“I think the youth, the speed, the depth. . .we have really good depth this year, much better than we’ve had the last two years. So if we do run into injuries, I think we have a lot of kids down at Lehigh Valley (Phantoms) we can call up.”

Fletcher pointed out the Flyers have $3.9 million salary cap space which he can also be utilized should something come up through a trade or a waiver acquisition.

“So I think we’re pretty well set up from that standpoint. But we have a lot of work to do. There’s great energy down there now. I think the players are recharged after last season.’’

Regarding expectations for this season, many forecasters are predicting another non-playoff season for the Flyers.

Fletcher can’t go against that other than to say the Flyers will be competitive.

“We (Fletcher and Tortorella) expect to work hard this season, we expect to work hard at establishing a standard to which we’re going to be held on and off the ice,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re expecting to defend much better, play harder away from the puck. Be a more competitive team.

“Clearly we have to reduce our goals against. That’s something we can control through hard work. To me, I would like to see a significant improvement in our compete, in our details, keeping the puck out of our net, allowing our goaltenders to see the pucks a little cleaner. If we can do that, we will be a pretty competitive team.’’

Several players have mentioned the key to cutting down on goals against is a stronger forecheck, more time in the offensive zone and less in the defensive end.

“If you look at John’s teams, historically, they’re strong puck possession teams,’’ the GM said. “They have the ability to hold the puck in the offensive zone. When you have the puck, you don’t have to defend.’’

Fletcher said the Flyers’ transition game has to improve, too. He pointed out Philadelphia was ranked bottom five in the NHL at getting out of the defensive zone successfully.

“That’s where you hope players like (Egor) Zamula and (Tony) DeAngelo can really help you,’’ Fletcher said. “Get the puck, get going. If you have the puck, can hold onto it, it should improve your offense. But just as importantly it will help reduce the goals against.’’

>Zamula likely to start

When the Flyers recalled rookie Zamula from the Phantoms on Tuesday, there was a sense he might get a start against the Devils. Fletcher confirmed that possibility.

“I believe Zamula has a strong chance to play tomorrow night,’’ Fletcher said. “We’ll see how things play out the first couple games.’’

>Couturier’s status

Sean Couturier will start the season on the injured list but there is hope he can return to action sooner than later.

“I think he’s skated six or seven times now,’’ Fletcher said. “He feels great, he’s progressing. If anything, we’re trying to slow him down from time to time. This is the best he’s felt since pre-surgery (Feb. 11). So we’re cautiously optimistic.’’

>Ellis in limbo

After missing all but four games last season due to a complex injury in his pelvic area, defenseman Ryan Ellis is back on the long-term injury list and it appears he will be out indefinitely.

“He’s continuing to rehab every day,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s been in the facility a lot but there’s been no change in his situation.’’

>Short shots

Backup goalie Felix Sandstrom, still sidelined by a groin strain, is listed as day-to-day. “If he was a skater, he could probably play,’’ Fletcher said. “But with goaltenders you always want to be a little bit more careful.’’ Samuel Ersson will be Carter Hart’s backup for the opener. . .Fletcher on Cam York’s assignment to Phantoms after preseason projections of a top-six role on Flyers: “He’s a really good young player and he’s going to be a big part of our future. The things he does well are the things we need going forward. He’s 21, his camp was OK. I think getting him big minutes in Lehigh Valley now is best for not only him but the team.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2157 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.