VOORHEES, N.J. – If you rebuild it, they will come.
After years of sellout crowds at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers have suffered through three straight seasons out of the playoffs and that’s sort of curbed the fanbase’s enthusiasm.
The old “plenty of good seats available” line could apply here, which had a lot to do with management change late last season and into the summer.
The appointment of Keith Jones to president of hockey operations and Danny Briere to general manager signaled a change in how the Flyers are approaching their plan to get back into contention.
Which brings us to the team’s rookie camp, which wraps up Tuesday, and the regular training camp, which opens Thursday. The Flyers’ first preseason game is Monday at the New Jersey Devils.
Even with the return of forwards Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson from missed seasons due to injury, there are still some openings on the roster. And that’s upped the excitement level a bit for all those trying to win positions with the team.
That was one of the topics assistant general manager Brent Flahr addressed during his media session at the Flyers Training Center.
Do the rookies look a little more motivated than usual?
“Yeah, for sure,” Flahr said. “I think there are a number of guys, you look at the guys we have here – the veterans and the ones you guys have penciled into the American League maybe. There are some guys coming in to make the team. ‘Torts’ (coach John Tortorella) wants people to compete. If someone gets beat out, gets put on waivers, then so be it. That’s just reality.
“I do think the mindset for a young player is there is an opportunity to get better. With Coots (Couturier) and Atkinson back, there are a couple spots that are solidified. As far as the bottom part of our lineup, there are a couple spots to be fought for.”
Phantoms coach Ian Laperriere raised a few eyebrows after Saturday night’s 3-1 rookie game loss to the Rangers when he mildly criticized some of the “favorites” to make the big team.
Flahr didn’t exactly disagree with that assessment of guys like Tyson Foerster and Elliot Desnoyers.
“Those guys in particular, I think there’s another level,” Flahr said. “I was talking to (special advisor to the GM) Patrick Sharp about those ‘rookie’ games and he said the first one he played in he was all excited – the second and third ones are really hard to play in because your focus is more on the main camp.
“I thought Tyson was frustrated. He worked, he competed. (Bobby) Brink, I think his execution was off. ‘Desi’ (Desnoyers) looked off a little bit to me. I know he’s come in great shape. He’s been here a lot of the summer. He worked hard, I’m sure he’ll figure it out.”
Maybe Foerster and Desnoyers will show more when the preseason six-game schedule against NHL-caliber competition gets underway.
“I think Tyson has worked hard on his skating,’’ Flahr said. “But I think it’s just natural to assume everything is just going to happen out there. I think it’s been a wakeup call. I think his skating has really improved. But the pace, when you get up with the big boys, especially when you get into game time, it’s going to become a lot faster. He can adjust, he’s a smart player.”
One of the pleasant surprises has been the play of forward Denver Barkey.
“He has a long way to go to get to where he needs to be physically,” Flahr said. “He’s a really good skater, extremely smart. When you see him against the older guys, there’s zero fear in his game. He’s got a lot of swagger. He’s a really good junior player already. It’s exciting to see where his game is going to get to when he’s able to put on 15, 20 pounds. When you see him off the ice, he looks like he’s too young to be here. But he’s a great kid. A little bit like TK (Travis Konecny).”
>Suomaala, Ginning confident
A pair of Scandanavian youngsters – forward Samu Tuomaala (Finland) and defenseman Adam Ginning (Sweden) – expressed confidence they are making progress toward their NHL dream.
“I’m excited, good staff, good teammates,” Tuomaala, the Flyers’ second-round pick (46th overall) in 2021, said. “I feel my strength is in a good way and my confidence is good.”
Ginning got into one Flyers game at the end of the season and that gave him a taste of the caliber of play in the NHL.
“I’m going to try do the best I can (to make the Flyers),” he said. “I know it’s a tough thing to do. But I feel like I have a better chance than I did last year.”
Ginning was taken in the second round (50th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft. It’s been a long road just to get this close to a chance at the NHL.
“I’m going to give everything I have at camp and then see what happens,” he said.
Ginning played 68 games for the Phantoms last year and drew praise for his steady work. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Ginning doesn’t have to do much to clear the slot area.
“They (the Flyers) told me that I had a good year,” he said. “They liked what they saw. I just need to keep doing what I’m good at.”