Zamula could be a big part of Flyers’ rebuilding defense

Egor Zamula

      A young Flyers defense, which only improved as the season went along, is expected to get even younger when the 2024-25 season gets underway in October.

      On Wednesday, the day after the team was officially eliminated from playoff competition, it became clear the Flyers’ rebuild will have a lot to do with its backline.

      Two veterans in their mid-30s, Marc Staal and Erik Johnson, might not be on the roster. Staal was playing on a one-year contract and Johnson is expected to become an unrestricted free agent.

      Egor Zamula figures to become a steady performer and fellow youngsters such as Ronnie Attard, Adam Ginning and possibly Emil Andrae are waiting in the wings.

      Of next year’s potential starters on defense,  Nick Seeler, 30, might be the only one over the three-decade mark.

      Cam York, 23, Jamie Drysdale, 22, and Travis Sanheim, 27, round out the unit.

      Zamula could be one to keep an eye on. The Chelyabinsk, Russia native showed flashes of brilliance this season, with his plus-minus number hovering in or close to double digits.

      Flyers coach John Tortorella even experimented with using the 24-year-old on the point for the power play during his 59-game season.

      “I feel like it was a pretty good season for me,” Zamula said after Wednesday’s exit interviews at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “My first full season in the NHL.

      “I would say the first 10 games, you’re playing on a lot of energy and emotion. That helps you. The next 20 games, you’re going to have some ups and downs. It’s a hard league, a lot of good players.”

      Once that segment was out of the way, Zamula looked much more composed.

      “After that, you understand the players you’re playing against and you understand how you need to play. Sometimes you need to play fast, sometimes you need to make a play. I felt like after game 30, 35, I started growing and feeling more comfortable. I feel like I started playing faster.”

      Zamula originally went undrafted and signed with the Flyers as a free agent on Sept. 20, 2018. The Flyers have been patient with him, bringing him along slowly, and he’s been patient with them, agreeing on a number of short-term contracts.

      At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Zamula, a restricted free agent, is already an imposing figure but he wants to add some weight to hold off aggressive forwards, especially around the net and in the corners.

      “I want to be bigger,” he confirmed. “I feel I can play better, physically. I can do better.”

      Being in and out of the lineup this past season wasn’t easy for a young player. He didn’t dress for a half-dozen games the second half of the season. The ability to handle that uncertainty is a feather in his cap.

      “Nobody wants to sit,” he said. “So when I come back, I need to play my best game to stay in the lineup. It’s like that for every player. I want to be in the lineup every night to help my team win.”

      Zamula says he learned a lot from partnering with both Staal and, later Johnson throughout the season.

      “It was a big experience and fun to play with those guys because sometimes they say something funny on the bench,” Zamula said. “I can’t tell you what they said but it’s something special and I will remember those two guys for my life.

      “I talk to ‘Staalsy’ and ‘EJ’ a lot about hockey. They tried to get me better, they made jokes against me. When I talk to those guys, it’s good energy.”

      Zamula sees big things ahead for a young Flyers team.

      “I think the biggest thing this year is we bring a winning mentality to the locker room,” he said. “We were playing good hockey games against good hockey teams. We played a hundred percent every night. We lost ourselves in that eight-game losing streak but we bounced back. It was a good year for us, it (late collapse) hurt but we still learned from that.”

      >Gamble pays off for Poehling

      Ryan Poehling walked away from the Penguins and signed a one-year, $1.4-million free-agent contract with the Flyers before the season began.

      The Flyers were so impressed with his play that he offered him a two-year, $3.8-million ($1.9 AAV) extension during the season.

      So, gambling on himself turned out to be a winning bet.

      “I thought Pittsburgh was going to qualify me throughout the whole process,” he explained. “The day before free agency, they called me and they weren’t.

      “A lot of teams called and I had to make a decision. I think for myself, just trusting my gut. . .I’ve been a big man of faith so I thought, you know what, this has a lot of opportunity here and my gut is telling me to come to Philadelphia. If you work hard and have a good attitude, let the chips fall where they may, maybe it goes your way. Just trusting God’s plan makes it a lot easier on myself.”

      >Drysdale eyes a healthy year

       From a health standpoint, defenseman Jamie Drysdale would like to put this past season in the rearview mirror. After coming over from the Anaheim Ducks in the Cutter Gauthier trade, he suffered an upper-body injury in a collision with Pittsburgh’s Jansen Harkins on Feb. 25 and went on to miss 16 games. He might have been banged up earlier in the season, too.

      “Not an ideal situation that I was dealing with,” he said. “Nothing to do with the trade, just a little banged up and not being able to find that consistency. I’m just looking forward to coming back to hopefully a full, healthy year – just showing what I can do in a full year.”

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About Wayne Fish 2444 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.