Dave Hakstol’s second training camp as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers gets underway on Friday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, and joining the team on the ice will be 37 forwards.
Let’s get to know them all, shall we?
As we do each year, let’s first mention the guys we already know — those who are locks to make this team out of training camp. This camp and preseason is just re-acclimation to hockey season for these guys. They don’t really have anything to lose, aside from their health.
9 players who are locks to make the team
In ABC order: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Dale Weise. That’s nine guys. That leaves 28 more.
On the NHL bubble
Several of those 28 have a real chance at cracking the NHL roster, but we wouldn’t be comfortable calling them locks.
We’ll start with Scott Laughton. Sure, he played 71 games with the Flyers in 2015-16 but considering that he’s still waiver exempt, he might be the first casualty in the event that one of the other guys on the list below forces Hextall into giving them an NHL roster spot in camp. Laughton’s certainly not a lock and will need to compete to earn a job in Philadelphia this fall.
Nick Cousins split the season between the Phantoms and Flyers a year ago, and he re-signed with the team on a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. Cousins potted 10 points in his 36 NHL games last season and more importantly was a regular figure on the team’s postseason roster, leading us to believe he’s on the inside track to a roster spot out of camp.
But competition for the final forward slots on the roster is extremely competitive this season. Boyd Gordon was signed as a free agent in July after spending 65 games with the Arizona Coyotes a year ago. He’s strong on face offs and the Flyers hope that he can be a penalty kill specialist.
Those specialties could very well earn Gordon a roster spot, bumping out a guy like Chris VandeVelde. CVV has been a consistent fourth-liner for two seasons and the Dave Hakstol connection from North Dakota seems to work in his favor, but there are only so many spots for guys at the center ice position. This camp is going to be interesting on that front.
Roman Lyubimov will play his first North American season this year after joining the Flyers organization as a free agent this summer. The Russian forward says he plays a two-way style, and he’s played plenty of pro hockey — 52 games in the KHL last season. We don’t really know much about his game at this point, however, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts. The one-year contract really makes things interesting, as does the fact that he’s played high level hockey in Europe, but it’d be a stretch to assume he breaks camp with the Flyers. (Then again, think of guys like Raffl and Bellemare coming over from Europe previously and making the team from camp.)
Then there’s Travis Konecny, who is probably the biggest wild card at the forward position entering camp. Last year in the OHL, the 2015 first round pick was traded from the Ottawa 67’s to the Sarnia Sting in a blockbuster trade that went down in large part because of an expectation that it would be his final season in junior hockey.
Ron Hextall has, of course, been extremely stingy with allowing his young prospects into the NHL -- and we’ll remind you that it took an injury for Shayne Gostisbehere to even get his chance last season. But lots of people are expecting Konecny to make the jump, and that’s not something to be ignored. He’s basically done everything he’s capable of doing in juniors (he has 239 points in 183 OHL games), and he’s not AHL eligible, so ... Philadelphia? We’ll see in the next few weeks.
Jordan Weal, Taylor Leier and Colin McDonald are the only other forwards in camp who played for the Flyers at some point during the 2015-16.
We imagine the Flyers will probably try to sneak Weal through waivers at some point during camp when there’s a lot of roster movement, and thus allowing him to hit the ice on a Phantoms team that should be quite strong in the AHL this season. Weal, a former AHL playoff MVP with Manchester, would be quite the addition for Lehigh Valley.
Leier will likely start his season in the AHL, but after a solid season there a year ago, more progress will put him on the fast track to a call up spot with the Flyers. And once he’s there, Leier definitely has a two-way skill set that could allow him to stick.
McDonald is another guy who performed admirably as a bottom-six guy with the Flyers when needed last year, but he’s still nothing more than a call up option in case of injury for this team.
Prospects bound for the AHL
Nicolas Aube-Kubel will enter his first pro season this fall, and it will certainly be with the Phantoms. But the 2014 draft pick, who ranked No. 13 on our Top 25 Under 25 this summer, is looking to start his pro career with a bang after a few very impressive seasons in the QMJHL, where he was among the league leaders in scoring. A quick integration to the AHL game this fall could send the hype machine into overdrive for NA-K.
Radel Fazleev is in the same boat. He might not have as much potential as Aube-Kubel, but his 71 points a year ago with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen definitely opened some eyes. In the last three seasons, he’s jumped from 25 points, to 51 points, to those 71, so there’s excitement about what he can bring to the table in the pros.
Petr Straka was signed by the organization in 2013 as a free agent, and he had a phenomenal start to the year with the Phantoms in 2015-16 before injuries derailed it. This is going to be his fourth AHL season coming up, though, so it’s getting to make or break time for him. He either vaults himself into the NHL bubble conversation this season or he doesn’t.
Danick Martel was 17th on our Top 25 Under 25 last season ... and he finished off the list at No. 26 this season. Martel will have a lot more talent around him this season in Lehigh Valley, but he’ll need a season better than the 22 goal, 15 assist campaign he put in a year ago to move his stock price within the organization.
Cole Bardreau enters his second pro season after a career at Cornell. He scored 13 goals and 17 assists with the Phantoms last season and might not have a top-6 role like Martel. With so much extra AHL talent being signed this summer in an effort to make the Phantoms competitive, you worry that Bardreau could get buried under it. On the flip side, if he’s able to take a step forward in the midst of those extra bodies around him ... well, that’s a good place for him to be. And it does seem like the organization likes him quite a bit as a potential NHL option down the line, so there might be some upside to look out for as this season progresses.
This site has been hard on Tyrell Goulbourne since the minute he was drafted, but it’s still hard to see him as much more than an AHL lifer at this point. He had 75 penalty minutes in 73 games with the Phantoms last season, and with a bunch of extra veteran AHL talent on the team this season, Goulbourne’s opportunity is likely to shrink. The 2013 draft choice says he’s “working to prove us wrong” but he’s not really close to the NHL right now. The 22 year old needs to prove he’s more than a grit player, and 17 points in 73 AHL games isn’t really that.
The 2016 draft class
It feels a little weird to throw the entire 2016 draft class together. For example, second round pick Pascal Laberge — who easily could have been a first round pick, by the way -- clearly has an NHL ceiling higher than, say, sixth round pick Anthony Salinitri.
But it’s the first camp for all of these guys, and they aren’t going to be in Voorhees for more than a cup of coffee before being sent back to their junior teams.
For Laberge, Salinitri, third round pick Carsen Twarynski and fourth round pick Connor Bunnaman, this camp is all about getting a first taste of professional and NHL hockey. No pressure, no expectations.
(Of course, 2016 first round pick German Rubtsov is in Russia under contract in the KHL and will not be in camp. Maybe next year?)
We’ll throw 2015 fourth round pick Samuel Dove-McFalls into that group as well. He’s not going to be an NHL player this year, and he still has junior eligibility left in Saint John, so this camp is not very pressure packed for him.
All that AHL help
As mentioned, the Flyers signed a lot of guys to contracts this summer in an attempt to make the AHL team more competitive. They haven’t made the Calder Cup Playoffs since their final year in the Spectrum in 2009, and it’s evident that they want to change that fact.
Enter, the following:
- Andy Miele, a 28-year-old former Hobey Baker winner who finished sixth in the AHL in scoring last season while in Grand Rapids.
- Chris McCarthy, a Collegeville native signed quietly late in the offseason after spending 54 games last year with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. McCarthy isn’t much of an AHL scorer and could find himself in the ECHL given the depth here, but he’ll have a chance.
- Mark Zengerle, a third-year pro at age 27 who scored 47 points in 72 games with Grand Rapids last year. He provides some scoring depth for the Phantoms.
- Corban Knight, a 26-year-old with 29 NHL games under his belt. He played for Dave Hakstol at the University of North Dakota and bounced around between the Flames and Panthers organizations before signing here this offseason as a free agent. Again, he’s likely more AHL depth, but he’s not going to light the score sheet up either.
- Kevin Sundher, signed to an AHL deal this summer after 19 games in the organzation last season with Reading and Lehigh Valley. Depth, depth, depth.
- Steven Swavely, a Reading native who captained the University of Maine before graduating last year. He might wind up being an ECHL player but ... again, depth is the name of the game here.
- Greg Carey, signed this summer after scoring 43 points in 64 games with Springfield of the AHL last season.
Those signings will joinvet Chris Conner, who signed in a similar situation last summer to help the Phantoms and will return again in 2016-17. Not all of these players will make the Lehigh Valley roster, and basically none of them — aside from perhaps Miele if he lights the world on fire at some point this year -- have a shot at playing in Philadelphia. But together they represent the Flyers’ commitment to adding depth across the organization and, hopefully, making the Phantoms relevant in an AHL playoff race again.