With Wednesday’s rookie game complete, rookie camp is now officially behind us. Which, of course, means training camp is right around the corner, and the Flyers will in fact be back on the ice come Friday morning.
The Flyers’ training camp roster consisted of 61 players to start, and has already been trimmed by four to a total of 57. The group will be whittled down to 23 before the team begins the regular season in San Jose on October 4.
So let’s get to know this group, which consists of a mix of NHL vets, young players that just completed rookie camp, and guys in the middle that aren’t quite on the Flyers but are too old to be in rookie camp. We’ll start here with the 37 forwards on the training camp roster, taking a look at each one of them and discussing where they expect to be this season.
The absolute locks
We’ll start with the six forwards who, barring a highly unexpected trade, are going to be on the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-night roster. We all know that there is no forseeable scenario in which any one of these six players is not on the roster, and as such we will expend absolutely no additional time or energy discussing them beyond listing their names below in alphabetical order.
- Sean Couturier
- Valtteri Filppula
- Claude Giroux
- Travis Konecny
- Wayne Simmonds
- Jakub Voracek
The bottom-of-the-roster vets
The five forwards in this section are all probably going to be on the Flyers’ opening-night roster. It would be fairly surprising if any one of them were not.
Still, though. Ron Hextall has said, over and over and over again, that if the time comes where a young guy has proven he’s ready for the show, the team is not going to let him be blocked by a veteran. If these guys all make the team, at least one or two of them figures to start the season as a healthy scratch. A trade of any one of them may be preferable, but if that’s not in the cards, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hextall elects to waive any one of them, trying to get them to Lehigh Valley to make room for some other player farther down in this list. Here they are, in no particular order.
The Flyers’ biggest forward signing of the summer was Jordan Weal, who poked his nose around in the pre-free agency period before re-signing with the Flyers on a two-year deal worth $1.75 million per season. Weal had an outstanding final two months with the team last year, catching on in the top-9 in his first real extended stint of meaningful NHL ice time. Is it possible that Weal looks like just a guy in training camp, the Flyers decide that we’re unlikely to ever see the Jordan Weal from last year ever again, and send him to waivers? Sure. But that seems like it’d be a rather abrupt changing-of-minds from just this past summer, and the team has to expect Weal would be claimed on waivers after getting interest in free agency this past June. It’s tough to see Weal not making the team this year.
Michael Raffl hasn’t played in a game since February 28, having missed the entire regular last six or so weeks of the season due to injury. It’s hard to imagine the Flyers starting the season without him on the roster, considering he’s regularly been in a top-9 role (and occasionally even a top-line role) over the past few seasons.
Still, Hextall repeatedly spoke at the end of the season about how much he liked his forward lines post-trade deadline, when the team “all of a sudden [had] nine guys you can count on” in the top-9. Raffl, being injured, was not a part of that group, and Hextall surely knew that. What’s his standing within the team right now? It’s a fair question to ask, even if it’s still pretty hard to imagine he’d be just unceremoniously dumped.
Someone who was a part of that group was Dale Weise, who spent much of the tail end of the season on the team’s third line alongside Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. A productive final month of the season (he scored 10 points in his final 15 games) was a nice ending to what was otherwise an extremely forgettable offensive season for Weise (he scored five points in his first 49 games).
Weise did flash unexpectedly strong play-driving ability from the bottom-6 for much of the year, but all in all his first year with the team was one that could reasonably be considered a disappointment. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him bounce back a bit this year — his historic scoring norms have usually been a bit better than they were last year — but he could very well just be seen as replaceable given the amount of talent the Flyers expect to have on the wing this year.
Weise probably isn’t getting waived, but at the very least he’s likely spending this training camp fighting for his spot in the opening-night lineup.
The new guy in town, Jori Lehtera, was a salary dump in the Brayden Schenn trade which netted the Flyers two first-round picks. Lehtera fell out of favor rather quickly during his three years in St. Louis, going from Vladimir Tarasenko’s wingman to occasional healthy scratch making second-liner money ($4.7 million per year for this and next season). Lehtera is a solid bottom-6 NHL forward, and if he plays that role for the Flyers he’ll probably be fine in it. But there’s a numbers game in play, and it doesn’t add up to a great outlook for the Finnish veteran.
If the Flyers, too, see him as a third- or fourth-line piece at best, is it that hard to imagine them saying that they can’t possibly keep him — hefty cap hit and all — around over a young guy who wows the team in camp?
Finally, there’s the second-longest-tenured player on the Flyers, Matt Read. Read’s had a nice career with the team, and even now he remains a defensively responsible player that can occasionally chip in offense and would be a nice piece on any team’s fourth line. But he’s 31, he’s under contract for just one more season, and he’s probably one of the most expendable players currently on the roster. If one guy on this list is really in danger of losing his spot on the roster to someone new, it’s probably him.
Older prospects on the brink
The four guys in this section are all guys that are either 23 or 24 years old that figure to have a fighting chance at a roster spot this season.
The most notable name here is Scott Laughton, who figured to be something of a lost cause when he was sent back to Lehigh Valley in early December of last year. But the coaches there worked with him to help him become a strong defensive center, and then the Flyers surprisingly protected him in the expansion draft last June. Given that vote of confidence, along with the fact that Laughton is no longer waiver-exempt beginning this season, it would seem like that there’s a spot on the NHL team (likely located at fourth-line center) that’s his to lose this fall. Laughton didn’t impress in camp last year before getting injured; he surely knows he’s guaranteed nothing here, and will hopefully come out and play like it.
Before this past offseason’s happenings, college free agent Mike Vecchione figured to have the inside track on a roster spot this fall. But then the aforementioned Laughton situation played out, as did the Flyers’ winning of the draft lottery and drafting of Nolan Patrick. Now, it’s much tougher to find Vecchione’s fit with the current lineup and roster.
Also, he’s waiver-exempt, meaning it’s much more convenient for the team to send him down than it is most of the other guys he’ll be competing with for a spot. The Union College graduate who posted 63 points and was a Hobey Baker finalist last season will need to come roaring out of the gate at camp if he’s hoping to defy those odds and grab a roster spot.
Surprises? Taylor Leier and Cole Bardreau
Finally, we’ve got two players in somewhat similar boats: Taylor Leier and Cole Bardreau. Leier has played in 16 games with the Flyers, scoring his first NHL point and goal during a 10-game stint last season, and he’s waiver-eligible this year.
Bardreau, meanwhile, is yet to make his NHL debut after two AHL seasons, but he’s someone the organization clearly likes very much — in an interview with the Courier-Post a couple weeks ago, Hextall casually brought up Bardreau’s name in the same breath as Nolan Patrick and his four talented defensive prospects on the cusp of the NHL, and that’s not something he’d do unless he clearly felt like Bardreau is going to get a real shot to make the team this year. Neither of these two is likely to be more than a fourth-line guy at the NHL level, but they’re both somewhat experienced at the minor league level, meaning Hextall is probably comfortable with them in a limited-minutes role.
Could the team be willing to push one of its many bottom-6 veterans out in order to give a potential bottom-6 young guy a test run?
Younger prospects on the brink
You know who these two are, because they’re probably going to make the NHL this season and are both very exciting.
It’s true that nothing is guaranteed for Nolan Patrick, the team’s second overall pick in this past year’s draft (which they obtained by moving up from the 13th spot) (just in case you forgot). If he doesn’t have a great camp, the Flyers are absolutely prepared to send him back to Brandon. But ... come on. Patrick has repeatedly mentioned how much better he feels this season than he did coming into last season (he said as much after last night’s rookie game), and his play in rookie camp looked like that of someone ready for the NHL.
And as much as Hextall will say he has to earn his spot on the roster, you have to think that deep down, he wants Patrick on this team this year as much as anyone. Patrick’s not a lock to make this roster, but unless something goes unexpectedly wrong in the next couple of weeks, he will be on the roster in when the season begins.
Also fighting for a roster spot this year is Oskar Lindblom, who finally had a true breakout year in Sweden last year after two solid post-draft seasons. The reigning SHL Forward of the Year can be sent to the AHL if he doesn’t make the team, and maybe he’ll need a bit of time to adjust to the North American game at full speed. But he has shown no issue on North American ice in the past (see: his brief stint with the Phantoms in 2016, in which he was possibly the best skater on the team), and three years of playing in a professional league against grown adults should leave him fairly well-prepared for the rigors of the NHL. Lindblom, like Patrick, is probably going to make this team barring something unforeseen, and even if he doesn’t make the Flyers out of camp, a mid-season call-up wouldn’t be a surprise at all.
Non-NHL-bound forwards: TBD edition
Our last few sections will look at players that are almost certainly not going to spend any time on the Flyers this year, but will instead ply their trade somewhere else — either in the AHL with the Phantoms, or with their various teams in juniors.
For one player, though, we don’t quite know which one of those routes the Flyers will send him on. German Rubtsov is in the rare position of being able to play in either the CHL or the AHL for his age-19 season, due to his contract situation being a bit of an unusual one (he was with a KHL club and not a CHL one when he was drafted, meaning that standard rules regarding the CHL-NHL agreement do not apply).
For Rubtsov and the Flyers, it comes down to what they want him to spend this year doing. After a year in which Rubtsov spent meaningful amounts of time not playing much hockey (first due to a limited role in the KHL, then to an injury suffered in World Juniors), do they want him just spending as much time on the ice as possible? If so, he’ll likely head to Chicoutimi in the QMJHL, where he succeeded in limited time late last season and would figure to play in a leading role this year. Or would they prefer he get acquainted with the North American professional game? If that’s the case, they’ll find some room for him in Lehigh Valley.
Non-NHL-bound forwards: AHL edition
These ten players will likely all be sent to Lehigh Valley before too long, as it’s highly unlikely that any of them are breaking camp with the Flyers. This group has a mix of legitimate prospects, lower-end prospects, and AHL veterans.
Headlining this group is Mikhail Vorobyev, who is getting ready for his first full season in North America after a season and a half in the KHL. A very steady, well-rounded player, Vorobyev will be on a lot of Flyers’ fans radars for what could really be the first time this season, and it’ll be interesting to see how he acclimates to the North American game. One could reasonably argue that he’ll be the most skilled center on the Phantoms this year.
The best “prospect” remaining in this group is Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who at this time last year was seen as one of the team’s best winger prospects as he was getting ready for his first professional season. Now, a year later, Aube-Kubel’s job is to prove that he’s still really a prospect at all, after he disappointed in his first year with just 18 points in 71 AHL games. A real step forward in his second season isn’t out of the question, but we’ll need to see it soon.
Undrafted forward Danick Martel was plucked from the free agent ranks two years ago, and he’s been a respectable AHL forward since then, scoring 37 and 40 points in his first two years in Lehigh Valley. He should be in the lineup for the Phantoms any time he’s healthy. And he’s still just 22, so there’s still plausible upside here for a guy who was one of the QMJHL’s top scorers in his overage year.
Still, Martel feels like someone who may just spend his career as a good AHL player (not unlike the guys we’ll mention at the end of this section) that never gets a real shot at the NHL. Martel figures to have a fairly substantial role with the Phantoms this year — if he’s going to really step up and establish himself as a potential NHLer, now would be a good time to do that.
NHL vet and Phantoms captain Colin McDonald has occasionally filled in at the NHL level during his two years with the organization, and he’s been fine in a fourth-line role during those times. The 32-year old is a useful piece for the Phantoms and seems like a good captain to have around as the young guys as they acclimate themselves to the professional game, and could be a spot call-up here and there for the Flyers, though his odds of being one this year are probably lower than in the past due to the team’s superior forward depth this season.
And the rest ...
2014 sixth-rounder Radel Fazleev just completed his first pro season, playing largely a fourth-line role for the Phantoms. He’ll likely need to step up this year if he’s looking to hold on to steady ice time at the AHL level.
Meanwhile, 2013 third-rounder Tyrell Goulbourne split time last season between the Phantoms and the ECHL Reading Royals; like Fazleev, his goal this year will be to stick with the Phantoms and avoid an extended stay in Reading.
Finally, you’ve got four AHL veterans. The two players returning to the Phantoms are Greg Carey and Corban Knight. Carey and Knight were both on the Phantoms this past season, and both received a slight upgrade from the organization in terms of contract status: Carey received a two-year extension, while Knight was upgraded from an AHL contract to a two-year NHL deal of his own.
Meanwhile, new faces to the organization on the AHL team include Phil Varone and Derek Hulak. Varone was also given a two-year NHL deal by the Flyers, as he was plucked from Ottawa’s system in free agency. Hulak, meanwhile, was signed to an AHL-level deal after three seasons in the AHL across two franchises. All four of these last players face extremely long odds at ever playing in an NHL game for the Flyers, but they provide very solid organizational depth and can play in top-9 roles on an AHL team alongside the team’s prospects.
Non-NHL-bound forwards: CHL edition
Four of these players — those selected by the Flyers in the 2017 draft — have already been sent back to their junior teams. The other four likely will be given the same fate in the coming days, but each of them will set out with various goals beyond simply “dominate junior hockey”. What are those goals?
Your 2017 draftees: Frost, Ratcliffe, Strome, Sushko
The Flyers picked up two relatively high-profile forwards not named Nolan Patrick at this past June’s draft, grabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 and then trading up to pick Isaac Ratcliffe at No. 35. Frost will take on a bigger role at Sault Ste. Marie this year, and the hope is that he’ll really cash in on that increased opportunity with an outstanding season. Ratcliffe, meanwhile, is looking for a big step forward in production of his own, after some relatively uninspiring point totals from last year (28 goals, 54 points in 67 games) likely pushed him to the second round despite near-consensus first-round grades from draft analysts and experts.
Taken on back-to-back picks in the fourth round, Matthew Strome and Maksim Sushko will both head back to the OHL with something to prove as well. Strome’s concerns more or less all revolve around his skating, which can rather charitably be described as poor. The Flyers will surely have people watching him in Hamilton this year, seeing what kind of developments he can make in that department. As for Sushko, he’s a quick skater who seems to flash a lot of raw talent, but who didn’t quite put it all together in his first OHL season, scoring just 32 points in 54 games. In taking him in the draft, the Flyers bet on him finding a new gear this season with Owen Sound in the OHL.
Your 2016 draftees: Bunnaman, Laberge, Salinitri, Twarynski
2016 fourth-round center Connor Bunnaman emerged last season as a legitimate goal-scoring threat, lighting the lamp 37 times for Kitchener in the regular season last year. He received an entry-level deal with the Flyers last April, so he’s not playing for his spot in the organization; rather, this will be his last year in the OHL, and it should be interesting to see how he follows up his strong 2016-17.
Meanwhile, Pascal Laberge is looking to bounce back from a tough 2016-17 that saw him miss significant time due to concussions (as a result of a brutal hit that he took early in the season). Like Bunnaman, Laberge already has a contract, so he’s not playing for his Flyers career this year. Instead, Laberge is trying to show that he’s well past his problems from last year, and that he’s still a quality forward prospect with a lot of upside for this team. Hopefully he does just that.
Two other forwards from the 2016 draft — OHL center Anthony Salinitri and WHL winger Carsen Twarynski — enter this season without NHL contracts, meaning they’ll likely need to take a measurable step forward this year if they’re looking to make it with the organization. Twarynski’s got an intriguing size/speed combination but has been a just-OK scorer at the junior level. Meanwhile, Salinitri’s also a heck of a skater, and saw his scoring numbers jump in his draft + 1 season. We’ll have to see what the Flyers are looking for out of both of them this year.
Last but not least is Victoriaville Tigers winger Ivan Kosorenkov, who has gone undrafted twice but has become a mainstay around Flyers camps this summer and fall. Kosorenkov was invited to development camp back in July and impressed many observers there, and he was back for rookie camp and training camp this September. He’s not officially a member of the organization yet, and he should still have some things to prove, but it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if Kosorenkov left training camp this year with a contract from the Flyers, the same way Phil Myers did two years ago.