We’re still rolling through development camp, and the yesterday saw the players pretty much wrapping up the drills focused portion of camp, before we move into the 3-on-3 tournament this afternoon. After the day’s sessions, we caught up with one of the organization’s newcomers in Mike O’Connell (Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Player Development), as well as a couple of players in Samuel Ersson, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Mason Millman. They were a chatty bunch, so we’ll avoid going on for a million years here and just run through the highlight reel.
On Isaac Ratcliffe, and if anyone in particular has surprised him at camp.
Well, I’ll get to Isaac first. He’s big guy, for sure. Again, I’m just getting to know all these players for the first time and it takes a little while since we have so many players in. Enthusiastic. He’s got a great range. Has an NHL body. So far, from what I’ve seen with this, I think if we can really help define his game, what we feel is going to be best for him to have the best impact on not only his career, but the success of the Flyers. I think that’s what we have to help him just identify his game. A lot of these players come up through junior ranks. They have success. The first three or four years, sometimes it takes a little time to understand what he can do, what’s part of his game is going to be a successful transition to the National Hockey League. We’ll be working on that with him. So far so good for me. He’s extremely likable young man and works hard.
With regards to the who’s impressive, a lot of young impressive athletes here. For the most part, the attention to detail and how they follow directions has been outstanding. They’re very willing. I really look forward to working with them all and getting them to realize the dreams that they started back when they were young, young men, so young kids. I look forward to digging in with these young men.
On Cam York and Egor Zamula’s camps and games.
Well, they’re both high IQ players. They both see the ice very well. Different skill sets, of course. Egor is a much bigger player, stature-wise. Very smooth with the puck. Probably not as dynamic as Cam is. Both very smooth. Cam is a little bit more dynamic. Quicker hands, probably more of a compact player of course, but both are extremely smart. One has length. One doesn’t have the length, but I think that Zamula’s length is going to really help him defending. Cam’s foot speed and agility is getting in and out of tight situations and being able to make the quick plays are going to be very effective. Both are going to, I think, have great capabilities that have been extremely effective on not only in the NHL, but on a winning team.
On Morgan Frost.
I’m a little bit of a disadvantage. I really don’t know Morgan that well as a player. I met him a few times off ice and worked with him a little bit on the ice. I’m just getting really familiar with what his game is all about. I’ve had lengthy discussions with the development team as well as upper management about where this guy could end up. Very, very quick. Sees the ice extremely well. He looks like he’s going to be a point producer to me. Whether he’s rusty or not, I don’t know. I haven’t been following his career. I’m digging in a little bit with watching his games from last year and watching his practice habits so far this year. I like what I see. He’s a young player. He has all the tools. We just have to do what we can to get him in those situations where he can show them off and help the team. I wish I could give you a better answer on that. Unfortunately, I don’t know him as well yet. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll have a better answer for you by then.
On his decision to leave Los Angeles and join the Flyers’ organization.
Well, that’s a good question. I think that the real reason I made the move. I was extremely happy in Los Angeles and they are a great organization. We’ve had some great success there and really enjoyed the people I worked with out there. It came time for me to make a decision on if I wanted to do my job correctly, I need to spend a certain amount of time in whether it be LA, or Philadelphia. I made the decision that I had to be little close to my family. I got a growing family. I got six grandkids. As you know, in this business and been in this business for a long time, you miss quite a bit. I think it was my time to stop missing as much so I made the decision. I told Los Angeles I most likely wouldn’t be coming back. Then Dean reached out and we’ve had a great run, myself and Dean. We’ve similar backgrounds growing up in the Massachusetts Boston area. He played a role in this. Met with Chuck and really like what they have in place here. It worked out. I’m extremely happy to be here and be part of the Flyers organization. Growing up in Boston when you tell people you’re going to move over to the Flyers, there’s a little bit of a grumble because of the intense rivalry the Bruins and the Flyers have had over the years. A couple Flyers hats and a couple flyers t shirts has kind of push that aside and my family’s embraced it. I’m really looking forward to becoming an important part of the Flyers structure and hopefully, help them win a Cup down the road.
On Samu Tuomaala.
It’s extremely important. He’s a fun player to watch. Every time he gets on the ice, he kind of brings me out of seat watching this kid go. Very enthusiastic. We just want to educate him as much as possible in a short period of time. He’s going to be a fun player to watch and fun player to develop. Language has increased and improved dramatically since he’s been here. Hopefully, we’ll send him the right message when he leaves us. We’ll just get to spend a little bit of time with him over the course of this year and kind of watch how he develops. Help him develop. We’re looking forward to having this young man in the organization for a long time.
On his takeaways from the Kings organization and what he can bring to the Flyers.
Well, that’s a good question. I think your job evolves over time. I was there for 15 years. When Dean first brought me in, I think he had an idea what I was going to do, but I don’t think he really understood what it might evolve into. We did a lot of different things. I guess what I did really learn and really came to understand, which is extremely important in development of young players, is really establishing those relationships with those young players. To get them to buy in. You got to sell them. They got to buy what you’re selling, I guess. That is really the key, understanding their game, understanding where they are in their career, understanding where their weaknesses and their strengths are. Start with their strengths and through positive reinforcement, just basically their relationship. When it gets to those certain times, when it’s a difficult time for the players, they’re going through a tough time, either with the coach or with their career or when their confidence is low. They can rely on you to help them and help pull them through. It just continues like that. That’s really the number one thing. I think as you go forward in any kind of career, you find a way to realize that every player is different. The way you teach one player is different from the way you approach another player. I think that just that experience that I’ve had dealing with the number of draft picks that came through or free agents that came through. I look forward to bringing that experience here to the Flyers. Hopefully build those relationships, have some fun and win some games.
On the importance of the older players finding their own ways to benefit from this camp, outside of just being there to push the rookies.
Again, I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with hockey players all along. No matter what team you’ve ever played on, most players have been a rookie at one time and a veteran at one time. It’s just part of playing the game. You’re a first year Bantam. Then you’re a second year Bantam and you have first year Bantams coming in. There’s a responsibility that they learn from the older guys to try to help them through. It’s just a continuing process that you do. From when you really start getting serious about the game, you’re a rookie. You’re maybe a veteran for one year or two years, then you move on. You go to high school, or you go to college or whatever. That’s no different than right now in the development camp. Some players have been here for three or four years. They understand what these young kids are going through. Basically, from what I see so far, they’ve been outstanding. They lead the drills. They want to do the drills correctly. They clean up after themselves. They show the utmost respect for the trainers. It just happens perpetually. As an organization and as developers, we have to help set that tone as well to make sure that there’s healthy respect for the people who helped them get better, the people who run the facility, the coaches as well as the trainers and everyone. It’s a good question, but I think it just happens organically. The fact that there’s hockey players that they’ve been through it all along. They’ve been great to all the players as expected.
On his progress from last year, and how close he feels he is to NHL readiness.
The last couple years have been good, playing at the senior level in the SHL and getting better at playing a lot of games every year. I felt like I stepped up my game a few levels each year, and it’s hard to say for me, when I come over here, but in the beginning now it’ll be a bit of an adjustment period, and I'll get a feel for it. I'll see where I'm at in the training camps, but my confidence is high and I'll do my best to impress the head coaches and everyone in the organization.
On talking to Felix Sandstrom about the transition from the SHL to North America for him.
Yeah, Felix has been really helpful for me. I train with him during the summer, we’re both from the same... we’ve both been playing in Brynäs and we’ve been practicing together in the summer so I've talked to him a lot, like what’s it been [like], when the first years, when you come here, he’s been really helpful, helping me, making me feel more safe coming here. I've got a good feeling, it would be nice to work with him over here as well.
On advice he’s gotten from Sandstrom, and what he wants to work on as he transitions to the North American game.
I would say that’s a two way question, because of course it’s the on-ice transition, but for me it’s mostly the off-ice. It’s a different environment, different country, and it’s coming over here and making yourself comfortable. It’s a lot of small things that you don’t really think about, I need to get a new phone, insurance, stuff like that. So part of that has been the off-ice, and then of course the on-ice, just getting used to a smaller rink, and tips that you need to think about, like it’s a smaller area.
On his last season in the SHL.
Last year it was a lot of high ups and downs, when I was on the top of my game, I played really good, had the chance to be with the national team a bunch of times. Then of course the down periods, that’s when I need to learn to be more consistent and be able to, even when you feel like maybe the team is struggling, I need to focus on my game and not pay any attention to that. Of course when we came to the relegation, the playoffs, it was big games, and the pressure to be able to feel like I could play good even though the pressure around those games is really good experience for me.
On how he improved his game from his first SHL season into his second.
I would say just calm down my game, and maybe my work area in the crease, I cut it down to maybe not overreact and over... movements I didn’t need to do. Just stayed calm and more composed, it helped my game a lot.
On his health and recovery.
Yeah, I'm 100 percent healthy right now. I had a really good summer back home in London, I definitely got bigger, I'm the strongest I've ever been. I'm excited get to to camp here in a couple of weeks, and feel good this time, and hopefully keep that feeling all the way throughout until the season and keep going all the way through again.
On his confidence level going into camp and how close he feels to being NHL ready.
Yeah, definitely. I feel ready to go, I'm really to start this year in the NHL. Last year was definitely a tough year for me, but I feel like I came a long way and I definitely learned a lot. This summer was a big one for me, I had to focus a lot on my mental strength too, and feeling a lot more confident coming into this year, because that’s gonna be a. big part of my game, being able to play to my size and go into battles knowing I'm gonna come out on top. I'm excited to go into the camp with that feeling, and keep that going throughout again.
On his injury last season, if he was ever feeling 100 percent even after he’d come back.
I mean it took a long time for me to get there. I mean probably a five, six game stretch toward the end there where I started to feel really good, I was starting to feel confident with the puck again, and it was feeling good on my stick again, and I was definitely getting more of an opportunity because of it, but again unfortunately I had another ankle injury to finish out the year to kind of cap off the tough season. But after that, once I got skating in the summer again I felt that same rhythm that I had, that I finished off with, and I'm feeling that again right now, so I'm going into camp with a lot of confidence and I'm ready to go again, like I said.
On his role with the Phantoms and how he feels his game has developed.
Yeah, I feel like the last couple of years, my offensive game fell apart a little bit. I feel like I've gotten it back a ton over the last six months or so. Since I came back from that injury, that was a lot of the stuff that I was working on up here. And when I was back in Allentown, I definitely topped up my defensive game a lot more from where I was after junior hockey. Now I feel like I’m getting that offensive touch back, my shot is a lot harder than it was, found that nose for the net again too. So I'm getting to those tough areas again and I'm getting rewarded for it in practice here, and I'm excited to translate that into games.
On his takeaways from his time in the AHL last season.
Yeah no for sure, kind of getting the privilege to go in there a bit early as an underager, it really opens up your eyes from the junior jump to the pro jump, battling against guys who are 220, 230 pounds and 30-40 years old. That makes a huge difference in the game strength-wise and weight-wise, so I think just recognizing the strength that you need to put on and the size that you need to put on, working out every summer and stuff like that. Seeing guys like [Ratcliffe] train as hard as they do, it kind of comes to a realization of how much stronger and how much bigger you need to be just to be able to compete in those corners and be against those guys out there, for sure.
On if he’s talked with the new Phantoms’ staff yet about their expectations for him this season.
Yeah, you know, meeting those guys and knowing Lappy, he’s a great guy and such an upbeat person, that’s gonna make everyone so happy, so excited to be in and around the rink. And I think their big thing is just you’ve got to work as hard as you can every day, day in and day out. at the end of the day, if you can do that, there’s not much more that they can be upset about, so I think, you know what, just showing up and working hard and showing them you want to be there and you want to work is their big thing, and being coachable, and paying attention, and listening to those guys, for sure.
On Cam York and Egor Zamula.
I think it’s a big confidence thing out there. Like [Ratcliffe] said, most of the guys here are very hard workers, and I think just the confidence, you see [York] with the puck, they’re not afraid when guys come after them, and they’re very calm, and they know what they want to do with the puck and they can do it. So I think just the calmness and the confidence they play in their game, the little bit of swagger that they have to their game, is a big thing that’s putting them ahead of everyone else, just strictly because guys are intimidated by it. You go towards a defenseman who’s got a bit of swagger and you know he can move, and I don't think guys really want to pressure against that, so I think that’s kind of a thing that I look at them and I try to resemble that confidence and try to have that bit in my game, that you’re confident with the puck and know what you do with it all the time.
On his physical readiness to play in the AHL.
Yeah, 100 percent. I'm a big believer in chasing guys, not being ahead. So like in the gym, lifting with guys who are stronger than you, so I lift with guys like [Ratcliffe] and stuff, and it really pushes me to see where I need to be to try to get to that next step, knowing how close [Ratcliffe] is and knowing he’s going to have a really good shot. it’s kind of an eye opener when you work out with those guys, and you skate with those guys, who hard they work, and you kind of see where you need to be weight-wise, and see what you need to be lifting-wise, and just kind of the nutrition side of it that [Ratcliffe] takes care of, it’s a way different world than you do in junior, so I think from that and working out this summer and really pushing myself that I am gonna have quite a bit more of an advantage this year in corners and battles and stuff, for sure.