At long last! The Flyers’ Development Camp made its triumphant return last week, and though not everyone was able to make it, it was still a great chance to check in with a number of prospects for the first time in a little while, and for some, the first time ever. We’ve got lots of notes to get to, so let’s get right into it.
If we’re looking for someone who, while not having come into camp with the most buzz, very quickly asserted himself as one of the biggest standouts, Foerster would be your guy.
One of the first bits to note is that his skating already looks a bit better. This was something that was talked a lot about after he was drafted as being an issue, and while, after watching him with the Phantoms last season, that was a concern that I found to be a bit overblown, his stride was still a little bit wonky and stilted, and did need a bit of cleaning up. It’s not all the way there, but it did look like he picked up a bit more speed this offseason, and that’s made him all the more effective. His shot is still the real standout, but the skating game continuing to progress was probably the most encouraging sight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the 3-on-3 tournament where they were only playing on half of the ice and his sometimes stilted longer distance skating wouldn’t hinder him, Foerster was able to shine. He led all players in the tournament with five goals (yes, five!), and just looked like an absolute force.
Here's a video of the 2v2 overtime, from start to finish, leading to Forester's dramatic (kidding) OT goal. pic.twitter.com/Ou2jnD4rIW— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) September 1, 2021
Also him scoring that super weird overtime goal and then celebrating to the empty stands while the media room above went wild was my absolute favorite moment from camp, if I'm being honest.
At long last! Morgan Frost is back! It was our first look at Frost since he sustained his shoulder injury back in January, and he’s already looking to be back to old form.
In short, Frost was able to come into this camp and do, well, just about everything that makes him so effective as a player. Throughout the camp, he was consistently able to put on a passing and playmaking clinic. Early on in the drills portion, we saw him bringing an elusiveness to the drills that allowed him to create space and set up plays, and this was something we then saw translating seamlessly into the game situations. It feels a little silly to say, but Frost was a bit snakebitten in the 3-on-3 tournament. It wasn’t for lack of trying, he had a couple of really good looks that were just stopped, and he was still able to set up a few nice chances for his teammates. He was consistently one of the most dynamic players one the ice, and it was a real positive to see him looking so confident and effective.
With his experience, was he always probably going to be one to the more noticeable players at this camp? Sure. But that doesn’t mean we enjoyed seeing it any less.
A theme is emerging here, in which most of the standouts from this camp are exactly the ones who one would expect to be too good for it, at this point, and Cam York certainly fits that bill. He didn’t bring a ton of flash across the board, though that wasn’t really an expectation going in—his quietly efficient game translates as well into drills in a camp setting. That said, he did look very effective in both the drills portion of the camp as well as the 3-on-3 tournament to close it out. He showed a particular strength in the 2-on-1 drills, as well as some of the settings (both in drills and in the games) when he had to retrieve pucks in corners or dangerous areas, and he was able to do all of this with his typical calm.
One of the other pretty immediate standouts was that York just looks a bit stronger this time around. That’s something that he talked about in his media availability, that one of his most major goals for the summer was to get stronger—not necessarily just adding weight or raw muscle mass, but rather more functional strength, so he can still preserve his speed—and it’s seemed that this work he put on has paid dividends.
If you were hoping for a whole lot of goalie content coming out of this year’s development camp, well, you’re probably going to be disappointed, as it was only Kirill Ustimenko and Samuel Ersson as the goalies in attendance. As such, it wasn’t too hard for one to assert himself as the top goalie in camp, but that said, Ersson did it, and did it by a pretty comfortable margin.
In the goalie-only drills he stood out as looking just a bit crisper and more explosive in his movements (in fairness, Ustimenko is also just coming back from hip surgery), and looked quite polished in the combined drill sessions, when they joined the skaters.
He really stood out in the 3-on-3 game, though, looking effective even when he was pretty obviously gassed (it wasn’t a format that was too kind to the goalies, with three 12 minute round robin games, one six minute play-in game, and one more 12 minute championship game, which the goalies played all of, with relatively brief breaks in between). He was steady and efficient in his movements—which is something he made a point of saying he had been working on—and that made him the more reliable of the goaltenders in the tournament. He wasn’t giving up too much unnecessary space to be exploited, and still came up with the odd big save when needed. It was, if nothing else, a very good way to kick off his move over to North America.
And to wrap up our list of probably not very surprising biggest standouts, Egor Zamula also had himself a very good camp! He brought a little bit more flash in his game than someone like York, which was perhaps to be expected, based on what we already know about their styles. Zamula didn’t bring quite as dynamic of a game with the puck (though we did see some flashes of offense in the 3-on-3 tournament), but he really stood out in the down low cycling types of drills, and was able to do a nice bit of disrupting of chances using his stick during the games.
And given that one of the bigger works in progress regarding him and his game has been just working on filling out and getting stronger, it’s a pretty huge positive that it was immediately evident that he’s continuing to make very good progress in that department. He’s still working on learning how to leverage his frame, but he looks like he’s put on a bit more weight and added a bit more raw strength, and that’s going to be a really big asset for him as he heads into his second professional season, and we already saw it paying dividends as he competed against his fellow prospects.
To be clear here, Allison looked really strong in this camp, but because he wasn’t a full participant (we only saw him for part of Sunday and Monday’s sessions), so we’re bumping him down to this section.
That said, in the portions that we did see him participate in, he was one of the biggest standouts. I mean...
Wade Allison a perfect 12 for 12, picking spots, too. Chris Stewart approves. pic.twitter.com/KDYkGkkI5d— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) August 30, 2021
Now, given the fact that Allison was one of the older players at camp, as well as that he just brings something of a flashier skillset, between that shot and his energy, he’s one that we would reasonably expect to stand out, but the fact that it was expected didn’t make it any less encouraging to see. While we know that development camp isn’t about trying to make serious headway in pushing for a roster spot on the NHL team or trying to jump up on the depth chart in the eyes of the front office, the time for that is just around the corner, and Allison has a big training camp ahead of him. His run of games with the Flyers at the end of the season was very good, but impressing right off the bat and earning a spot on the team to start the season is a whole other beast entirely. The stakes are high, but he’s certainly going to be heading into rookie camp and main camp with a good bit of momentum, to be sure.
Laczynski’s another one that we’re bumping down a bit just because he wasn’t a full participant in the camp. Now, that makes sense, as he’s coming off of major surgery and still working to get himself back to 100 percent. And even though the Flyers seemed to be managing his workload a bit and limiting his participation, perhaps the most positive takeaway was the fact that he really didn’t seem to be hindered by anything when we did see him. It was a real open question whether he was going to be ready to start the season, but he seems to be on track for that, and to see him looking more or less normal before even being up to full speed was a really positive sign. He was skating well, and his forechecking (a strength of his game) flashed in the drills as well. He’s in the same category as Allison as well in that we expect him to look too good for this camp, and even in the brief look we got, this was exactly what we saw.
It goes without saying that last season was a difficult one for Ratcliffe, who suffered a broken rib that turned into a collapsed lung before training camp, took a while to recover fully and get back up to speed, and then ended the season with a minor ankle injury. It hasn’t been an easy road for him, but he’s looking to get himself back on track this season, and this camp was certainly a very good step in the right direction.
He didn’t flash quite so much as some of the players we’ve already talked about in the drills (though unsurprisingly his size and strength were evident in the drills where it was important to have that leveraged), but he really turned it on for the 3-on-3 game. And in a way, this isn’t too much of a surprise—in his media availability earlier in camp he talked about how he felt his offensive game was coming back to him, that he was getting to the difficult areas of the ice in the drills and he was getting rewarded for it, and we saw this translating easily into the game settings. He picked up three goals and was one of the most dynamic players in those games. Now, does this mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, in the right here and right now? Maybe not, but it signals that he’s healthy and getting his confidence back, and that’s certainly going to be a big asset as we head into the season.
And finally, the new kid! This was our first in-person introduction to the Flyers’ most recent second round pick, and it certainly was a strong introduction. The initial impression? He’s fast, man. We knew he was fast, that’s the whole reason we were so excited about this pick, and that’s something the stood out from his performance at the World Junior Summer Showcase immediately after the draft, but seeing him up close and in person, it felt like a whole other level. His stride is smooth, his acceleration pretty stellar, and his added ability to create separation and make quick cuts and still create space added an extra level of dynamism to his game. He was far and away the best skater in camp, and at times (particularly in one-on-one situations) it just looked flat-out unfair.
His offensive game also flashed, as he was one of the standouts in the shooting drills as well, with an accurate shot with a quick release (something we saw flashed a bit in the 3-on-3 game as well). There’s still quite a bit of work that needs to go into him filling out and polishing his game, but it’s easy to see why the Flyers were so keen to pick him up, he’s a really dynamic player.