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Zamula ecstatic with opportunity to play with Provorov

The young defenseman says it’s been a dream to play with his fellow countryman.

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Egor Zamula is going to get one milestone checked off on his NHL to-do list on Saturday.

The 22-year-old Philadelphia Flyers blueliner will be in a pairing with fellow Russian Ivan Provorov when the team visits the Buffalo Sabres.

“A dream come true. ... When I signed a contract here with the Flyers, I told him right away it’s my dream to play with you one time, maybe two times, maybe every time,” Zamula said Friday. “Today, before practice, I was watching TV and I saw my name with Provy together. ... He told me he was going to help me to play better, teach me something and enjoy.”

For Zamula, this season has been a whirlwind of injuries, trying to get back up to speed with AHL Lehigh Valley, and trying to impress enough to get that desired call-up into the NHL. The 6-foot-5 towering defender was able to make his big-league debut last season, but was restricted to just two appearances due to an ever-changing COVID-affected roster.

Now, it feels a little bit different.

Zamula was part of a flurry of emergency call-ups earlier and has been able to at least play decently enough to stick around and get the emergency tag off of him and stick around with the big club a little bit longer — or at least until Rasmus Ristolainen and Cam York return from some nagging injuries. But, hey, at least he’s getting a deserved look.

The only big question is whether or not this short stint in Philadelphia can change the team’s outlook on the player and pencil him in for a potential role on the blue line next season.

“Certainly hope so,” Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s got all the tools. I think that his summer is going to dictate a lot of that as far as getting stronger, the time that he spends in the gym and the work that he puts in to being physically fit enough to be an NHL player on a nightly basis. It’s one thing to come up and do it for one or two games. It’s a very grinding schedule, it’s a very demanding season that you have to go out and perform night after night. But he certainly has all the ability.

“He’s learning how to play the game with his head, how to separate guys with his stick. But certainly there’s a physical element to the game, especially when you’re a defenseman. Whether it’s how you defend down low and how you compete in battles, especially around the front of your net, those types of things.

“It’s not that he’s shown any of those weaknesses necessarily when we’ve called him up, I think he’s done a good job. But it’s a different story when you have to do it for 82 games of a regular season.”

There has to be a point where Zamula eventually gets a stable job; if he can’t secure some sort of role on this blue line, then what are we doing here?

At least his coach thinks that it can be a pairing that can find at least some success, and possibly have a communication step-up on the rest of the skaters on the ice.

“Want to do that and also want to give him what he deserves,” Yeo said. “I thought he played a really strong game last game. I think that him and Provy should be pretty excited; I heard them speaking Russian to each other out there, so the communication’s good I think. I don’t know what they were saying, but it’s good to hear them talking.”

In the two games Zamula has appeared in this season, the Flyers have 71.55 percent of the expected goals share at 5-on-5 and (miraculously) have scored two goals compared to their opponents scoring just one. It’s not even been 40 minutes of action, but at least they have acknowledged some ability to play well enough to get an opportunity on the top pairing with his fellow countryman.

We’ll have to see what happens when the puck drops at 7:00 p.m. Saturday in Buffalo.