Ronnie Attard is fresh off a solid rookie game last weekend and first preseason game on Saturday, and he’s using that momentum to carry him... to seventh on our top-10 prospects ranking?
Sure, yes, that is exactly it.
No. 7: Ronnie Attard
2021-22 League/Team: Western Michigan Broncos (NCAA), Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
2021-22 Statistics: 13 G, 23 A, 36 P in 39 GP (NCAA), 2 G, 2 A, 4 P in 15 GP (NHL)
Acquired In: Drafted (2019)
How did Attard’s 2021-22 hockey season go? Is his stock trending up or down from where it was entering the year?
It was, in short, a very successful season for Attard over at Western Michigan. His team as a whole took a step forward from where they were in 2020-21, so we didn’t see him popping as much, or looking like he was on a whole other planet relative to those teammates at times, but that’s for the best for everyone. Attard found more support on his team and didn’t have to be The Guy for them as often, but that doesn’t mean that he was any less effective.
In fact, we saw his scoring improve a touch—up from eight goals and 22 points in 25 games—and improve in the most difficult conference to score in, no less. He continued to improve his defensive reads, and became much more consistent in anticipating plays and not getting himself into trouble when making an aggressive play for the puck. And for all of that work, he was named the NCHC’s best offensive defensive, as well as named to both the NCHC First All-Star Team and NCAA’s West First All-American Team. all for the second year in a row.
He also got a decent run of games at the NHL level at the end of the Flyers’ season, and while 15 games on a team deeply out of the playoff mix and so riddled with injuries that they’re barely resembling an NHL team at all isn’t the best or most complete setting for evaluation, Attard did well enough to hold his own therein. He wasn’t without mistakes made, but his offensive game flashed, and he contributed well to the Flyers’ transition game (a real weakness for them throughout the season to that point), and that was something.
All told, there’s not much more that we could have asked to see from him over the course of the season.
What are we expecting from Attard this season? What should we be looking for from him?
We expect that Attard will continue to be in the mix for a job with the Flyers right out of camp, but it feels more likely that he starts the season down in the AHL with the Phantoms. And that situation will be, shall we say, an interesting one—that team was objectively bad last year, and there weren’t many prospects who played on it that we could say took a big step forward in their development, so how things will build for them this season remains an open question. But, if all goes well, can expect to see Attard getting a lot of minutes across all situations with the team, and at the very least, it isn’t hard to imagine his offense translating well to that level.
And as far as the finer points of his defensive game go—which need the most polishing—they have improved season over season while he was in college, and we’d like to see that trend continuing here. He shouldn’t struggle much to adjust physically, but of course, we don’t expect the transition to be a walk in the park. We don’t expect dominance right off the bat, but steady improvement, we’ll be happy with.
How does Attard fit into the Flyers’ long-term plans? Where does he stand in the Flyers’ organizational depth?
The good news for Attard is that the Flyers are not particularly deep in the right handed defensemen department. He’s both the most complete and arguably close to best developed of those in the pipeline, and ahead of him at the NHL level are Justin Braun (signed for one year), Tony DeAngelo (signed for two years), Rasmus Ristolainen (signed for five years), as well as Ryan Ellis, who also has five more years on his deal, but it’s possible that the injury situation he’s dealing with at the moment could be career ending. Which is all to say that while the Flyers aren’t exactly holding open a spot for Attard to just waltz in and claim, the door for him to grab a job on their third pair as early as this season—depending on how the injury situations continue to play out, and the types of camps that he and Braun put together—but it’s going to be up to him to put in the work in polishing out his game to prepare himself for that.
The team seems to like his potential, and it seems like they’re going to give him the space to develop, and opportunities to work with, knowing full well that he’s their best chance of getting some home grown talent back on the right side of their defense.
What do we think Attard’s ultimate NHL upside is, and how likely is it that he gets to something approaching that?
Attard has always been a fascinating case, in that his physical toolkit and offensive upside have given him really exciting potential, but some of the risk and mistakes that accompanied all that made the bust potential high enough to scare some pundits. But he’s always profiled as a player who, if he cleans up his game a bit and hits at the professional level, could develop into a good second pair defenseman who could chip in on a second power play unit.
That said, while he still has some work to do—and, we should add, we don’t want to see Attard stripping all of the risk out of the game, because his willingness to make the aggressive play is what makes him so effective—at the college level already we saw him doing a lot to clean up some of the unnecessary risks in his game, and that’s part of what made him one of the best defensemen in his conference the last two years. As it stands, he’s not far away from being ready for at least a somewhat sheltered third pair NHL role, and that would be him more or less hitting his floor, but what he’s able to do over the next season or so adjust to the pace of play at the professional level and to learn how to best pick his spots for making the aggressive play will determine how close he’ll get to that ceiling. But it still feels very much in play.