Flyers 2018 Preseason: 1st Half
Not counting the Flyers rookie game on September 12th, Thursday's contest, a 6-4 win against the New York Rangers marked the halfway point of the Flyers 8-game preseason schedule. Clearly they're not taking things very seriously, judging by the fact that 3 of the first 4 games (as well as the rookie game) were against the Islanders.
Rosters trimming is already well underway, with all junior-eligible players being returned to their respective clubs, meaning all 41 players still in training camp as of Thursday are slated for a professional spot in the Flyers organization to start the season, most in the NHL or AHL. However, a few players have stood out, positively or negatively, creating some interesting storylines in training camp.
Sanheim Survives Injury Scare, Lyon Not as Lucky
When it comes to players with significant NHL experience, generally no news is good news. These players are just hoping to get through camp with the rust shaken off and, most importantly, in good health.
With Andrew MacDonald already injured, although slighty ahead of schedule (according to Ron Hextall), another injury to a defenseman could have serious negative conotations on the team's start to the season.
For a moment, that looked like it might become a reality. Sanheim was boarded in the 2nd period of the Flyers first preseason game on Sunday by Matt Martin (shocker), and appeared slow to get up, favoring his shoulder while skating off the ice as a scrum ensued and eventually going down the tunnel, not returning for the rest of the game.
While at first it appeared serious, the Flyers dodged the bullet. Hextall announced that Sanheim will only miss a week of action, although the team will be understandibly cautious in the amount of action he receives for the rest of the preseason. While the injury won't impact the Flyers opening night roster, it does open up a greater opportunity for another young Flyers blueliner hoping to make his NHL debut sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Alex Lyon instead. Lyon looked like he was going to play on Tuesday, but after warmups went down the tunnel and never came back. Lyon is out for 4 weeks according to Ron Hextall with a lower-body injury, and while that might not impact the NHL team, the Phantoms goalie tandem will be Hart-Stolarz (not necessarily in that order) when the AHL season begins, giving Hart a chance to establish his game as a pro and Stolie to find his footing after a washed out 2017-18 season, potentially leaving Lyon as the odd man out in a crowded goalie situation.
Phil Myers Solid, In Mix for Opening Night Spot
Whereas Sanheim's injury brought panic to the Flyers fanbase, MacDonald's offseason lower-body injury that could cause him to miss the first 8 or so games of the Flyers season had a optomistic feeling. This is not necessarily because it means MacDonald would be out (although also not not necessarily, if you get my drift), but because of who might be in instead.
Understandibly, fans looked towards 22-year old Phil Myers fill the void. Once an undrafted free agent, Myers quickly became one of the most hyped junior defenseman, showing strong offensive upside along with sound defensive play. At 6'5''/203, Myers has no concerns about size as well. Injuries have been his main hinderance over the last few years. But when healthy, his skillset is obviously prevelant.
That's not to say he's been perfect, almost no rookie is - Myers was a bit tentative in the beginning of camp, and has had a few mistakes here and there, but as things have progressed, he's been up to the task. Even playing his 3rd game in as many nights earlier this week, a scenario he will never have to face in the NHL, Myers looked strong. As of now, he looks like the most likely candidate to fill MacDonald's spot if he's out for the regular season.
Vorobyev Winning 3C Battle, Frost Sent Back to Junior While Rubtsov Reemerges
Going into training camp, 3rd line center was by far the biggest spot up for grabs on the Flyers roster. While veterans Scott Laughton, Jordan Weal, or (sigh) Jori Lehtera could be plugged in to fill the void, a kid stepping up to the plate seemed just as likely. Morgan Frost and Mikhail Vorobyev were seen by most as the two most likely candidates for the job.
Most Flyers fans, myself included, were hoping to see Frost step up and take the spot. After a 102-point season in the OHL last year, Frost had the chance to make a Travis Konecny esque leap and make the team in his draft plus two season.
However, Frost only looked ok in the game action he got, being said as being caught in the bright lights of his first NHL game (and a preseason one at that). He still has plenty of skill and speed, but looked like he needed refinement in his game, which he will hopefully get with another year in the Soo.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Vorobyev, one of the Phantoms best playdrivers last year, has taken the opportunity and ran with it. Vorobyev has 2 goals so far in this preseason, including a snipe in tight on Robin Lehner in the Flyers lone home game of the preseason thus far, and has looked good doing the little things, something we know Dave Hakstol notices. Vorobyev hasn't been great in the dot, but that's something that's not uncommon for rookies. It's looking likely at this point that Vorobyev makes the team as either the 3 or 4C, maybe in a scenario on a line with Jordan Weal or/and Scott Laughton to take draws for him while functioning as a winger once the puck is dropped.
While talking about the 3C battle, a name Flyers fans haven't heard a lot of lately garnered plenty of positive attention in the preseason - German Rubtsov. "The Germ" (as some call him) was coming off a rough first (and only) full season in the QMJHL, the 2016 1st round pick was being called Ron Hextall's first true bust. However, Rubtsov showed assertiveness in the offseason to go along with a good 200-foot game, quality traits for any NHL player to have. Rubtsov's ceiling may not be higher than middle-6 center, but even though he was sent down on Tuesday, Rubtsov's performance should instill hope that at the very least he will become a solid NHL player in the next few years with the chance to be a bit more than that.
Hart With an Average Start, Shines in MSG Against the King
No prospect, not Frost nor Myers, came into training camp with the hype of Carter Hart. After posting record-breaking numbers in his final junior season a year ago, Hart is viewed by most fans as the goalie of the future for a team that has been looking for a permanent one since the role was held by their current GM. Hart didn't have the stellar start fans hoped for in the rookie game, allowing 3 goals in the first and benefitting from the Islanders hitting 3 posts, and had spotty rebound control in his first true NHL preseason game at home.
However, over his last 3 periods of play, Hart has looked like the calm, poised, star goalie that he has been hyped up to be. Hart recovered from that shaky start to not allow a single goal on 13 shots in first preseason game, then stopped 25 of 27 in 2 periods of work on Wendesday on several scrambles in front, and most notably a sprawling glove save on defenseman Tony DeAngelo. Furthermore, Hart's play helped the Flyers to a win over Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers, who was pulled after allowing 5 goals on just over 20 shots. With Hart settling in to his own, and Alex Lyon now out 4 weeks with a lower body injury, it may not be too long before Hart makes his true debut in the orange and the black.
Zamula Earns ELC
While every non-NHL player has something to prove at this time of year, none were in the same boat as defenseman Yegor Zamula. Standing at 6'3'' but skinny as a string bean at 161 pounds, Zamula was passed over in the 2018 draft, and came to Philadelphia in search of an ELC after failing to make an impact deserving of one with the Calgary Flames (which coincidentially was the same path Phil Myers took to being signed by the Flyers).
Zamula wasn't absolutely spectacular in his preseason action, but did show consistent flashes of a good two-way game with decent offensive upside. Obviously he wasn't expected to dominate (there was a reason he wasn't drafted after all), but Zamula played well enough to earn an ELC from the Flyers on Thursday before being sent back to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL (Travis Sanheim's junior team). It's a low-risk signing by Ron Hextall, and while he's not likely to turn into a player of Myers's caliber, it would be cool (and not impossible) to see him potentially become an impact player in the NHL one day.