For Flyers 2019 first-round pick Cam York, there wasn’t too much “off” during the 2021 offseason.
Yes, the defenseman said he flew home to Anaheim Hills, Calif., to visit family and recharge for the first time in “gosh … I don’t even know” how long after a whirlwind year saw him don sweaters for the University of Michigan, the U.S. national team at World Juniors, the AHL’s Phantoms, and the Flyers.
But when York traveled to Plymouth, Mich., late this summer to train with friends from the national team, he refused to take a shift off. After all, one-on-ones against New Jersey Devils star Jack Hughes, the 2019 first overall pick, called for York’s best effort.
“It’s summer hockey, so some guys kind of lollygag and maybe won’t go as hard,” York said. “But I was really trying to focus on that and making sure that I had a good stick on puck and I was pretending like it was an in-game situation, so when guys like Jack Hughes were coming down on me, I was just trying to take away his time and space.”
Going into the offseason, four Flyers prospects identified key areas of improvement they aimed to attack before taking the ice for training camp. From building muscle to improving shots to focusing on health, prospects such as York, Morgan Frost, Tanner Laczynski, and Wade Allison tailored their plans to fit their individual needs. After an offseason of hard work, the end goal remains the same for all four: to make the Flyers’ opening-night roster.
Cracking the lineup for the opener on Oct. 15 against Vancouver won’t be easy, though, especially given general manager Chuck Fletcher’s recent comments on the team’s depth ahead of training camp.
“That’s where you want to get to as an organization. You want to make it so that young players have to earn their spot and you want the competition level to be high,” Fletcher said Tuesday.
“That’s how you get better. That’s how young players get better and as we get deeper and as our group matures, we want this to be a difficult team to make and that will certainly ensure that we have a high-end team here.”
With camp comes competition. For instance, York, who scored five points (two goals, three assists) in eight games with the Phantoms last season before a three-game stint with the Flyers, had no say in Fletcher’s decision to sign 15-year veteran defenseman Keith Yandle this offseason. He can only dictate his attitude toward the on-ice battles that await him.
“I’m excited to learn from these guys and basically grow my game from them,” York said. “Like Keith Yandle, he’s a guy that has played a lot of games in the league and put up really good numbers. I’m really excited to watch him and learn from him and same thing with [Ivan] Provorov and [Travis] Sanheim and [Rasmus] Ristolainen.”
Back after surgery
While York concentrated on adding strength, maintaining speed, and playing with more physicality this offseason, Frost and Laczynski prioritized rehabilitation from season-ending surgeries. Frost dislocated his left shoulder shortly after he earned a roster spot out of camp as the Flyers’ 13th forward last season.
“To be completely honest with you, it was definitely a different summer for me,” Frost said. “That was pretty much my first real injury of my hockey career. I don’t know if I’ve ever missed more than a game from something really minor.”
The 22-year-old center injured that same shoulder in his last junior game with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2019, but he never missed time. Hit after hit, the shoulder eventually gave out in his second game with the Flyers on Jan. 19 when Frost awkwardly jammed his stick on then-Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe’s leg.
“The surgery I had was really good and it’s gonna prevent it from ever coming out like that again,” the Flyers’ 2017 first-round pick said. “I’m happy that I decided to do that.”
Frost spent the bulk of his rehab after surgery in February in Voorhees and went home to Aurora, Ontario at the season’s conclusion. He gradually ramped up his skating and by the end of the summer, he had few limitations with his shoulder.
Laczynski, however, spent the entire offseason in Voorhees while recovering from surgery in April on a torn labrum in his right hip. He suffered the injury in his fifth game with the Flyers, a devastating ending to a pro debut that saw him previously notch 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 14 games with the Phantoms after he rebounded from core muscle surgery.
“After surgery, there’s some things that don’t come back right away,” Laczynski said. “You’re on the ice and you might be on the ice for two or three weeks and you’re like, ‘Well, what the heck’s going on? Why am I not feeling this or why are my hands not feeling right — or my shot?’
“I think it’s just repetitions. Whether it be practice or just scrimmages after, some battle drills. I think it’s just getting the game feel back and then after time, it just kind of builds your confidence back.”
Ready to compete
Both Laczynski and Frost anticipate being fully cleared by the time training camp begins. After playing only a game and a half over nearly two years, Frost looks forward to regaining his confidence on the ice and making his case to win the third-line center job at training camp.
“Competition’s good,” Frost said of the Flyers’ offseason acquisitions, including recently signed 15-year veteran Derick Brassard. “It pushes people to be better and want to be better. It’s definitely a motivator for me. I’ve been here for a little while now, so the team knows my game pretty well, and I think it’s just about executing my game plan and the team’s game plan and doing the little things on the ice.”
Allison is familiar with the challenges of recovering from major injuries — he underwent ankle surgery during training camp last season, which delayed his NHL debut until April 15 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, he is relishing feeling healthy heading into camp.
“I’m happy,” Allison said. “I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made. I’m very happy with my game right now. It feels good. I’ve had time to practice it without having to slow down and worry about other stuff.”
Known for his hard shot, Allison sought to take another step this offseason by working on his decision-making. With help from trainer Dan Ninkovich, the right winger put himself in game scenarios and focused on the details that would buy him an extra half-second with the puck. In turn, Allison aspires to generate more scoring opportunities, even if he’s not the one putting the puck in the net.
“Being able to score from anywhere always helps,” Allison said. “But the goalies at the NHL level are so good. So that’s a big change. There’s just nowhere to shoot. Sometimes you have to think about not scoring, but shooting for somebody else to score and just where the hardest place [would be] for the goalie to try and stop it.”
Like York, Allison acknowledged he can’t control the Flyers’ roster building. Instead, he’s locked in on being the hardest worker on the ice come training camp and leaving a lasting impression on the front office staff.
“Do all the small details right and try and do everything I can to make the team better, whatever that is,” Allison said. “I’m willing to do anything. I’m not setting any limits on myself. I’ll do whatever it takes.”