Chris Stewart, a physical right winger who had two 28-goal seasons early in a career that was bursting with promise, knows this could be his last chance to earn a spot on an NHL roster.
He won’t go away quietly.
Stewart, 31, is battling for a bottom-six job at the Flyers’ training camp, and he has this working for him: His 6-foot-2, 243-pound frame might open room for his line mates, and he excels in board battles because of his size.
It also doesn’t hurt him that the Flyers no longer have Radko Gudas, Wayne Simmonds, or Dale Weise — who liked to throw around their bodies – and might want someone to pick up the slack.
“My expectations are to make this hockey club," said Stewart, who has been on a line with Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton at training camp. "That’s the only thing on my mind. I prepare every day.”
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, when he was Minnesota’s GM, twice made trades for Stewart, and he signed him to a tryout contract with the Flyers.
“I’ve dreamed about being a Flyer my whole life,” Stewart said.
In the 2006 NHL draft, Stewart was hoping the Flyers would pick him with the 22nd selection in the first round. He had always been enamored with their style.
Stewart didn’t last that long. Colorado took him with the 18th overall pick. Four picks later, the Flyers took Claude Giroux.
“This is where I thought I’d be drafted, and they ended up taking Giroux, so it worked out well for them,” Stewart said with a smile.
Why did he think the Flyers would select him?
“I was a bad ass. I was a young power forward coming up, and I think I had 40 goals and 15 fights the year before, so I kind of fit the mold," he said. “That was my style of hockey. But it all worked out for Philadelphia” with Giroux.
Last season, Stewart had six goals and 13 points in 23 games in the Britain Elite Ice Hockey League, which isn’t exactly an NHL pipeline.
Now, he needs a strong camp to return to the NHL for the first time since scoring 10 goals in 54 games with Minnesota and Calgary in 2017-18.
“I think I just have to be me,” Stewart, a Toronto native who is best friends with Simmonds, said about earning a roster spot. “I think they know exactly what I am and what I bring, and it’s up to me to bring it. You’re getting critiqued and judged every day, so you have to bring it every day.”
Coach Alain Vigneault called the big winger an “up and down, simple player who gets pucks in deep and plays the body. He’s got a dimension and a role to his game that teams look for. I think there’s some good internal competition for that kind of role on our team.”
Kurtis Gabriel (6-4, 200) and Andy Andreoff (6-1, 203) are two other such wingers vying for a job.
For Stewart, who has 160 career goals while playing 10 seasons for six teams, this is likely his last chance to stick on an NHL roster.
“I’m not looking at it like that, but that’s probably the reality of the situation," he said. "I’m not that naïve. You never know what’s going to happen, but I do want to be here, and I’m going to do what it takes to make this team.”
He will get a chance to impress the brass in some of the Flyers’ four exhibition games in a six-day stretch, starting Monday.