Before the Flyers hit the ice for their Friday morning practice, defensemen Egor Zamula and Ivan Provorov took note of the team’s updated lines and defensive pairings displayed on a television screen.
Zamula, 22, was eager to see his name next to his fellow Russian’s on the top pairing.
“I see my name with Provy’s together, and say, ‘Dream come true,’ ” Zamula said. “He started laughing.”
After getting recalled from the Phantoms on Wednesday and playing in his fourth career NHL game against the New York Rangers on the second pairing with Kevin Connauton, Zamula earned a promotion to the top pairing with Provorov for Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. Against the Rangers, Zamula logged 22:01 minutes of ice time, registered two shots on goal, and was one of six Flyers skaters who did not finish with a negative plus-minus.
Zamula, a left-shot defenseman who went undrafted and signed with the Flyers in 2018, will play on his off-side with Provorov. However, Zamula has played on the right side “a lot” with the Phantoms, according to interim coach Mike Yeo.
“I think that him and Provy should be pretty excited,” Yeo said. “I heard them speaking Russian to each other out there. So the communication’s good, I think.”
Not only does Saturday’s game serve as an opportunity for Zamula to see an increased workload against top lines, but it’s also a chance for the young defenseman to play alongside “a top-two, top-one Russian defenseman” in the NHL in Provorov.
Zamula recalled being impressed with Provorov’s play dating back to his performances at the World Juniors, when Provorov earned silver medals with Russia in 2015 and 2016.
“I want to try to play with him on the same level as him,” Zamula said. “And then try to be better. I think if I play with him, I learn some more stuff on the ice, and it will be better for me.”
This is Zamula’s second stint with the Flyers this season. Earlier this year, Zamula was recalled from the Phantoms and played against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 6 when the Flyers were decimated by COVID-19. In 57 games with the Phantoms this season, Zamula has four goals and 25 assists for 29 points, which ranks second among defensemen, and is a plus-two.
At 6-foot-3, 177 pounds, Zamula has shown the capacity to play with consistency at the AHL level. However, his ability to do the same in the NHL and compete for a full-time spot next season will partially hinge upon him improving his strength, per Yeo.
“He’s got all the tools,” Yeo said. “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 into 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.”
EBUG lends a hand
With starting goalie Carter Hart out indefinitely with a lower-body injury and goalie Felix Sandström loaned to the Phantoms for their game on Friday night, the Flyers needed a second goalie for practice on Friday.
Enter, Andy Lee.
Lee, 26, is an emergency backup goalie and a Villanova law student. He has been on-hand at the Wells Fargo Center all season long, but neither the Flyers nor the visiting team have required his services in-game.
A native of East Amherst, N.Y., Lee played Division III hockey at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., for three seasons. While Lee may continue to help the Flyers out in practices going forward if Hart is unable to return this season, Sandström is expected to get recalled to back up Martin Jones on Saturday in Buffalo.
Winger Cam Atkinson (lower body), defenseman Cam York (lower body), defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (upper body), forward Patrick Brown (upper body), and Hart did not participate in practice. Yeo said that he is “hopeful” that Atkinson will be available to play on Sunday, the second night of a back-to-back against the Sabres. However, each player is not expected to play on Saturday. ... After sitting out of Wednesday’s game with an upper-body injury, forward Nate Thompson participated in practice and is expected to play on Saturday. ... Jones (30 games, 3.49 goals against average, .899 save percentage) will start in goal on Saturday.