SAN JOSE, Calif. – You look at Flyers defenseman Phil Myers, at his long reach and his immense upside, and you wonder how he was bypassed in the NHL draft.
The same can be said for 6-foot-4 Egor Zamula, a budding defenseman in the Flyers’ system.
Both were signed by then-general manager Ron Hextall as undrafted free agents.
Both look like home runs.
The 6-5 Myers, 22, has mostly been a Flyers regular this season and led the team – and all NHL rookies — with a plus-18 rating heading into the weekend. He also has 11 points in 21 games.
The puck-moving Zamula, 19, has starred for the Calgary Hitmen this season in the Western Hockey League (seven goals, 28 points, plus-19 in 28 games), and he had two goals for Team Russia in its 4-3, opening-round loss to the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship.
The Flyers are already loaded with blossoming young defensemen, and the pipeline – headed by Cam York, a first-round selection in June, Zamula, and Adam Ginning – is in great shape.
It makes you wonder if, down the road, a defenseman on the current roster is dealt for a much-needed sniper.
And the winner will be…
Speaking of World Juniors, Zamula, York (United States), Ginning (Sweden’s captain), and right winger Bobby Brink (United States), are the Flyers’ prospects competing in the tournament. Brink had a goal in Friday’s 6-3 win over Germany.
The tourney runs through Jan. 5, and Canada is my pick to win it.
Saluting the penalty killers
The Flyers’ penalty-kill units have thrived even though they have been playing recently without three important players: Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl.
The key to the penalty kill, which is run pretty much the same this year by new assistant Mike Yeo as it was last season by Ian Laperriere? The newcomers: center Kevin Hayes, and defensemen Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun. They have helped the penalty kill go into the weekend tied for seventh in the NHL; the PK finished 26th last season.
Defenseman Ivan Provorov and Sean Couturier have also played well on the PK, as has Travis Sanheim.
And with the three aforementioned players missing, Nic Aube-Kubel and Tyler Pitlick have stepped in and played valuable penalty-killing minutes, along with Claude Giroux.
Carter Hart is having a superb season, but his PK numbers are not overwhelming. Among goalies who had played at least 20 games entering the weekend, his .857 save percentage on the PK was 22nd in the NHL.
Five-on-five play is usually the No. 1 factor in how a team will perform in the playoffs, when power-play opportunities seem to shrink.
The Flyers have outscored opponents, 79-72, during five-on-five play heading into the weekend. They’re tied for ninth in the NHL. Keep an eye on that critical stat as the season progresses.
The Flyers are on a six-game, 12-day road trip that has stops in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Vegas, Arizona, and Carolina.
This is a chance for the Flyers to show they truly have arrived and are different than their predecessors.
In their last four holiday road trips, the Flyers are a combined 2-11-3
Heading into their road trip, the Flyers had gotten 50 goals from players 25-years-old and under, and 67 goals from those players over 25.
In other words, they have almost a perfect blend of youngsters and veterans.
Hail to the Chief and Couturier
Former Flyers coach Craig “Chief” Berube and Couturier will be among the honorees at the 116th Philadelphia Sports Writers banquet, which will be held Jan. 20 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill.
Flyers Charities is among the sponsors, helping the association provide scholarships to high school students.
Berube’s St. Louis Blues will be honored as the Team of the Year after winning their first Stanley Cup last June, and Couturier will receive a special achievement award as the Flyers’ MVP in 2018-19.
Among others on the dais: Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, the Pro Athlete of the Year; new Phillies manager Joe Girardi; Villanova coach Jay Wright (Good Guy award); former Eagle Connor Barwin (Ed Snider Distinguished Humanitarian); Angelo Cataldi (Bill Campbell broadcast award) and Wayne Fish (Stan Hochman writing award). The naming of Most Courageous Athlete, whose identity is kept a secret until that evening, is the signature moment of the banquet.
For ticket information, go to phillysportswriters.com.
The PSWA banquet is the longest continuous-running event of its kind in the nation, and it has honored a Who’s Who of sports celebrities in the past, including Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Thorpe, Carl Lewis, Bobby Orr, Jesse Owens, Ty Cobb, Jim Brown, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Knute Rockne, Joe Frazier, Carli Lloyd, Ben Hogan, and, more recently, Mike Trout.
It’s easy to imagine that Joe Conklin, a banquet regular whose frequently irreverent impersonations of sports personalities are a highlight of the night, would have had the Babe choking with laughter.