The Flyers will have 57 players on the ice for the start of training camp Thursday morning, hoping it’s the first day of erasing memories from That Miserable Season.
General manager Chuck Fletcher did his best to orchestrate a turnaround, revamping the defense with three acquisitions, adding a scorer (Cam Atkinson) and some much-needed penalty killers, and giving the team more size and grit.
“We wanted to be harder to play against,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Flyers, however, have already suffered three significant injuries that will affect the lineup — and give others a chance to make the team out of camp.
That said, this team has more depth than last season, and that will help while second-line center Kevin Hayes, depth defenseman Samuel Morin, and (expected) third-line right winger Wade Allison are sidelined.
Hayes will miss six to eight weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery Tuesday, Morin will also be out six to eight weeks with a knee injury, and Allison is out indefinitely with a sprained right ankle.
With that as a backdrop, there will be a handful of job openings during camp, and here is how the team could look when the season starts Oct. 15 against visiting Vancouver:
Top line: Sean Couturier centering Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
Skinny: Konecny could end up on the second line, but wherever he plays, his ability to bounce back from a subpar season (11 goals in 50 games) will be a key for the Flyers as they try to rebound after they missed the playoffs for the fifth time in nine years. Couturier (41 points in 45 games), the team’s MVP, and Giroux (43 points in 54 games), who turns 34 in January, also have room to improve.
Second line: Derick Brassard centering Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson.
Skinny: With Hayes out, the Boston Line (or the ‘B’ Line) will have to wait. (Hayes and Atkinson were Boston College teammates, and Farabee played at Boston University.) This unit may turn into the FAB line if Brassard, a late free-agent signee who twice tallied 55-plus points for Vigneault’s Rangers, wins the 2C job. Strong in the faceoff circle, he is among the candidates to replace Hayes, who is expected to miss seven to 13 games. Other candidates? Morgan Frost and two players who were ticketed to play left wing but are natural centers: Giroux and Scott Laughton. Atkinson, acquired from Columbus for Jake Voracek, is trying to get back to his 41-goal form from 2018-19, though the Flyers would gladly take 25 from the speedy winger. Farabee will look to build on a breakthrough season in which he had a team-high 20 goals.
Third line: Morgan Frost centering Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk.
Skinny: Before Allison suffered a knee injury Sunday in a rookie camp game, he figured to be the right winger on this line, which would have been centered by Brassard. Now Frost, who had shoulder surgery in January, has a chance to fill this role. He has gained muscle, bulked up to 191 pounds, and looked impressive in rookie camp. Van Riemsdyk (17 goals, 43 points), who might shift from left wing to right wing, is a proven scorer, and he would benefit from Frost’s playmaking if the center cracks the lineup, as expected. Lindblom, who can play on any of the four lines, is healthy and eyeing a bounce-back season.
Fourth line: Nate Thompson centering Scott Laughton and Nic Aube-Kubel.
Skinny: Thompson (6-1, 205) was signed because of his hard-nosed style and his ability to help a penalty kill that finished next-to-last in the NHL last season with just a 73.1% success rate. Rookie Tanner Laczynski (6-2, 203), rebounding from hip surgery, will give him a stiff challenge in camp. Laughton plays with an edge and is versatile. Aube-Kubel also displays physicality, but he must play with more intelligence; he committed too many ill-advised penalties last season.
Top pairing: Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis.
Skinny: Provorov seemed to have a different partner every couple of weeks last season, so he will benefit from Ellis’ stability. Remember how well Provorov played when Matt Niskanen was his partner two seasons ago? That’s the Flyers’ hope this season. Ellis plays with tenacity and the smarts accumulated from 10 NHL seasons, all with Nashville. He might prove to be Fletcher’s most important offseason acquisition as the GM remolded a defense that allowed a league-worst 3.52 goals per game.
Second pairing: Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Skinny: Sanheim, playing alongside Phil Myers, had a disappointing season in 2021. Like Provorov, the Flyers are hoping a new partner rejuvenates his play. Ristolainen was acquired from Buffalo for first- and second-round picks and Robert Hagg — a risky deal for someone who can become a free agent after this season. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he provides nastiness and clears bodies in front — several Flyers forwards have already said they are glad they don’t have to face him anymore — and if he can clean up some of his loose defensive play, he will be a valuable addition.
Third pairing: Keith Yandle and Justin Braun.
Skinny: By signing active iron-man leader Yandle (922 consecutive games played), the Flyers were saying they believe hotshot prospect Cam York is probably a year away. That said, York will get a chance to show he’s ready during camp. Yandle, 35, a three-time All-Star, played for Vigneault with the Rangers and is heavily favored to anchor the third pair and play on the power play. Braun, 34, is a veteran who is coming off a steady season.
The seventh defenseman was expected to be Morin, but he is sidelined until November because of knee surgery. As the No. 7 defender, the Flyers might carry a veteran like Adam Clendening, who played for Vigneault with the Rangers in 2016-17, if they decide York needs to play regularly with the Phantoms and grow his game.
No. 1: Carter Hart.
Skinny: Statistically, he was at the bottom of the league last season (3.67 GAA, .877 save percentage) and he had the worst year for a Flyers goaltender (minimum 25 games) since Tommy Söderström in 1993-94. That’s the bad news. The good news: Hart has excelled at every level — including the NHL, where his game peaked in the 2020 playoffs — and there is reason to believe he will have a bounce-back season. There were a lot of reasons for Hart’s poor 2021 season, including the loneliness caused by the COVID-19 isolation, but he has a new frame of mind and is ready to prove that last year was a fluke.
No. 2: Martin Jones.
Skinny: He has had three straight poor seasons, but the Flyers believe being reunited with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh will help Jones return to the form he once displayed with San Jose. Dillabaugh coached him for 2½ years when they were together in the Los Angeles system. Jones will be an important piece if Hart doesn’t rebound.
Camp opens Thursday at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, and all fans must wear a mask to attend. Vaccination cards are not needed.
The first three days will feature three sessions of three different groups (8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m.; 10 a.m.-11:45 a.m.; and 1 p.m.-2:45 p.m. The Flyers will play their first exhibition game Tuesday against the Islanders at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Newest Flyer
The Flyers announced Wednesday that they have signed forward Jon-Randall Avon to a three-year entry-level contract. Avon, 18, is attending training camp on an amateur tryout and previously played in the Ontario Hockey League with the Peterborough Petes.