Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said left winger Oskar Lindblom will be ready to play when the season starts Jan. 13, that center Nolan Patrick’s medical updates have been positive, and that depth will be greatly needed because of the NHL’s condensed, 56-game schedule.
In a wide-ranging conference call with reporters Monday, the veteran coach also said he was excited about the new division format – though he noted it will be more challenging with Boston as one of the Flyers’ rivals – and he outlined how training camp will be run when it begins Jan. 3 in Voorhees.
With no exhibition games scheduled, the Flyers will have camp scrimmages “almost on a daily basis. Guys need to get a game feel, and those game hands and those [game] legs, and I feel that is one of the best ways to do it,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault has had several Zoom meetings with his coaches in recent months to outline camp. He said the team will practice for about 45 minutes in each session and then do some scrimmaging.
Rosters will remain at 23 players for the pandemic-shortened season, but teams will carry a four-to-six-player taxi squad. Those extra players will be needed, Vigneault said, because of the condensed schedule.
“If ever we’re going to need depth at all positions, it’s going to be this year,” he said. “In my mind, because we’ll be playing four games in six nights and a lot of back-to-backs, you’re going to need depth throughout the lineup. It’s going to be a challenge, obviously, for our group, but I think it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
In a normal camp, prospects would be given a long look to make the team. With just a 10-day camp this year, however, it will be more difficult for them to impress the coaches and earn a roster spot. But even if prospects like forwards Morgan Frost, Linus Sandin, Carsen Twarynski, Tanner Laczynski, Connor Bunnaman, Wade Allison, and defenseman Mark Friedman don’t make the team, there could be spots on the taxi squad. Those players will travel with the team.
“Throughout this year, we’re going to need that organizational depth,” said Vigneault, aware that injuries and possible coronavirus infections could alter the roster at any time. “A lot of guys might not initially be in the lineup, but at some point we ‘re going to need them. When you get the opportunity, it’s your job to make it very hard for me and my coaches to take you out of the lineup, so I expect some good internal competition at all positions.”
Because of the packed schedule, Vigneault also expects goalies Carter Hart and Brian Elliott to both get lots of action.
The conditioning coaches have been in contact with all the players in the offseason, making sure they were doing drills and in a good shape, Vigneault said.
“I’m very confident once we jump on the ice that guys will be in good condition and in good spirits and really looking forward to the challenges ahead of us,” he added.
The Flyers went 41-21-7 last season, finished second in the Metropolitan Division, and won their first playoff series since 2012.
“We’ve taken a step forward in the last year,” said Vigneault, a coach-of-the-year finalist in 2019-20 who is starting his second season with the Flyers, “and our intentions are to take another step forward this year.”
As for Lindblom and Patrick, Vigneault was optimistic that they would contribute.
Lindblom played only 30 regular-season games last season after being diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, and Patrick missed the entire season because of a migraine disorder.
“Oskar is fine. He’s been skating and staying in Philly for quite some time, and he’s good to go,” Vigneault said. “As far as Nolan, all I hear are positive things.”
Vigneault said Patrick has been skating in the area and feeling well, and he was hopeful Patrick would be cleared to participate in training camp after undergoing a physical on Jan. 3.
If healthy, Patrick, 22, would be the third-line center and would give the Flyers’ lineup much more balance.
“There’s a tremendous amount of potential there,” Vigneault said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Vigneault said there were “different possibilities” on who would replace the retired Matt Niskanen on the top defensive pairing with Ivan Provorov. Phil Myers appears to be the top candidate, but Vigneault said there are “other possibilities.” He added that having seven or eight skating days in camp with scrimmages “will give different opportunities to different guys to play with Provy and see the fit we may get there. I think there’s going to be a lot of moving parts, depending on how certain guys play and how they arrive in camp. We may have some very positive surprises.”
Added Vigneault, who is high on puck-moving Erik Gustafsson, the free-agent defenseman the Flyers signed in the offseason: “One of the things I love about our group is obviously our leadership. It’s strong, and we have a lot of young players who are on the upswing. We ended in September and I’m looking forward to how the guys come back – their physical state, their mental state, and their opportunity state. Do they want to jump on this and show they can be a big part of this team?”