Bryan Berard, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 NHL draft, gallantly battled back from a 2000 injury that nearly blinded his right eye. On Sept. 20, he will be among the defensemen competing for a job when the Flyers open training camp, general manager Paul Holmgren said yesterday.
"He's been a good player in the league for years, and the fact that he's willing to come here on a tryout is good for us," Holmgren said. "It gives us another experienced guy."
An offensive-minded defenseman known for his work on the power play, Berard, now 31, missed a full season because he was inadvertently hit in the right eye by the stick of Ottawa's Marian Hossa in 2000. Berard was with Toronto that season.
About 11/2 years and seven eye operations later, he returned a $6.5 million insurance settlement and returned to the NHL.
"Training camps are nothing new for me," said Berard, who has played for six NHL teams. "I like to come in and compete at a high level. I want to show them that I can play and, hopefully, make the team and be able to contribute and help out in any way I can."
Between the end of the 2003-04 season and the start of last season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Berard had back surgery twice and played in just 55 games. Last season, he earned a spot with the Islanders in training camp and finished the season with five goals and 17 assists, while averaging 17 minutes, 38 seconds of ice time in 54 games.
Flyers coach John Stevens compared Berard's situation to former Flyer Jim Dowd.
"Jimmy was an older guy who came in last year and made our team," Stevens said. "We had a lot of young players, and Jimmy provided a veteran presence. We're going to give [Berard] an opportunity and see how he does."
Like Berard, Stevens suffered a serious eye injury when he played.
"I had it happen when I was 32 [in the AHL]. He was a young player when he was injured and very determined to get back," Stevens said.
Holmgren said Berard's eye injury "has hindered him a little. He's lost some of the sight in the eye, but the fact he's playing tells you something about the character of the individual."
Berard was the 1997 Calder Trophy winner as the NHL's rookie of the year. Seven years later, he won the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy for dedication to hockey.
In 2005, he became the first NHL player to test positive for steroids. He later said it was unintentional and displayed remorse.
Including minor-leaguers and invitees, the Flyers have 21 defensemen who are slated to be in camp in Voorhees next month. Seven or eight figure to earn a spot with the Flyers.