Vinny Lecavalier was back at his natural position, center, as the Flyers opened training camp before a huge crowd in Voorhees on Friday. R.J. Umberger and Sam Gagner were his wingers.
Call it the Redemption Line.
Lecavalier is coming off a disappointing eight-goal season, and he wasn't happy with the way he was used by former coach Craig Berube. Umberger is trying to rebound from an injury-plagued, nine-goal year, and Gagner, acquired from Arizona in the Nick Grossmann trade, is hoping to be more productive and show he was worthy of being drafted No. 6 overall by Edmonton in 2007.
"To me, I think it has a recipe for great success," Umberger said of the unit. "It's three guys that ultimately have something to prove here. Three guys who are hungry and motivated, and now it's up to us in practice and games to come together, work hard and develop some chemistry. That'll be the true test, but I like it so far."
Lecavalier played much of last year as a fourth-line right winger. The lines could change umpteen times before the Oct. 8 season opener, but at the moment, it appears Lecavalier will be given a chance to be the third-line center.
A former NHL goal-scoring champion, Lecavalier said he was hopeful of having "a little bigger role than last year. It was a tough year."
Lecavalier, 35, who came to camp in great shape, likes the opportunity he is being given alongside "two really good players. Obviously we have to get used to playing together, but I feel good in the middle. I think each day we'll get better."
"The first day, you're just trying to feel things out. Especially for me. I've been waiting all summer for this day," said Gagner, 26, who had 15 goals for Arizona last season, but has never reached the level projected for him when he was drafted. "I thought we did all right out there and we can build on it."
Umberger, 33, struggled with injuries last season and had surgery on his right hip and abdominal muscles on March 18. His quickness has returned.
"I thoroughly enjoyed myself today," he said. "It's been a while since I felt like that and was able to move up and down the ice like that - and not have in the back of your mind how you feel. Just actually enjoy playing and concentrate on the practice."
New coach Dave Hakstol put the lines together "the way we thought we would have a chance for success."
For Hakstol's initial practice, the intensity was ratcheted.
"There was a clear message here - competing," Umberger said. "I think you add the fact that, for everybody here, it's their first impression in front of the new coach. No matter what kind of drill it is - up and down the ice, a short battle, or whatever it is - I think it just adds another level [of intensity]. Guys are trying to impress and make a good first impression. So that's going to raise the level of everybody out there."
"It was a good tempo and it didn't dip," said Lecavalier, adding that Hakstol's attack stresses more movement "from one corner to the next" in the offensive zone.