ALLENTOWN, Pa. — In his first year as a professional, center Mike Vecchione seems in his element as he works his way toward a spot with the Flyers.
"I'm just trying to do the little things and be consistent," Vecchione said the other night after keying another AHL win for the 7-2-1 Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The Massachusetts native has two goals, eight assists, and a plus-10 rating in 10 games, making a smooth transition from Union College to the AHL. He was named the league's rookie of the month for October.
"I think it started over the summer," Vecchione, who played two late-season games with the Flyers in April after signing as a free agent, said of working out in Boston with some pro players. "I got a taste of the NHL and how fast that was, and it kind of set the standard for me going into camp. And all summer, I was training with AHL guys and a couple NHL guys, so I kind of got to catch up with their speed and watch how they train, train with them, skate with them."
During Flyers training camp this year, the 5-foot-10, 194-pound Vecchione was used at wing and played well in limited action. With the Phantoms, he was moved back to his natural position, center.
"When I went to camp, I felt comfortable, and being down here with these guys, they've helped me a huge amount," said Vecchione, who had 29 goals and 63 points in 38 games for Union last season and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, given to the nation's best collegiate player. "All the vets have taken me under their wing and have been patient with me. It's just been an easy transition, and it started back in April."
Vecchione, 24, one of Shayne Gostisbehere's teammates on the Union team that won the national title in 2014, says he's "trying to be a sponge and learn as much as I can. But like I said, the guys have been great with me, keeping me focused on how to be a pro and the system part — and just giving me the confidence, and I think it's gone a long way so far."
"Mike's been getting better every single game," Phantoms coach Scott Gordon said. "When he first came down, he hadn't played for a while in training camp in Philly, and you could tell he was off."
With playing time, he has gotten into a rhythm. And if Flyers rookie center Nolan Patrick is sidelined much longer with a head injury, the Flyers might be tempted to recall Vecchione.
"His comfort level on the power play has been getting better," Gordon said. "He's basically playing like a defenseman even though he's on the half wall. He's the guy we designate as the defenseman. So he's found a comfort level with that."
Vecchione has been centering wingers Danick Martel (10 goals, 13 points) and Nic Aube-Kubel (three goals, six points) on Lehigh Valley's most effective line.
"We talk about our speed and how we can use it," said Vecchione, whose line has combined for 15 goals and 29 points in 10 games.
"The one thing that's been great — and usually it doesn't happen with first-year players — is his effectiveness in winning faceoffs," Gordon said of Vecchione. "With first-year players, there's always some concerns. You don't want to give the opposition an easy game by losing faceoffs in your defensive zone, and I haven't thought twice about putting him out there in the defensive zone. And not just from a defensive ability, but just his ability to win faceoffs so we're starting with the puck. When you look at the success that Kubel and Danick have had, a part of it is the essential fact that they start with the puck a lot because he wins faceoffs."