Flyers experimenting as position battles come into focus heading into second full week of preseason
The Flyers continue trying out different players and combinations as the Oct. 15 opener nears.
When the Flyers returned to Voorhees from Boston on Friday, two weeks into training camp and two weeks away from the season opener, they broke into groups that were much more revealing about the state of the roster.
The Flyers started training camp with three groups, two of which included definite NHLers. Now, with two preseason games down, the top group has started to emerge while the other two contain players unlikely to see time with the Flyers once the regular season starts.
Among the top group, only a few players have unclear statuses. Coach Alain Vigneault said the exhibition games have been confirming his impressions from practice, but there are a number of players he wants to continue watching. Those players have been shifted between the top two groups so that they get the chance to practice with the roster locks.
Forward Tyson Foerster, whom Vigneault got an extra look at Thursday night when he played his second exhibition in a row, went out with the second group. Defenseman Nick Seeler, who also played in both games, stayed up with the top group.
Cam York, a defenseman who impressed Vigneault in rookie camp, had an up-and-down night in his first exhibition game Thursday against the Bruins, but he got the chance to continue competing at practice Friday morning. Veteran Adam Clendening, who is also in competition for that spot, practiced with the second group.
Morgan Frost has been competing for the center vacancy on the second or third line to help fill the opening Kevin Hayes’ injury created. He played his first game Thursday night and faced off against some of the Bruins’ best players. He didn’t stand out, Vigneault said, but he continued to practice with the top group.
“It was his first NHL game in quite a while,” Vigneault said. “So I thought five-on-five, he was all right. You have to be patient and I think he’s working extremely hard and he’s going to continue, obviously, with Kevin being out, he’s going to get a look here in these next exhibition games. We expect to see some progression.”
Forward Elliot Desnoyers has also been recovering from injuries, but he’s shown enough to earn a second look at practice. He hasn’t played in either exhibition game, but he moved up to practice with the first group Friday.
“Every time he steps on the ice, he gets noticed,” Vigneault said. “Extremely hard worker. Very enthusiastic. Everything he does, he does hard. So we wanted to put him with all the veteran players and we’ll see here our discussion with management, what happens here moving forward.”
At this point, Travis Konecny’s underwhelming 2020-2021 season is irrelevant, at least to Vigneault. As he and his staff prepare the team for the regular season, Vigneault is more focused on what Konecny looks like now.
And Konecny looks good. After a long offseason to rest and focus on himself, Konecny came back as one of the most in-shape players on the team.
“I do think, right now, we’ve got a young player, still a young player, but in a very important part of our team that came here in incredible shape this year,” Vigneault said.
As a result, Konecny has been a lock on the first line with center Sean Couturier and left wing Claude Giroux. It’s a position any player would want to be in, Konecny said. The challenge is making sure he plays an active role and doesn’t just sit back and let them do their thing.
“I try to be a part of it instead of just being along for the ride,” Konecny said.
Konecny played against the Islanders in the first exhibition game. He logged 14 minutes of ice time with one takeaway, one blocked shot, and one minor penalty. It was his first time skating for the Flyers in a game situation since May 10.
“We expect him to be a true force for us this year,” Vigneault said.
Connor Bunnaman has gotten used to bouncing between the NHL and AHL. While he’s not complaining, because “I’m playing hockey,” Bunnaman’s goal is always to make the NHL roster and stick there. With the long list of Flyers injuries, if he has a good camp, he has a chance to be the 13th forward.
“Hopefully they get back soon, but there’s some holes and hopefully I can fill that spot,” Bunnaman said.
Bunnaman can play both wings as well as center, and he hopes that versatility will help him crack the NHL. First, he needs to play better than he has over this camp. So far, he’s played only “all right,” he said. He’s looking to get back to where he was before the COVID-19 shutdown when he was playing confident and consistent.
“A guy like me, I can’t be good one night, next night kind of good, next night pretty good again,” Bunnaman said. “I’ve got to be good every game, every shift, and that’s how I’m going to stick in the lineup.”
Defenseman Linus Hogberg returned to the ice after suffering an oblique injury Sept. 25. ... The Flyers will play their third preseason game when they face the Washington Capitals at home on Saturday at 7 p.m. ... Defenseman Egor Zamula is feeling better, according to Vigneault, but he is still expected to be out for three to four weeks. Vigneault said he was told the injury is “not in the hip, but it’s more in the groin.” ... Vigneault said he and his staff still had to sit down and iron out the rosters for the coming games. However, they have already decided Martin Jones will play the full game against the Capitals, and Carter Hart will play the following game, against Boston.