While top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis returned to practice Thursday, Rasmus Ristolainen, who has played on the second pairing with Travis Sanheim throughout the preseason, remained absent. Out since Saturday, Ristolainen was confirmed by head coach Alain Vigneault as not playing in Friday’s season opener.
The Flyers also announced Ristolainen is “day-to-day with an upper-body injury.” Defenseman Nick Seeler was recalled from Lehigh Valley to replace him in the meantime.
The bottom two pairs were shuffled to accommodate Ristolainen’s absence. Justin Braun moved up to play with Sanheim and Keith Yandle paired with Seeler.
Yandle and Seeler alternated who was on the left and who was on the right during practice. Vigneault said he planned to talk to his coaches later Thursday to determine who would be where for Friday’s game.
Goalie Carter Hart, who will now have Seeler in front of him instead of Ristolainen, said he liked what he saw of Seeler this preseason.
“He competes hard, he plays hard in his own end and makes the simple play,” Hart said. “He battles. In the preseason games, he was a warrior. Made some huge hits. Made some good plays in the D zone. He’s definitely a competitor.”
Ristolainen was seen skating before practice with injured Zayde Wisdom (shoulder) and Cooper Zech (upper body).
Vigneault was adamant that all the players who made it to the end of training camp would contribute at the NHL level at some point. For three of them, that point has already arrived, ahead of the Flyers’ first game.
In addition to Seeler, the Flyers announced Thursday that they have recalled forwards Jackson Cates and Max Willman.
The transactions happened after they claimed forward Patrick Brown off waivers from the Las Vegas Golden Knights on Monday and forward Zack MacEwen from the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
Brown arrived Wednesday, but he is now on the COVID-19 protocol list. MacEwen, who is Canadian and has been based in Canada, is waiting for approval for his U.S. visa application. The NHL has granted MacEwen non-roster status pending approval, but Vigneault said it could take a few days before he is granted the visa.
While they wait for their two newest players to become available, the coaches worked with three players they had previously cut.
They slotted Willman at left wing on the fourth line with Nate Thompson at center and Nicolas Aubé-Kubelon the right. Willman, unlike Cates and Seeler, did not make it to the final round of cuts. Garrett Wilson had been practicing with the fourth line before the Flyers cut him and picked up Brown.
For most of training camp, the Flyers coaches watched Willman play on the right. However, he typically plays on the left, so he will return to his natural position. Despite the earlier cut, Vigneault said he liked what he saw of the 26-year-old.
“We love his speed and love his energy,” Vigneault said.
Willman started his professional career with the Reading Royals before being called up to play with the Phantoms last season. Thursday marks his first NHL call-up. Vigneault said he will make his NHL debut Friday against the Canucks.