(Photo: Kate Frese)
The official start of training camp is here and that means competition for roster spots, the start of a new era under a new head coach and many familiar faces returning to the ice.
Training camp is where a lot of the skills and improvements are shown on the ice in preparation for the start of the season. It’s where chemistry gets fully developed, where systems get instilled and where gameplans are put together ahead of the games that count.
This camp is an especially important one for the Flyers. It seemed that everything that could go wrong last season did, so the team is looking to put that into the rear view mirror, make a return to the playoffs and go for their first playoff series win since 2012.
As training camp begins bright and early on Friday and continues into the weekend with three on-ice sessions each day, here are five things to watch during training camp.
- Prospects in 3rd Line Race - All eyes will continue to be on the likes of Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee and Isaac Ratcliffe as they battle for a roster spot. You can also throw in names like German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyev. They are all seemingly battling for a third-line spot, and after impressive Rookie Camp showings, they are expected to hang around at main training camp until the very end. Rookie Camp is a great place to see how well they play among players in their same age group, but now they get to regularly go up against NHL veterans, a true test of where they stand in camp.
- Phil Myers - Much like the prospect forwards, Rookie Camp was really not a test for Phil Myers, who figures to have the best chance of any prospect to make the team. Whether Myers falls in as a third-pairing defenseman or becomes the seventh defenseman remains to be seen, but he has continued to show great growth in becoming a stable defenseman on the back end. If there is any defenseman that will get the same focus that the other prospects are getting, it will be Myers.
- Vigneault’s System/Special Teams Structure - It’s the start of Alain Vigneault’s first camp with the Flyers, so this is the time for him to build up the team the way he sees fit. The most important part of this will be setting the tone for camp and bringing his system into play. What do we know about Vigneault’s system? It demands pace and driving play, getting the puck in deep, getting it on net and remaining responsible in a 200-foot role. The pace in drills and during the preseason will be a good marker for if this team is adjusting to the new system and style of play. This will also allow us to get a first look at how Vigneault and the new coaching staff runs special teams, what the units look like and the approach they take. It’s all part of a roughly three-week run to the start of the regular season.
- Carter Hart - The second-year goalie returns with fans hoping he has the net from Day 1 this time. He’s still going to have to earn that role, even if it seems to be his to lose. What makes Hart worth watching in this camp is how he handles the start of his second year. If it’s anything like the first, there is nothing to worry about, but sophomore seasons can bring about some struggles and at some point this season, he’ll experience them. Could that happen during camp? Hart is a competitor and usually positionally and technically sound, so expect the same poise seen a year ago at this time, but all eyes will be on Hart from the beginning this year.
- New Additions - Obviously there will be an adjustment for the veterans learning a new system under Vigneault. There are also several new additions that will make their first official appearances in Orange and Black and be placed throughout the lineup in what Vigneault believes to be the right fit. On the blue line, it presents the first look at Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. Offensively, there's a first look at Kevin Hayes. In addition to returning veterans like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, these new additions are supposed to be the missing pieces that help the Flyers cut down on goals against and take a step forward. First impressions mean a lot in Philadelphia, and this is theirs.
- Travis Konecny’s Contract - I think it’s safe to say we all thought this saga would be over by now, but camp is beginning and Travis Konecny is still not signed. This could continue for several days and even weeks as the regular season nears or be cleared up by the end of the weekend. Even after the contract is signed, there will still be reason to pay attention. Every day missed is critical. The entire team is learning a new system, new players are involved and Konecny falls a little bit behind with each missed day of team activity. How he performs once he finally takes the ice with his teammates will be something to keep a close eye on.