By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
The 2020-21 NHL season is expected to start on Jan. 13 after the league and NHLPA reached an agreement on Friday night, and with the knowledge that the ongoing pandemic will continue to make circumstances unpredictable, the league plans to allow for a maximum of 29 players to travel with the team. Four to six of these players will be considered part of the "taxi squad" and make AHL salary, but be available to the team as part of their travel and practice rosters.
The expanded roster format would mean improved chances for some of the Flyers’ current prospects to earn places on the team, joining an already promising group of established young players in the squad. While most of the Flyers’ more recent draftees are currently playing collegiate hockey – such as US World Junior team members Cam York and Bobby Brink – and therefore not in the mix to compete for a roster spot this upcoming season, prospects that have been waiting for their chance at the big time are gearing up to seize the opportunity.
Carsen Twarynski and Tanner Laczynski, third and sixth round picks respectively in 2016, have been working out and skating at the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees for the past two months. Twarynski, 23, earned a spot in the opening night lineup last season and saw three different stints with the team, showcased a determined mentality when speaking about his desire to earn a roster.
"It’s been a weird year for everyone, and I’m excited to get back to it," Twarynski said in a Philadelphia Inquirer article earlier this week. "It’s a reality for me that this is my contract year and I can’t make any excuses. I have to go out there and I have to make the team and establish myself—and not only have a good year to help the team but to further my own career. I kind of have a lot at stake here."
Twarynski said he feels "a little more comfortable" with the challenges of playing in the NHL and achieving the level of play needed to make the roster and stay there after his brief time with the Flyers last season.
“I have relationships with the guys and knowing things that go on around the rink and certain schedules [helps.] At the same time, it’s hard to make it and even harder to stick," Twarynski said. "Last year was a reality check for me and the fact I made it shows I’m capable of playing there. Now I just have to take it to the next step and give them a reason to keep me in the lineup."
Having collected one goal and a minus-2 rating over 15 games in the NHL, along with scoring seven goals in 31 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Twarynski is a serious, ambitious, and assiduous left winger that could contribute a valuable work ethic and add even more youthful exuberance to the Flyers’ already spritely group of wingers.
Laczynski, who has been a forward at Ohio State University for the past four years, is another dedicated dark horse who is working to make his professional debut. Boasting 143 points and a plus-49 rating in 138 games for the Buckeyes, he decided to arrive in Voorhees early to get as far ahead as possible with his training.
“Obviously, I haven’t played since March. I know it’s going to be tough to make the team," Laczynski said, "and I got here early to show them I want to put in the work to make it."
Laczynski certainly impressed in his time in college, providing leadership and a mature approach to the game. Those experiences will only help him as he gets accustomed to the NHL lifestyle.
"He plays a mature two-way game, he’s a proven leader, and we see him as a versatile forward for the Flyers organization going forward," assistant GM Brent Flahr said.
Another prospect, 21-year-old center Morgan Frost, has something to prove to the Flyers. Frost’s name is not a new one to Flyers fans, having made 20 NHL appearances last season, but has shown that his game is not as polished as Alain Vigneault would like it to be. Frost’s two goals and five assists in the NHL were only scratching the surface of his potential shown in juniors and compared to his 29 points in 41 games with the Phantoms. He would likely spend most of his time in a third-line role should he make the Flyers’ roster this season.
Right winter Wade Allison might be a more unfamiliar name to fans, having been a second-round pick back in 2016. Injuries hindered his progress, only formally signing with the Flyers after his senior year at Western Michigan University. Allison would be another promising addition to the wing.
"He possesses a great package of size, speed and skill, and we strongly believe he’ll be an NHL power forward moving forward," Flahr said.
Fellow right winger Linus Sandin is another underdog prospect, but could end up having a sizable advantage over his peers. A native of Sweden, Sandin has been spending his time getting big minutes for HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League. This will prove to be valuable, as his experience in the SHL is more akin to the pace and challenges of the NHL than that of collegiate hockey. Sandin is known to relentlessly pursue the puck, along with fearlessly cashing in on second or third-chance goals. He has also been gifted with size and strength, along with an admirable competitive streak.
With camp expected to start on Jan. 3 and the season expected to start on Jan. 13, and no exhibition games expected, there won’t be a lot of time for players to fully prepare for the new season or typical opportunities that prospects get to show off their potential within a game.
“I think most guys have been taking care of themselves during this layoff and staying in shape," Twarynski said. "You may not have exhibition games to prepare your legs, so you have to be prepared for that."
“Nothing is similar to games and game pace," Laczynski said. "But at the same time, everyone is just excited to be playing hockey again.”