(Photo: Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)
By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
Development camp is a time for prospects to get a taste of the NHL lifestyle while focusing on skill work. It is an opportunity for them to learn from mentors with a wealth of experience and to get advice on what steps need to be taken to reach the next level.
There was an interesting mix at Flyers development camp, which took place from Sunday, Aug. 29 and concluded on Wednesday. The series of on-ice sessions usually takes place in late June or early July, typically right after the NHL Draft, and features some 40 or more prospects and invitees. Instead, this year, it happened just weeks before the start of training camp and only 29 players were in attendance. A few were held off-ice for recovery purposes from offseason procedures.
Among the 29 players was a healthy mix of newcomers and development camp veterans that are nearing the goal of playing in the NHL. The newcomers were headlined by members of this year’s draft class, including second-round pick Samu Tuomaala. The veterans included names that should be prominent throughout camp, like Wade Allison, Morgan Frost, Tanner Laczynski, Cam York and Egor Zamula.
While this camp is really not the place to do full evaluations of players and where they stand in their journey to the NHL, it is a chance to see their skills up close. Mike O’Connell, hired this offseason as a Senior Advisor to the GM and Player Development, spoke on Tuesday in detail about a number of prospects, many of which impressed him.
A good place to start is with the team’s top two defensive prospects. The additions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle transformed the Flyers blue line and created more of a challenge for York and Zamula to make the team out of camp. York stated that he still feels like he can battle for a spot and is going into camp with that mindset.
O’Connell profiled how York and Zamula have their differences, but both have the potential to be quality defensemen at the NHL level.
“They're both high IQ players. They both see the ice very well,” O’Connell said on Tuesday. “Different skill sets, of course. Egor is a much bigger player, stature-wise. Very smooth with the puck. Probably not as dynamic as Cam is. Both very smooth. Cam is a little bit more dynamic. Quicker hands, probably more of a compact player of course, but both are extremely smart. One has length. One doesn't have the length, but I think that Zamula’s length is going to really help him defending. Cam’s foot speed and agility is getting in and out of tight situations and being able to make the quick plays are going to be very effective. Both are going to, I think, have great capabilities that have been extremely effective, not only in the NHL, but on a winning team.”
Now to the forwards, and two in particular are going to certainly challenge for roster spots. Wade Allison started to generate buzz with regular playing time late last season. During development camp, his shot was on full display and his confidence was high. Those qualities really stood out to O’Connell.
“First off, he's a terrific, enthusiastic kid,” O’Connell said. “Very personable. Loves the game. Right off the bat, watching his first couple of workouts, it was really his shot that impressed me. Boy, he's got an incredible release. NHL shot. Those are my first impressions after watching him a few times. Just in some of the drills, he's got some things that I think we can really help him with.
“Experience will really help him, but he's a hockey player. Looks the part. He looks in great shape. We just have to make sure we put him in those right situations. Give him the necessary confidence that the young players need. They come up and they come down. We got to make sure we fill in those times when his confidence might lack, or he might get too confident. I think he's got a really good chance to be an outstanding NHL player. Get him to use that shot. Get him in the open spots. Get him to understand where his spot is on the ice, where he's going to score the most. Looks like a scorer to me. I'm excited about his future.”
Another forward to watch in camp will be Morgan Frost. Until the recent signing of Derick Brassard, it was a wonder exactly who would be getting the third-line center role this upcoming season. Now, there is much more of a competition with another veteran forward in camp.
That said, Frost has spent the summer working hard to continue rehab from shoulder surgery and build up his strength ahead of camp. O’Connell said the goal for the Flyers now is to put him in situations where he can succeed.
“Very, very quick. Sees the ice extremely well,” O’Connell said. “He looks like he's going to be a point producer to me. I like what I see. He's a young player. He has all the tools. We just have to do what we can to get him in those situations where he can show them off and help the team.”
O’Connell admitted that development camp featured shorter on-ice times in an effort to not overdo things so close to training camp. That’s the next step for these young players, as the Flyers get to work and construct the final roster that will take the ice come October.