It didn’t take long for Jamie Drysdale to get acclimated with his new teammates following the earth-shattering trade just two days prior to his Philadelphia Flyers debut. Following his impressive debut, which included an assist, he received plenty of praise from fans, teammates, and his new coach John Tortorella.
“He was up the ice. I want him to go more,” Tortorella said. “He’s a candidate to be like a rover. Not a defenseman, a rover. He’s just on top of the ice the way he skates. There were a couple of times where he was up the ice and we didn’t get him the puck. He was aggressive. I think he’s more than willing to do that.”
The term “rover” immediately stood out, something Tortorella had said before. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, we need to rewind to Tortorella’s time as head coach in Columbus.
Tortorella’s usage of the phrase described two of the Blue Jackets’ young defensemen: Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Werenski explained the reasoning behind his coach’s praise towards him when Tortorella said he doesn’t consider him a defenseman anymore.
“He considers me a ‘rover,'” Werenski said in 2017 to the Athletic. “I have to take it with a grain of salt because, first and foremost, my job is to keep the puck out of the net, but I think it gives me the full green light to play offensively and go take chances, to be aggressive and stay up in the play.”
Tortorella had his own take on how he views a rover.
“It’s staying involved even more on the offense,” Tortorella said. “It’s having enough guts when we’re rotating a puck offensively in the corner to go sneak down to the other corner so we can make an East-West play and spread the offensive zone.
“It’s not just waiting it out at the blue line and waiting for something to come to you. It’s jumping down to the middle, maybe jumping for a hole, lingering a little bit even when the puck is up for grabs.”
Werenski and Jones had fantastic years in 2016-17 and 2017-18, becoming effective at jumping up in the play. Werenski dominated as a rookie in 2016-17 with 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points. He also was a plus-17 in 78 games while averaging 20:54 per game. Despite scoring 10 fewer points in 2017-18, Werenski’s average ice time increased nearly two minutes and he was still plus-8.
Jones had just arrived a year prior and was flourishing in Columbus. He scored 12 goals and 42 points in 75 games in 2015-16, while averaging 23:24 and a plus-6 rating. He followed it up with 16 goals, 57 points, and a plus-10 rating in 78 games in 2016-17.
These two defensemen were providing excellent offensive ability in their new roles as rovers. The other aspect of their success was in large part to the Blue Jackets assistant coach at the time. Ironically, the same associate coach who helped these defensemen in Columbus is now alongside Tortorella in Philadelphia: Brad Shaw.
“Every time you make a team switch off in their ‘D’ zone coverage, there’s a gray area,” Shaw said. “The more gray areas we can make happen down there, it can lead to hesitation and I think when we’re skating in the offensive zone, we’re really hard to handle. A big part of that motion is our defensemen getting off the blue line or across the blue line in a hurry to keep trying to make coverages make adjustments.”
The sample size is extremely small for Drysdale, who has appeared in just two games for the Orange and Black. He missed the final two games of the Flyers most recent road trip due to an illness. Regardless, it is exciting times for the Flyers and their fans, especially considering Tortorella’s praise for the 21-year-old. Of course, there are risks to playing this aggressive style, including odd-man rushes against, but Tortorella thinks it’s worth it. The former Jackets coach once told GM Jarmo Kekalainen they would have to live with mistakes that come with playing that style of hockey.
The future is bright for Drysdale and the Flyers, who hope Tortorella and Shaw’s experience will bring out the full potential for their new star in the making.