Friday’s preseason game in Boston marked the halfway point of exhibition games. After getting routed by the Devils to open the preseason, the Flyers bounced back with two solid efforts, losing by a goal to the Islanders and winning in a shootout against the Bruins.
But the preseason is not about the final results. It’s about progression to opening night and how that will impact roster decisions. Through three games, and before the team takes the ice for their first home preseason game, here are five observations.
The defensive competition is certainly a fascinating one for the Flyers. The roster is already loaded with veterans – Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Marc Staal, Nick Seeler, and Sean Walker. That seems like it leaves little room for young prospects to take the leap to the NHL.
However, the preseason has been about getting a closer look at many of the younger defensemen. Cam York figures to be a part of the regular lineup. Egor Zamula is no longer waiver-exempt, so any roster decision for him will have to be a careful one. The team is also taking a close look at Emil Andrae, Adam Ginning, and Ronnie Attard.
This is a battle that will likely extend into the regular season. As things continue to evolve, there’s reason to believe that York and Zamula could have significant roles this season with the Flyers. There’s also reason to believe that all three of Andrae, Attard, and Ginning will get NHL time at some point, if not from the start of the season.
For now, Carter Hart is the number one goalie. And he’s being treated as such, having not played a minute of preseason play. That will change during the home schedule, but there’s no questions at this moment as to what his role is.
The backup role, on the other hand, is wide open. Cal Petersen’s first attempt to impress in this spot started with a thud. The Devils scored four goals on Petersen in the first six minutes of the preseason. Felix Sandstrom and Sam Ersson looked solid in their time in goal, and appeared to be the front runners of the competition.
However, Petersen bounced back with a strong finish in Boston on Friday. The three-man race for the backup job is still very much alive and will likely take the rest of the preseason to figure out.
Through two games of the preseason, no young forward had really stepped up and delivered the standout performance that turns heads and makes you think about their spot on the team. On Friday, Bobby Brink changed that.
Brink had a strong all-around game, scoring a goal, adding an assist on the power play, scoring in the shootout. But beyond that, he was noticeable throughout, away from the puck, in battles. He was doing everything that helps you make the team.
He’s still got competition. Tyson Foerster had a strong game in Boston as well and will likely be with the Flyers for the rest of the preseason. Elliot Desnoyers remains on the roster as a viable candidate as well. But Brink looked like he was a tier behind those two players on the depth chart. Friday may have changed that.
The Flyers haven’t escaped camp without some injuries. Travis Konecny missed a couple of days with a body injury. Cam Atkinson was scheduled to play in the preseason opener, but was a late scratch. Cam York missed two days of practice.
All three have since returned to some extent. Konecny and Atkinson could very well be in Saturday’s lineup for the preseason home opener. York has been rehab skating, and could be closing in on a return soon.
But the point of bringing up health is not the close call with the injury bug. It’s the players that haven’t had issues that really needed to go through the process and just simply stay on the ice. Sean Couturier is the biggest. He made it through the demanding skates and scrimmages. He played in Monday’s preseason opener and felt no effects. That’s a positive with the season approaching.
Joel Farabee is another player who fits in this category. After having neck surgery, his offseason ahead of the 2022-23 season was not able to be what it usually is. As Farabee scored the opening goal on Friday, you saw signs of the player from prior to the surgery. Perhaps that’s a sign of things to come this season.
Two newcomers to the Flyers roster are Garnet Hathaway and Ryan Poehling. They will most likely play on the fourth line, serving as depth and role players, but you can already see the impact they bring.
Poehling has incredible speed and has used it on several occasions. He also has two goals on the preseason so far. As a player looking for a bounce-back year, he’s already off to a great start.
It’s impossible to not notice Hathaway on the ice either. He’s a wrecking ball looking for contact, playing with an edge, and still having the foundation to his game that doesn’t make him a liability with the puck.
These two players are certainly playing up to the standards that John Tortorella sets. Their roles are going to be crucial too. If the Flyers are to play younger players throughout the course of the season, parts of the fourth line will become interchangeable to allow for new players to slot in. Having them on the roster and in the room to be examples for how to play can be an immense help to the young talent coming soon.