Where does Walker fit on defense?

TORONTO -- Three surgeries. Multiple trips back and forth to Glens Falls, N.Y., and 11 games played with the Phantoms. Nearly an entire season spent at the rink rehabbing injuries long before his teammates were out of bed in the morning.

That wasn’t exactly Matt Walker’s ideal introduction to the Flyers last season, his first after being acquired in the July, 2010 trade for Simon Gagne.

“It was mind-boggling,” Walker said on Monday. “It was tough. Especially coming to a new team, where you want to establish yourself. It was tough to establish friendships. You couldn’t get to know anyone except for the trainers on an individual level. It was really hard mentally.”

Walker played just 4 games with the Flyers last season, all of which came between surgeries on the labrum on each side of his hips. This fall, he has new life - and a clean slate, according to coach Peter Laviolette.

“When you are injured, it’s a burden that you carry to the rink every day,” Laviolette said. “It’s hard trying to play through it and to perform at the highest level when you aren’t feeling 100 percent internally.

“You could tell on the ice, he has been smiling, he was enjoying practice. Like I’ve talked from the start, there’s opportunity and those opportunities start shortly.”

Walker will get his first healthy crack at making the Flyers tonight in Toronto, as they take on the Maple Leafs in their first preseason game of the season at Air Canada Centre (7:00, The Comcast Network).

“I’m excited,” Walker said. “I can actually put my skates on and take them off now. I’m a hockey player again. Last year was the goofiest year for me by far. I hope it’s long gone and behind me.”

Walker, 31, admits that he isn’t very good at math. He said he has stopped trying to figure out exactly where he fits on the Flyers’ depth chart - or how he fits into the Flyers’ salary cap picture.

Unfortunately for Walker, his salary - and not the roster numbers - may be what keep him from making the team out of training camp. He is set to make $1.9 million this season and carry a cap hit of $1.7 million. He signed a 4-year, $6.8 million deal with Tampa Bay in 2009.

Still, he finds himself smack dab in a battle with Andreas Lilja ($775K) and Oskars Bartulis ($600K) for the sixth and seventh defensive spots on the roster.

For all of the change that impacted the Flyers’ roster this summer, the defense was the one thing that remained largely in-tact. The only player not returning from last season is Sean O’Donnell, 39, who signed in Chicago, and Lilja was signed from Anaheim to take his spot.

Interestingly, Lilja and Ilya Bryzgalov have the same agent in Ritch Winter. Draw your own comparisons.

Though he is much more expensive, Walker is 5 years younger than Lilja and has more than 250 games more experience than Bartulis. And Lilja has had his own injury issues.

“It’s been the same for me every year,” Walker said. “I remember when I was a young guy trying to crack the lineup, or before that trying to get a few exhibition games ... It's always the same thing, you show up to camp and there are 3 guys you didn't know were coming and it seems like there is an overload of guys.

“But guys come up, guys go down, guys get hurt. It's a gauntlet. I don't put myself in any position anymore. I just worry about being healthy and I will let the pieces fall into place.

“If not, you go crazy looking at the lineup everyday trying to find a spot for yourself. Somedays, it looks like there's no chance, other days it looks like there are lots of chances. You go crazy if you think about it too much.”

Aside from his smile, Walker just physically looks healthier. He is slimmer thanks to a strict training regimen in Vancouver and he says he has gotten a little more agile, too.

With a strong camp, Walker could make the Flyers make a few tough decisions at other positions on the roster to make the economics work. That’s his goal.

“You never know how your body is going to react,” Walker said. “I had a good summer and I did a lot of good things. I can go and compete every day now and that’s something I couldn’t do last year. That’s a good feeling.”

TONIGHT'S LINEUPS: The Maple Leafs beat Ottawa, 4-2, to open their preseason slate on Monday night. Neither Phil Kessel nor Luke Schenn dressed in that game - and they will face their brothers tonight.

Goaltenders: James Reimer, Mark Owuya
Defense: Jeff Finger, Luke Schenn, Simon Gysbers, Jesse Blacker, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek
Forwards: Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Phil Kessel
Marcel Mueller - Joe Colborne - Clarke MacArthur
Luca Caputi - Darryl Boyce - Nazem Kadri
Greg Scott - Mike Zigomanis - Colton Orr
Extras: Dion Phaneuf, Jay Rosehill

Goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton
Defense: Oskars Bartulis, Matt Carle, Erik Gustafsson, Blake Kessel, Oliver Lauridsen, Andreas Lilja, Matt Walker
Forwards: Sean Couturier, Ben Holmstrom, Adam Mair, Michael Nylander, Matt Read, James van Riemsdyk, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Tom Sestito, Wayne Simmonds, Mike Testwuide, Eric Wellwood, Harry Zolnierczyk.
Extras: Flyers must scratch one forward and one defenseman on list to get down to 20 players.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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