The Flyers are set to start training camp Friday morning in Voorhees, and expectations are much higher than at this time last season.
Some of the optimism is because the Flyers, who lost to the Penguins in the opening round of last season’s playoffs, have a good mix of blossoming young players and proven veterans.
Some of it is because the Flyers had the league’s fifth-most points from Dec. 4 to the end of the regular season in 2017-18.
And some of it is because they signed high-scoring left winger James van Riemsdyk, who is back for his second stint with the Flyers.
“Since he left here, I think he’s a smarter player,” captain Claude Giroux said. “He’s always in good position, and he takes care of the puck. He does a lot of good things and finds a way to get those greasy goals in front of the net.”
Van Riemsdyk is coming off a 36-goal season in Toronto and will probably be on the second line, which is expected to include emerging center Nolan Patrick and Jake Voracek. The potentially dynamic top line figures to have Sean Couturier centering Giroux and Travis Konecny.
Last season, those six players combined for 158 goals – or 16 more than Washington’s projected top six. The Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals, of course, are the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Van Riemsdyk said he is looking forward to developing chemistry with Patrick, his likely linemate.
“I remember playing against him three games last year, and especially the one late in the season, and he looked way more comfortable out there and was playing way more minutes – and he looked good in that playoff series, too,” he said. “I’m excited to get a chance to play with him.”
The Flyers will answer several questions during camp, including:
- Who will win the competition for the third- and fourth-line center spots?
Scott Laughton, Jordan Weal, Mikhail Vorobyev, Morgan Frost, Jori Lehtera, and Mike Vecchione are among the players in the mix.
- How will the players coming off injuries or surgeries progress?
That group includes goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, defenseman Ivan Provorov, right winger Wayne Simmonds, and Couturier.
- Who will win the battles for the sixth and seventh defensive spots?
Candidates include Christian Folin, Phil Myers, Reece Willcox, and T.J. Brennan of Moorestown.
- Will mega-prospects Carter Hart and Frost beat the long odds and win roster spots?
Hart, 20, is viewed as the Flyers’ goalie of the future and, in all likelihood, will begin the season with the AHL’s Phantoms. Frost, 19, a speedy center who had three points in Wednesday’s 6-3, rookie-game win over the Islanders, will return to juniors for another year if he doesn’t make the big-league team.
Starting Sunday afternoon against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, the Flyers will play eight exhibition games before opening the season Oct. 4 in Las Vegas against the defending Western Conference champions.
“We have to have a good training camp as a team and start off the season well,” said Provorov, whose team had an early 10-game losing streak a year ago.
Most of the veterans came into camp early and have been skating in Voorhees. They seem to have a stronger belief that they will take another step forward this season. The addition of van Riemsdyk, no doubt, has bolstered their optimism.
“JVR’s a great player; he’s going to help us score goals — I think everybody knows that,” Voracek said.
But Voracek and his teammates know adding a gifted player doesn’t guarantee a climb in the standings.
“Everybody in the room has better expectations for our team, but we’re not the only team that got better this summer,” Giroux said. “Obviously, it’s good to give ourselves some expectations, but it’s one thing to say it and another to do it.”