VOORHEES, N.J. — Standing at his stall at Flyers Skate Zone during last weekend’s development camp, defenseman Phil Myers towered over everyone else, but there was one noticeable difference.
Myers added about 10 pounds of muscle over the summer, and it shows. On the ice, he looked out of place. He belonged with the orange and black on his sweater. No doubt.
It just didn’t look as if he needed to be on the same sheet with his peers anymore. Perhaps it was the benefits of a full summer of training. Injuries derailed his training last summer.
“I had the same surgery as (Shayne) Gostisbehere,” Myers said. “He had one hip, and Sam Morin, all of those guys got the same thing I did.”
There was a sprained knee suffered at the 2016 Memorial Cup. There was a pubic plate detachment and a torn labrum in his left hip. He underwent hip surgery on June 22, 2016. The recovery wiped out Myers’ summer training. On Sept. 26, 2016, he was medically cleared to return. The next night, he dove into the fray against the New York Islanders.
How did it go? Myers finished as a plus-two with three hits and a blocked shot in 22:39.
“I felt out of shape, obviously, last year,” he said. “The day after I got cleared, I jumped into a preseason game. It jumped up pretty quick. … This summer is going to be different.”
The Flyers insist development camp is not for evaluation. That may be true. Its purpose is to teach prospects how to work and live as a professional hockey player. No matter how much Myers looked like a pro amid his peers, it will not impact his odds come September's training camp when spots are earned in a competitive environment.
Myers, 20, is graduating to the professional ranks this season, and where he plays will be up to him. The Flyers have two openings on their blue line, and general manager Ron Hextall is leaving them up for prospects to grab. Robert Hagg and Morin are the front runners.
Don’t count Myers out just yet.
The Moncton, New Brunswick, native was among the Flyers’ final cuts last October. He stuck around longer than many expected and that was without any summer training.
His training this summer has been broken down into phases. The first phase was bulking up and putting on muscle. Mission accomplished. The next phase, according to Myers, is “heavier stuff,” which he said is strength training. His plan is to stay in the Philadelphia area for two weeks after development camp to train and come back 10 days early to skate before the big camp begins in September.
“You get stronger and faster,” Myers said. “I’m going to focus on what I can do and what I can control. That’s what I did last year. I just took as much in as possible and tried to get ready as fast as I could because I didn’t really have a lot of time. This year, I have much more time so I’m taking things much more slowly and more controlled.”
Last season was another in which Myers trended upward, though it was one mired with injuries; he suffered whiplash in October and a concussion against Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships. Myers, the only undrafted player on Team Canada’s roster, was arguably the team’s best defenseman before the concussion. His play at the world juniors led to TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeting Myers “looks NHL ready, or close to it.”
The smooth-skating 6-foot-5 blueliner registered double-digit goals (10) and 35 points in 34 regular-season games with Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL in 2016-17. He ended the regular season on a five-game point streak. He added nine points in 13 playoff games. He finished his QMJHL career with 29 goals and 92 points in 203 games. Like Carter Hart, Myers joined the Phantoms once his season ended but didn’t play.
“The injury struggles that he, unfortunately, went through there, those are all opportunities to learn and grow,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “You can see the growth in Phil off-ice when you look at his stature. You just want to see him come into camp and come in and compete as hard as he did last year and improve on the results from last year.”
Myers may be at a disadvantage come September. Because of last year's injury-ridden season and the fact that he's coming straight from junior, he may be a few legs behind Hagg, Morin and even Travis Sanheim, who was at his fourth development camp last weekend (see story).
While every player’s developmental path is different, Myers has to beat out at least two players with professional experience already and two — Hagg and Morin — who looked the part during their NHL debuts in April. It’s a safe bet that Myers begins at Lehigh Valley.
“If he comes in and he’s the best guy or we feel he’s the best guy,” Hextall said of Myers, “he’s going to play. The other guys, whenever you played in the American League, you have a leg up. You expect those guys to come in and be a little more NHL ready than a kid coming right out of junior, but the players are going to dictate who’s on our team.”