5 Flyers takeaways: Focusing on the prospects

5 Flyers takeaways: Focusing on the prospects

VOORHEES, N.J. — The group of prospects making up 2019 Flyers development camp is an impressive one.

General manager Chuck Fletcher, who has worked in the NHL since 1993, said it's the most talent he's ever seen in a development camp. Assistant general manager Brent Flahr didn't disagree.

After Day 4 Friday of the five-day camp, let's look at a prospect-centric five takeaways, with a focus on forwards:

1. One-and-done kid

Joel Farabee really stands out and he happens to play the one position in which the Flyers appear to have an opening. 

When projecting the Flyers' 2019-20 lineup at forward, the team's top six looks full. The fourth line very well could be in place with Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton and Tyler Pitlick. However, a third-line winger is clearly needed.

And here's Farabee, a 19-year-old goal-scorer with length, speed and the traits to play anywhere in the lineup along the wing.

"You watch a Joel Farabee, you watch the way he thinks the game, especially the small area hockey games out there — he's a guy that I can imagine you put him with NHL players, he can play," Flahr said. "Whether he's physically ready or mentally ready to handle the grind of an NHL season, I'm not sure. I'm not sure that's realistic."

Farabee is a bit wiry. He said this week he's around 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. The 2018 first-round pick proved he was ready for the pro level after an award-winning freshman season at Boston University.

While Fletcher said it's ideal for prospects to see developmental time in the AHL, he didn't rule out the possibility of a youngster winning a job in camp.

What Fletcher adds or doesn't add during the free agency period starting Monday will mean a lot for Farabee's chances. But if there's a prospect that seems most poised and fit to fill a roster need on opening night, it's Farabee.

2. Remember Rubtsov

When asked if there were any prospects in development camp that could challenge for a job in training camp, Flahr did not hesitate to mention German Rubtsov.

The 2016 first-round pick is strong, advanced and possesses the hockey IQ of an NHLer. He's a center that thinks defense first. When he pushes the puck, he can score, too. The 21-year-old raced out of the chute with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley last season, scoring six goals and 10 points in 14 games before a shoulder injury ended his season.

"Rubtsov's a guy that you watch him in certain drills defensively — our coaches, they like a lot of things that he brings," Flahr said. "Something that maybe people won't watch first glance, but you watch, he's always above the puck. He's always responsible. He's always in position. A lot of those things young players have to learn, he does well."

If Rubtsov can start quickly with the Phantoms again, he'll be on the radar throughout 2019-20.

"Another young guy that needs time and experience," Fletcher said, "but a smart hockey player, physically strong, has good skill and we believe he has a bright future."

3. A shade of Wade

Wade Allison has all the goal-scoring tools, from a craftiness around the net to a powerful shot. He's shown plenty during development camp and the right winger will be a player to watch as a senior at Western Michigan (if he returns to school, which seems likely).

As a sophomore for the Broncos, Allison was rolling with 15 goals and 15 assists in 22 games before tearing his ACL. The 2016 second-round pick is still not quite 100 percent. If/when he returns to full health, there's a ton of promise.

Allison was one of two prospects (Isaac Ratcliffe being the other) to score four goals in the 3-on-3 tournament Friday at Flyers Skate Zone.

4. Following O'Brien

Wherever Jay O'Brien plays in 2019-20 — it could be in the BCHL or at Boston University — he'll be worth watching after the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder endured a rough 2018-19, resulting in his transferring from Providence.

The 2018 first-round pick suffered injuries and had a difficult transition to the Division I level.

O'Brien is a positive kid and ready to take his growing pains in stride. The size, strength and physical aspects of the game are important in his growth because when he has daylight, he can do damage. 

Nate Leaman, a national title-winning head coach, called O'Brien's skill set "elite."

"He's always been a competitor, he likes to play with pace," Flahr said. "A lot of things that he needs to work on are strength related. He's not the biggest body. Stepping in from high school into the college level, it's a challenge. It's not easy. It doesn't matter how good you are. I think he learned that. It's probably the first time in his career that he went through any adversity at any level."

5. Just like his dad

A stick tap for Carson Briere, who showed his game Friday. He scored a nice goal during a drill in the morning and tallied three markers in the 3-on-3 tournament.

Briere isn't the biggest or fastest, but he's skilled with the puck and scored 44 goals in the NAHL last season.

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How Alain Vigneault has gotten the Flyers to look in the mirror and buy in

How Alain Vigneault has gotten the Flyers to look in the mirror and buy in

Chuck Fletcher was brutally honest.

He had no reason not to be.

The general manager had gotten to know the Flyers over the final 57 games of a 2018-19 season that fell glaringly short of expectations.

At his end-of-the-season press conference on April 8, Fletcher lamented the team’s “bad habits” on the ice, pinpointing the Flyers’ overall failure to play the right way.

The message was piercing and telling when glancing at the Flyers’ roster. This was a group built around a veteran core, together since 2011. It was not lacking experience, yet it did not have a postseason series victory since 2012.

The Flyers needed to look in the mirror and have an openness to change.

They needed a coach to spearhead the process, rip off the bandages and begin anew.

They needed Alain Vigneault.

"When you have a guy like Alain walk in, there's instant presence,” Fletcher said on April 18, the day of Vigneault’s introduction. “There's a proven track record of success, which leads to instant credibility.

"It's also how you coach — it's tactics, it's philosophy, it's communication, it's having that presence and being able to get players to play the way you want them to play and feel good about it.

"He's not a yeller and a screamer. But he gets guys to buy in. If you can do that and they still have a smile on their face, you're a pretty good coach. That's what the top coaches do."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

In 50 games of 2019-20, Vigneault and the players have smiled a lot together, forming a productive partnership. Both sides have bought into each other, have adjusted and compromised with one another.

And that’s what it takes to build a winning product.

After a 3-0 win Tuesday night over the Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations), the Flyers improved to 27-17-6 entering their NHL-mandated bye week. The 60 points are the club’s most through 50 games of a season since 2011-12, when it started 30-14-6 and last won a playoff series. The 2019-20 Flyers are allowing 2.90 goals per game, have a plus-8 goal differential and are three points out of third place in the NHL's deepest division.

“We’re about on track to what I expected as far as bringing the team together,” Vigneault said Tuesday. “I wasn’t quite sure exactly what we had as far as a group, where the young players were — I like their progression, the veteran players buying in on what it takes to play winning hockey.”

Vigneault has turned the Flyers into a hard-on-the-attack, forecheck-oriented, possession-based team — a system that requires immense effort and smarts.

However, he has not stripped the Flyers’ playmakers of their offensive strengths. In 2018-19, the Flyers didn’t have a ton of issues scoring, but they finished with a minus-37 goal differential and yielded the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41.

"We adapt our system to the players that we have,” Vigneault said back in April.

James van Riemsdyk has seen it.

“For me, the most important thing — obviously that stuff is nice and he has a good system, but he lets us have some leash,” van Riemsdyk said Tuesday. “Obviously you’ve got to be responsible in certain situations of the game, but I don’t think he tries to take away any creativity offensively. You kind of have that leash to make some plays and do things that you see out there.

“Certainly you don’t want to do anything crazy or anything like that, but he’s not married to one particular play in every situation. You can make some reads and you have some freedom to use your hockey sense to try to create. That’s been good.”

(Eric Hartline/USA Today Images)

The marriage between Vigneault and the roster could have endured serious growing pains. It’s not like the two haven’t. Vigneault had to show he wasn’t messing around in the preseason, he challenged his big-money players in November and he made it clear, just last week in a crossword puzzle way, that he’s not one for excuses.

Jakub Voracek was one of the players Vigneault pushed for more production. Since Nov. 23, Voracek has recorded 25 points and a plus-14 rating in 28 games. He has played some of his best all-around hockey without losing his offensive prowess.

“One of the things that I like about Jake is we’ve come in here with some nonnegotiables as far as what you need to do when you don’t have the puck, the shooting lane to get into and Jake has been really easy to manage,” Vigneault said. “Sometimes those elite players, they need a little extra room with the puck and I agree with that, but there are some nonnegotiables without the puck, things that you have to do and he’s doing it for our team.”

The city has embraced Vigneault’s tough love and his players have responded to it.

He’s a good fit for this city,” Kevin Hayes, who played for Vigneault from 2014-18 in New York, said last Saturday. “He’s a great coach, he’s on top-10 lists I believe and it’s just going to keep getting higher and higher. He tells you how it is, he’s not going to sugarcoat anything, he lets you know when you’re playing well, he lets you know when you’re playing bad. 

He demands the best from his players. As a player, that’s what you need — it’s not college or junior anymore, you don’t want to be pampered. It’s a job, it’s the NHL, you want to know where you stand. Sometimes you’re not happy with what he says to you, but that’s how it is. If you want to be happy with him, play better.

Vigneault has found ways to pace Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, he has let his defensemen make plays, he has managed the goalies well, he has trusted the younger players and he has communicated.

Thus far, players have liked how Vigneault delivers his message to them first before he says anything publicly to the media.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Hayes said. “He knows what buttons to push and who he can push and what could be said and how to get the best from his guys.

“He treats everyone the same, if you’re a 10-year guy or a rookie year guy. He might give the veteran a little bit more leeway, but he holds everyone to the same standard.”

Vigneault has more buttons to push and the veteran core has more work to do.

They’ve looked in the mirror together. The Flyers should like what they see.


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Watch here as Gritty goes full savage mode on the Houston Astros

Watch here as Gritty goes full savage mode on the Houston Astros

Wait, wait ... Gritty did what?

The past few weeks in MLB may go down as some of the craziest the league and fans have ever witnessed.  

And just about everyone has voiced their opinions on the matter ... and now it looks like Gritty has, too.

That's right, everyone's favorite mascot decided to go full savage mode and trade in his infamous drum for a trash can during the Flyers' win over the Penguins on Tuesday.

What was on the trash can, you ask?

Why, it's the Astros' logo on all four sides.

Way to go Gritty, you just broke the sports world once more (don't worry, we love it).

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