Back in January 2018, Calgary Hitmen general manager Jeff Chynoweth saw a slender 17-year-old defenseman and thought “huge upside.”
Two years later, Chynoweth has watched the once raw and cocooned prospect play his final WHL game. The GM no longer sees potential — he sees a player.
That player is Egor Zamula, now 19 years old and hunting down the NHL, a prospect who has gone from diaphanous to dynamite within the Flyers’ farm system.
“The incline has been very high,” Chynoweth said last Saturday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.
The incline is at a halt — for now. Zamula, an undrafted product who signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers in September 2018, had his 2019-20 season cut short because of a back injury. Zamula has been in the Philadelphia area since mid-January and was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday, according to Chynoweth.
While the incline has been put on hiatus, the excitement about it has not.
In 2017-18, Zamula scored 18 points over 69 games between the Regina Pats and Hitmen. In 2018-19, after the Flyers signed Zamula thanks to the diligence of amateur scout Mark Greig, the lanky blueliner recorded 56 points (10 goals, 46 assists) through 61 games for Calgary.
At Flyers development camp in the summer and training camp during the fall, Zamula showed his smooth skating stride, disruptive length and confidence with the puck. His strengths are particularly appealing when accentuated in an Alain Vigneault type of system, which encourages defensemen to push pace, pin the opposition and make plays.
After drawing high praise from Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, Zamula put up 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) and a plus-19 rating in 28 games this season, his third junior hockey campaign. There won’t be a fourth and final one.
Yegor Zamula, pretty fluid. pic.twitter.com/IwN5RIZGb9— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) June 25, 2019
What I liked about his game was he could see the ice very well, he had a long, active stick,” Chynoweth said. “Being a 6-foot-4 guy anyways and with a long stick, he was good at getting pucks away from opposing players, he could slow the game down. For a big man, he could thread the pass like a needle in a haystack. He could do things that not many players can. He had a bomb from the point.
He was almost a point-a-game player last year, you look at the numbers he put up last year as an 18-year-old, and then he just continued right into this year, point-a-game player and unfortunately got hurt at the world juniors. But he was having a great season, he had a great world juniors, named one of the top three players for Russia at the world juniors. I mean, the sky was the limit, and then unfortunately he has a back injury.
Zamula’s season came to an end at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship where he went down swinging. He helped lead Russia to a silver medal with five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games, playing through the injured back.
"He's been playing in pain for a while and playing remarkably well, but not at 100 percent," Fletcher said two weeks ago.
The Hitmen stated the injury was a result of a degenerative condition that intensified at the world juniors tournament. Could a degenerative issue be a concern moving forward?
Chynoweth didn’t believe so.
“I just think that this is something that he’s had and it just got progressively worse,” he said. “Just to tell you, to speak about his pain threshold, we never once heard about it when he was here. He played and it just got worse as he got more in the last little bit. It just got to a point where they had to have something to do about it. He’s going to have surgery, he’s going to be out three to four months but he should be ready for the start of development camp for the Flyers after the draft.”
Zamula will most likely open the 2020-21 season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, but you never know. With the Feb. 24 trade deadline and a whole offseason ahead before next training camp, things can change.
Zamula will continue to change as he recovers and gears up for pro hockey. Gaining more strength will be a focus during the offseason. Zamula was listed at 6-foot-3, 160 pounds to start the 2018-19 season. This season, he was 6-foot-4, 170.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, he’s going to have to get stronger,” Chynoweth said. “You can never stop working on your skating, you see how fast the NHL game is, it’s getting faster all the time. But the things he does well, you can’t teach. Most guys put on weight as they get older and get stronger. Obviously now being with the Flyers in Philadelphia for the surgery, he’ll be there under their watchful eye through the rehab process. And I’m sure that once he’s cleared to start working out, they’ll do a great job.”
Chynoweth is looking forward to seeing Zamula in Calgary again.
Not as a prospect, but as an NHL player.
“The next time we watch him, hopefully it will be on Saddledome ice when the Flyers come to town,” he said.
“The Flyers have a good one there. … I think the sky’s the limit for Egor.”
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.