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Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe throwing everyone a surprise party

Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe throwing everyone a surprise party

Ron Hextall looked on from his perch at Flyers Skate Zone.

He then looked over at some of his staff.

They essentially shook their heads watching this lean, 6-foot-6 winger.

The physical stature was only part of the phenomenon.

"We're standing out there, going a guy that big shouldn't have that good of hands," the general manager said two weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "He's got good hands. He moves really well for his size and his age. You look at a 19-year-old kid who's as tall as he is and as coordinated as he is, it's not the norm."

Isaac Ratcliffe has made it his norm.

In his earlier hockey days, he didn't want to stand out for just his sheer size. 

Now, he is much more than a towering presence. When he hits the ice, he turns heads with his soft touch and dexterous hands — puck skills you wouldn't expect to come out of a 6-6, 210-pound teenager.

Surprised? Good.

"When I was younger, it was a big thing that I used to work on at the end of practice or the end of a skill session," Ratcliffe said. "A guy my size, you don't usually see that and I wanted to prove guys wrong. I can bring any sorts of items to the table and I really wanted to show that I could bring my hands, as well."

In the 2017 draft, the Flyers wanted Ratcliffe so much, they traded three selections to move up and snatch him at 35th overall. Hextall and company liked Ratcliffe's ability and upside, so they're not shocked to see his progression, but they are super pleased.

Ratcliffe, wiry and mobile, jumped from 28 goals and 54 points with the OHL's Guelph Storm in 2016-17 to 41 goals and 68 points in 2017-18.

"To be that linked up at that age is amazing," Hextall said. "He's come a long ways in a year. His all-around game needs work. His wall play and things like that, which most guys at that age do. But his hands, his patience, his poise with the puck — he's got some scoring touch. He's got a reach. To have that poise and reach, developed to put it around the goalie you've seen this week. … We're excited about the prospects for him."

If Ratcliffe was ever viewed as a project, he no longer looks like one. At 19, he's also astutely aware of the NHL trends, which fuels his motivation to be different.

"I still have to get stronger. The size is there, I just need to put on that weight — really build up that core strength, build up my leg strength and definitely work on my speed a lot, too," he said. "It's a fast game and it's a game that's decreasing in size, too. I have to show that I can bring both speed and size to the game, and my skill set, as well."

For Ratcliffe, it's all about mindset. When you're 6-6 and frequently misperceived, it has to be.

"If you're going to go into a battle and you think you're going to lose it, you're going to lose that battle. If you go in and think you're going to win, you have a big chance of coming out on top," Ratcliffe said. "When you get that confidence in there and when you get that strength, pair those two together and you're going to be unstoppable. And that's what I've been trying to do — keep my confidence high and keep my strength high over the past couple of years. That's really gotten me where I am today and that's going to push me forward."

Ratcliffe's fourth junior season is ahead of him in 2018-19. He should have everyone's attention, and not just for his height.

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Flyers will face New York Islanders again in annual rookie game

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Flyers will face New York Islanders again in annual rookie game

While the Flyers have not announced the start of their rookie and training camp, they did provide an indication Tuesday of when the camps will be.

For the third straight season, the Flyers and New York Islanders will square off Sept. 12 in their annual rookie game. This time, it returns to New York.

The game will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12 at the Northwell Health Ice Center, the Islanders' practice facility in East Meadow, New York. According to Newsday's Andrew Gross, ticket proceeds will benefit the Islanders' Children's Foundation.

In years past, the Flyers have streamed the games on their official website.

Last year, the Flyers-Islanders rookie game was on Sept. 13, 2017, two days after rookie camp began and two days before the main camp opened.

The rookie game marks the official end of rookie camp, so by the process of elimination, a safe guess would be the Flyers' rookie camp will be Sept. 10 and training camp likely opening a day or two after the game.

The Islanders beat the Flyers, 4-3, in overtime last September. The Flyers won the first game two years ago. From 2007 to 2014, the Flyers and Capitals faced each other in their annual rookie games.

Rookie games are fun because they're the first glimpse of prospects and with the Flyers, there's a ton to be excited about — even if signing James van Riemsdyk accelerates their process (see story).

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Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

A young Flyers defenseman cracked the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list, but it's not exactly who you are thinking.

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, was listed Sunday night as the league's 17th best blueliner as NHL Network continued its nine-part series looking at the game's top players.

That's not a slight to Gostisbehere by any means, but many would argue that Provorov's overall game is far more in tune of a top-tier player than Gostisbehere.

Here is NHL Network Ken Daneyko's explanation for "Ghost," who ranks right behind Boston's Torey Krug and ahead of Carolina's Dougie Hamilton:

"He really came into his own last year. This kid is dynamic, and for me, I think there are some defensive liabilities, but because how offensive the game has become and defensemen being part of that offense, Gostisbehere can do it all. He's shifty and can make a pass in the blink of an eye for a great scoring chance."

Gostisbehere had a frustrating sophomore season in 2016-17 after exploding onto the scene in 2015-16. Last season, though, he rebounded in grand fashion.

The 25-year-old finished fourth in the NHL among defensemen in points with 65. He led all defensemen in power-play points (33) and was tied for the league lead with seven power-play goals.

His offensive production returned — actually increased substantially — to his rookie season level, when he scored at a 0.72 points per game clip in 2015-16. Last season that number was 0.83.

But Gostisbehre's defensive game began to round into place. He credited that to "a little more snot," but the player we saw in his own end was far better than what we've seen before.

We can chalk some of that up to Dave Hakstol putting Gostisbehere with Provorov in late December. The pair became dynamic because, at any moment, either could jump up in the offensive zone and create, but Provorov was the pair's anchor.

“He’s a 1,000 of years better than me defensively,” Gostisbehere said in April. “We use that to our advantage and it really showed as a pair. Provy’s very good defensively, but offensively, he took another step.

"He’s probably one of the best, if not the best two-way defenseman in the NHL.”

Provorov did not totally get snubbed by the NHL Network. Daneyko had Provorov on the bubble and if we return to this list after the 2018-19 season, it's safe to say Provorov will likely, at least, make the leap.

"For such a young age, poise, good in all three zones and only getting better," Daneyko said of Provorov. "He moves the puck and has good offensive instinct. He's going to be a real good player for a long time."

Provorov, 21, was tied for the league lead among defensemen with 17 goals in his second NHL campaign but didn't post ludicrous overall numbers — just 41 points and not many on the power play.

But Provorov played the tough, shutdown minutes (see story). He led the team in ice time with 24:09 per game, more than 2 1/2 minutes more than Sean Couturier's 21:35 and 2 minutes and 42 seconds more than Gostisbehere.

We're splitting hairs here, really. Lists are lists and a good list often creates debate. Does it matter that Gostisbehere, not Provorov, made the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list? Not really, but it's still a neat honor.

If anything, it's another testament that the Flyers are doing things right even if the process at the rink is slower than fans would like.

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