Flyers

Flyers should have been more patient with Andrew MacDonald's recovery from lower-body injury

Flyers should have been more patient with Andrew MacDonald's recovery from lower-body injury

Updated: 1:07 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — It took five regular-season games for the Flyers to realize what they told us back in early September. 

They rushed defenseman Andrew MacDonald back from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout, and as it turned out, he wasn’t remotely ready for the start of the regular season.

Either the Flyers hurried MacDonald back out of concern the defense was thin without him, or he was rather convincing in relaying his pain threshold. A week before the season started, general manager Ron Hextall said he believed MacDonald was simply a fast healer, even though his speedy return felt more like a Mr. Miyagi type of recovery.

“I think in hindsight those couple of preseason games were a little premature,” MacDonald said. “I thought I could work back into it. I felt pretty good. It’s just the nature of the injury, I was able to skate a little bit sooner than you can do a lot of off-ice stuff. I wasn’t able to do much in the gym as far as getting that power and strength back. I thought I would be OK.”

As it turns out, MacDonald wasn’t and neither was the Flyers' defense.

Dave Hakstol needs a 95 to 100 percent version of MacDonald. Anything less, you run the risk of using an inefficient player. Through the Flyers' six games, MacDonald’s 5.06 goals against per 60 minutes played is a team worst by far. The next closest defenseman is Ivan Provorov (who hasn’t looked that good either) at 3.47 goals allowed per 60. That alone shows how much the Flyers' defense was suffering with MacDonald on the ice.

From the season opener in Vegas, MacDonald clearly wasn’t himself, falling to the ice without contact while struggling at times to keep up when opposing forwards brought speed into the Flyers' zone. Interestingly, coming off a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights in which the Flyers played their best defensively structured game of the season, Hakstol felt a change was necessary.  

“When you miss training camp, it’s tough, I’ll say that,” Hakstol said. “Any player that’s missed training camp I’m sure could tell you it’s hard to catch up in a hurry. For me, that’s a big part of it.”

This Sunday would have marked the end of the original six-week timetable, and even now, MacDonald admits he’s physically still not where he needs to be to perform at the highest level.

“I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100 percent, but I feel pretty good,” MacDonald said. “It’s a just matter of getting into that routine and that game shape type of thing.” 

“It’s always a tough situation,” Hakstol said Tuesday. “There’s things in Mac’s game that he knows and we know that he can work at. He’s a huge part of our team and he’s going to be a big part of our lineup. Don’t make too much of it. It was the right thing for our team tonight.”

Turns out MacDonald was at the hospital during the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Panthers, as his wife gave birth to their baby daughter early Wednesday morning. MacDonald said mom and newborn are both doing well.

Now it’s dad who needs a complete recovery.

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One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

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Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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