Flyers

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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A 30-goal defenseman? Flyers prospect Ronnie Attard is a 'double whammy' to watch

zack_hill_philadelphia_flyers_ronnie_attard.jpg
Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

A 30-goal defenseman? Flyers prospect Ronnie Attard is a 'double whammy' to watch

Ronnie Attard is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds.

He loves the physical nature of the game — playing with a mean streak, delivering hits and standing up for teammates.

"That's something that has been a staple of my game since I was a little kid, something that my dad instilled in me," Attard said in June. "If you're the hardest player to play against out on the ice, people are going to notice you."

What also gets you noticed? Thirty goals by a defenseman. That's what Attard pulled off with the USHL's Tri-City Storm in 2018-19. It turned him into a third-round selection of the Flyers this summer after Attard had been draft eligible twice and never heard his name called. He's a 20-year-old with booming potential.

"I still use that staple of being good defensively," Attard said. "Then I started incorporating my offense, which is a double whammy."

With the Storm, Attard blew up in one year. He went from 15 points and a minus-9 rating through 50 games in 2017-18 to 30 goals, 65 points and a plus-47 mark over 48 games to win 2018-19 USHL Player of the Year.

How in the world did he go from undrafted to double whammy, just like that?

You see where he was a year or two ago to where he is now, his mobility, he's gotten a lot stronger, he's gained a ton of confidence, especially on the offensive side of things. He's always been a competitive kid and a hard-nosed kid, but to see where his overall game has come, it hit you in the face when you went to watch him play.

Obviously, we're not expecting him to score 30 goals a year in the NHL, but that stat you can't hide from, either. You score 30 goals in any league in 48 games, you are doing something right.

- Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr

Strength and confidence can do wonders for a young player. Attard brewed the combination by working out at Western Michigan with former NHL head coach Andy Murray and the Broncos.

"Coach Murray called me up last summer and wanted me to be a part of their strength program and get on the ice there," Attard said. "That's been the biggest thing — being on the ice with his players, seeing what they do and they taught me a lot.

"I went back to my junior team and had a bunch of confidence."

Western Michigan will be a team to keep an eye on for Flyers fans in 2019-20. Attard is entering his freshman year for the Broncos, while fellow Flyers prospect Wade Allison will be a senior winger with something to prove.

"I know him pretty well, I've been kind of following in his footsteps," Attard said of Allison. "He played at Tri-City and then went to Western, and I did the same thing. We know a lot of mutual people and we get along really well.

"He gave me the rundown and how things are handled there. It's another top-notch organization, Andy Murray's been around the game a long time, so hoping to learn a lot from him."

Despite his big shot and 30-goal breakout season, Attard knows he's far from a finished product.

"My skating and just my consistency," Attard said of the areas in which he wants to improve. "There are some nights where I'm the best player out on the ice and there are other nights where I'm just kind of irrelevant. I want to be able to bring that every night, just knowing what it takes to get my game at that 100 percent level.

"I just want to keep getting better, develop my footwork, my consistency level, even my shot has a little work to be put into it. Once I think I can come to this level and succeed and be an impact and help these guys out, that's when I'm going to make the jump."

Attard turned heads with the jump he made last season.

How fast could he tackle college?

"He's going to a Western Michigan program with quality coaching," Flahr said. "He should be an interesting watch here over the next couple of years."

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What Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien 'can't wait to prove' has him charging ahead

What Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien 'can't wait to prove' has him charging ahead

Jay O'Brien sat at his locker stall and talked about adversity.

He is only 19 years old and growing up faster than he anticipated.

He wasn't gushing over highlights from his freshman year or discussing a burgeoning career at Providence. He went from scoring 43 goals and 80 points in high school during 2017-18 to just two goals and five points at the Division I level last season.

His plans have changed and so has his hockey career.

"Stepping in from high school into the college level, it's a challenge," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said in June. "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. Obviously, he's not happy."

O'Brien is not happy but he's doing something about it. In a way, he's becoming a pro without actually being one just yet. "Adversity" is said often in sports but it's real and O'Brien is facing it as a teenager.

He's starting to embrace it.

"Work on learning from this and how to battle adversity," O'Brien said in June at Flyers development camp. "I think that's one of the biggest things in life is how you come back from adversity and I can't wait to prove that."

One of the Flyers' two first-round picks from 2018, O'Brien is no longer at Providence, the school in which he committed to when he was 15 years old. With the Friars, he had setbacks because of upper-body injuries and then never found his scoring touch. O'Brien and his camp decided it was best for the prospect to join the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, a junior A league, in 2019-20.

I'm happy this adversity is happening right now and not too later in my career. You never want a year like that, but in a way, it was helpful for me to light the fire even more. 


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

O'Brien is a nifty playmaker with innate scoring ability. Two of his former coaches — Nate Leaman at Providence and Tony Amonte at Thayer Academy — raved about his skill set. Leaman called O'Brien's hands elite, while Amonte extolled the center's knack for creating and finishing — all reasons why the Flyers' previous regime drafted him 19th overall.

Why didn't those traits translate with the Friars? Injuries played a factor, but O'Brien's size did, too. He's now 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, and still adding muscle, which can improve more than simply being strong on the puck — it can enhance O'Brien's quickness and speed, as well.

"I've gained 13 pounds of weight since the season ended," O'Brien said. "I've put the pedal to the metal and I've been really trying to improve my game.

"Just keep getting stronger off the ice because I learned being an 18-year-old in college, you're playing against 24-year-olds and guys like that. If I want to take my game to the next level, I've got to work even harder off ice — get back to training right, eating right, little things like that that make you a pro and to have success."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

During this transitional phase, O'Brien has had plenty of people in his corner. From a hockey standpoint, the former Flyer Amonte and agent Matt Keator offer daily support.

"Tony was just saying how it happens to everyone, it's just a bump in the road and it's how you rebound from it," O'Brien said. "My agent, too, was great throughout the whole thing."

But O'Brien also looked within — the year molded him.

"I kind of relied on myself more than anything," he said. "Just try to get mentally stronger."

While O'Brien is vowing to be a different player strength-wise, the ultimate goal is to rediscover his goal-scoring swagger in the BCHL.

"I'm just going to try to get back to the way I was playing, why Philly drafted me," O'Brien said. "Use my speed and my skill and create plays over the ice. Be more creative — I think that was great about Tony, he let me play and be creative and use my skill set, but he harped on the D-zone and things like that. 

"I've always taken pride in playing hard in the D-zone and playing a 200-foot game, I think that's something I've done my whole life. Just continue to play a 200-foot game, use my speed. I think I've got to shoot the puck more. Your chances are limited as you climb the ranks, so maybe be a little more selfish, shoot more and capitalize on opportunities."

The plan is for O'Brien to return to college in 2020-21 and play for Boston University after a season with Penticton. Flyers prospect Joel Farabee, who was drafted five spots ahead of O'Brien, took off with the Terriers in 2018-19, winning national Rookie of the Year and eventually signing his entry-level contract in March.

"I've talked to Joel, we've gotten really close over the last couple of years," O'Brien said. "He had nothing but great things to say, I know a lot of guys at B.U. I went in a couple of times, you want to make sure you're making the right decision this time, right? You don't want to mess around with it, you want to do your due diligence. Talking to guys like Joel and other draft picks that they have, they had nothing but good things to say about it."

O'Brien is from Hingham, Massachusetts, which is right outside of Boston. He is good friends with Amonte's son Ty Amonte, who is a junior on the Terriers and also played for Penticton. On top of that, the play-with-pace O'Brien loved the stylistic fit under head coach Albie O'Connell.

"I wanted to be in Boston, I'm 30 minutes away from Boston — that's a dream, to play for a Boston school," O'Brien said. "I just know so many guys there and they love it, they love the way they play, how Albie lets them play, but they take care of the D-zone. I couldn't be more excited."


(Christina Daly/NBC Sports Philadelphia)

The Flyers believe in O'Brien and have no problem exercising patience with the teenage prospect. General manager Chuck Fletcher and Flahr didn't draft O'Brien, but the Thayer Academy product made believers out of the Flyers' scouting staff.

"He's always been a competitor," Flahr said. "He's got quick hands, he can really shoot it. His skating is going to be good. … In order for him to play against bigger bodies in the NHL, he's going to have to be quick. That's going to be a work in progress.

"He has been training with a group in Boston and from what I saw from the beginning of the year to now, he's made significant strides strength-wise.

"He's a lot more confident, stronger and ready to go."

The adversity has helped.

"I don't think there's any doubt in my mind, I know what I can do, I know why Philly drafted me — they drafted me for a reason, especially in that spot," he said. "Talking to them, there's a little bump in the road — that's life, that's hockey. I'm just happy, I'm looking forward, I'm pumped for next year. 

"Continue to work on my game and go into next season charging."

A different player, taking a different path — and equipped for any roadblocks along the way.

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