Flyers

Phil Varone getting the chance Ron Hextall didn't give him

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Phil Varone getting the chance Ron Hextall didn't give him

If there’s one important thing Phil Varone gained in his remarkable first year with the Phantoms, it was perspective.

Part of that comes with age, some of it comes with experience, but for the most part, Varone could read the writing on the walls of the general manager’s office.

Even after a strong training camp with the Flyers this past September, Varone approached the regular season not much different than his previous experiences. The “minor league lifer” and “career journeyman” labels were becoming increasingly harder to detach from his name.

“You’re always hoping for (a call-up), but I didn’t really think about it,” Varone said. “At my age now, I’m more worried about where I am and about winning. If the call comes, the call comes. If not, I’m not too worried about it.”

Hard to believe those are the words from the best player in the American Hockey League last season. Yet Varone was resigned to the belief that he may never get a sniff with the Flyers — even after capping an impressive 2017-18 season with 70 points in 74 games earning the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s MVP.

That type of debut with any organization normally would have generated some hype and anticipation coming into training camp, but Varone doesn’t qualify as that can’t-miss prospect. Guys like him and T.J. Brennan and Colin MacDonald are considered the establishment, a veteran core called upon to lead by example for the promising high-draft picks who are transitioning from junior hockey to the professional level.

In all likelihood, if Ron Hextall was still calling the organizational shots, Dave Hakstol would still be behind the bench, Carter Hart would still be plugging away with the Phantoms and Varone would have never made the trip down the Northeast Extension.

“Honestly, no, I don’t think so,” Varone said when asked if he’d be with the Flyers with Hextall as GM. “And that’s why I didn’t think much about it. I wasn’t worried about it. Not that I thought it was going to happen that quickly with the change, but I think good things happen when people put their head down and stick to it and do the right things. That’s what I’ve thought about most of my career.

“I think there’s a little bit of a different mindset now with the changes that have gone on. I’m just trying to make the most of it. I’m trying to make everyone who decided to call me up look good and I’m glad I can stick.”

It took nearly 21 months between NHL call-ups following his previous late-season stint with the Senators in 2016-17, but he was willing to do whatever was required to stick around and shed a few of those labels in the process.

“I think I was just always pegged as an offensive guy," Varone said, "which sometimes is frustrating, because I know I play both sides of the puck well and I’ve shown that in the AHL. I feel like sometimes you get pegged as something that it’s hard to break that mold. I think right now I’m doing that and hopefully, I can continue it.”

With seven games now under his belt, Varone is giving the Flyers’ fourth line what it didn’t have with Jori Lehtera: speed down the middle with an ability to transition from zone-to-zone while keeping up with the pace of play.

Varone appears to be settling in under a coach he’s familiar with after stringing together a pair of solid games over the weekend.

“It’s been a cool experience. The guys have been awesome,” Varone said. “I’m just trying to soak it all in and play the best that I can. It’s been a few years. I feel like I’ve played pretty well, but I know I’ve got more to give.”

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Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

You can never have enough competition.

There will be plenty of it when training camp rolls around in September as the Flyers have a third-line job opening on the wing.

General manager Chuck Fletcher added a candidate Wednesday by signing forward Chris Stewart to an NHL pro tryout for camp.

Stewart, 31, was a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Avalanche and has played 652 career NHL games between six teams. His best season came as a 22-year-old with the Avalanche in 2009-10, when he scored 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) over 77 games. Last season, he played in the EIHL for the Nottingham Panthers, scoring 13 points (six goals, seven assists) through 23 games.

The 6-foot-2, 242-pound winger has ties to the Flyers' GM. He played parts of three seasons for Fletcher's Wild from 2014 to 2018, putting up 25 goals, 20 assists and a plus-6 rating in 146 games.

The Flyers like their options for the third-line winger vacancy. The names include Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Andy Andreoff and Kurtis Gabriel.

Farabee and Frost have drawn a lot of attention as young first-round draft picks coming off big seasons with Boston University (see story) and the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (see story), respectively. Rubtsov is an underrated option given his size, advanced game and positional versatility. Ratcliffe is a 6-foot-6 winger who scored 50 goals last season with the OHL's Guelph Storm, while Vorobyev saw time with the Flyers in 2018-19.

"It's more than Farabee and Frost," Fletcher said July 1. "I think Rubtsov had a tremendous prospect camp here. Ratcliffe is a quality young player. Vorobyev is a young man that we feel is going to come back next year a little bit stronger.

"There are several players down there that can play games, never mind Andreoff, who's a player that I think will make a very strong push to make our team this season. Kurtis Gabriel is a player that's played games in the NHL the past few seasons. We have a lot of options. That's what training camp is for — it's an opportunity for players to come in and show that they belong. It should be an exciting camp."

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Flyers mascot Gritty works on his dad bod at Planet Fitness

Flyers mascot Gritty works on his dad bod at Planet Fitness

Did you think Gritty was going to be satisfied with winning the NHL Fan Choice Awards honor for best mascot?

Think again.

The guy is not resting on his laurels this summer. He's training hard for 2019-20. He was seen working up a sweat Tuesday at the Planet Fitness on Christopher Columbus Boulevard.


(Picture courtesy of NBC Sports Philadelphia's Todd Berman)

Rumor has it Gritty is working on his summer abs.

Or maybe not.

Regardless, the orange fella knows how to stay in shape. He's a preparation junkie, a true gym (and rink) rat. Complacency is not in Gritty's vocabulary.

He's also not breaking glass and scaring kids, so that's a positive.

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