Prospect Mason Millman could be one of Flyers' biggest sleepers in system

Prospect Mason Millman could be one of Flyers' biggest sleepers in system

Mason Millman was the third defenseman taken by the Flyers in the 2019 NHL draft.

The first was Cam York, the 14th overall selection who had scored 65 points, a U.S. national team development program single-season record for a blueliner.

The second was Ronnie Attard, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder coming off a 30-goal season in the USHL (yes, 30 goals as a defenseman).

Naturally, for fans and followers, Millman sort of became the tailpiece of the class. He didn't come to the Flyers with juicy statistics. Fittingly, Millman was an upside pick, just like in his OHL draft.

The Saginaw Spirit are seeing the beauty of identifying potential and watching it fruit into a player. The Flyers could enjoy the same story with Millman, who is starting to look like one of the club's biggest sleepers in its entire prospect system.

"The way that they draft now and the way the game is going, they’re very smart in their selections," Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill said about the Flyers in an April phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia, "and drafting a guy like Mason is going to make them look very smart.”

Possibly even smarter after the 2020-21 OHL season. That's when Millman will have the chance to really raise the bar.

“We expect him, and I think he expects himself, to be one of the top defensemen in the league, and I don’t mean that in a cocky way," Drinkill said. "He’s not a cocky individual at all, he’s just very confident in his ability, and the opportunity he’s going to get with us and the amount his game has grown, it’s going to continue to grow. We expect him to take a huge role and be one of the top D in the league, and that means offensively and in the two-way style of playing against other teams’ top players. I really believe he can be one of the best defensemen in the OHL, if not the CHL.

"We’re not biased toward him, I think other teams around our league look at him as one of the top D-men in our league and his age group, as well, so that’s very unanimous around the league that they feel that way about Mason.”

The Spirit took Millman in the seventh round of the 15-round 2017 OHL draft. At the junior hockey level, projection is paramount in the evaluation of draft prospects. Drinkill watched Millman play for the London Jr. Knights midget AAA program. He watched a 15-year-old at the early stages of development with underlying upside.

"What we saw in Mason was a very raw, slender, smooth-skating defenseman who we thought had a lot of offensive potential and a lot of potential in his game in general," Drinkill said. "We thought if we could get him in the right spot in the draft, get him into our system and develop him properly, there was big upside.

"I always like to draft players — I tell my scouts this, as well — to look for players with high ceilings. Sometimes at the minor midget level, when you’re drafting players to the OHL, the players that pop out at you, the most dynamic ones are guys that are more physically mature than others ones, or have already kind of met their potential at a young age. For us, we have to look past that and find players that have a lot more room for growth, and Mason had a ton of that and it’s all definitely worked out that way.”

(Luke Durda/OHL Images)

Millman, who turns 19 years old in July, is a long, 6-foot-1, 180-pound blueliner that glides up the ice and is turning into a problem for OHL opponents. Alain Vigneault and the Flyers love them some skilled puck movers with size. Millman is of that ilk, a "prototypical new-age defenseman," as Drinkill called him.

His ability to transport pucks either with his feet or with his head and brain, they’re elite at our level. And I’m betting that if he keeps developing and gets into the Flyers’ system, he’s going to keep becoming an elite defenseman that way.

He’s so smooth on the ice, he can separate himself from attacking guys on the forecheck so effortlessly, uses the net to shield himself and then two strides, he’s gone — giving himself room to either skate with it or make an outlet to a guy in stride. He almost looks like he’s floating out there and he’s only getting quicker as he gets stronger.

He has the frame to add a lot more muscle and lean muscle mass to his body where it’s going to make him quicker and stronger and even better in that area. He’s going to need that to get to the next level and be successful at the next level. But he’s such a smooth skater and he gets up the ice so easily in our league.

Just about three weeks into the 2019-20 campaign, Millman had a minus-12 rating. When the season was all said and done, Millman was a plus-31 (fifth best among OHL defensemen) with 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) in 58 games for the 41-16-5 Spirit.

"So he definitely turned his game completely around," Drinkill said. "He provided a lot of offense for us, but he’s also a really good penalty killer, he’s got a great stick, he’s really learned to battle and be smart on the ice about winning battles, puck position and then when to have possession and when to move it. He’s just becoming an all-around leader and a great, great player for our organization.

“I think his confidence grew, he took a greater role with us. He’s just such a great kid and a great person, as well."

When the Flyers drafted Millman last summer, he was coming off a 25-point season in 66 games with Saginaw.

"A defenseman two of our Ontario guys felt strongly about, that he has upside," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said then.

Drinkill knows Millman is still growing.

"I think when he adds strength, the rest of it will continue to come and grow in his game," he said. "You do find that sometimes kids put on too much weight at one time and it kind of hurts the rest of their game. With Mase, he kind of gradually got stronger, he’s becoming more of a man even looking at him, his face is kind of becoming more mature and so is his body, as well, it’s making his shot better, his passes are crisper and harder, he’s starting to get that hockey player build with a strong core and legs.

"You can see the big jump he made from last year to this year. I’m looking forward to seeing him come back into camp next year being a 19-year-old in our league, being one of the older players on our team now and kind of in a leadership role, but also being depended on to play 24, 25 minutes a night and in every situation. Obviously we’re going to rely on him heavily for offense from the back end, but his skating ability allows him to be on the ice against other teams’ elite players, elite talent to try to shut them down in a shutdown role, as well."

The more you can do on the back end, the better. Millman's style of play is trending in the direction of how the NHL game is trending.

"You’ve got to be able to skate and you’ve got to be able to make plays," Drinkill said. "He never wants to dump the puck out or chip the puck off the glass when there’s another option to be made. In fairness to him, he always takes the other option, whether it’s a smart play or regroup or hitting a guy to the middle or a chip to an area is the worst-case scenario.

"He’s not that old-school defenseman that just wants to get the puck out and make the safe play. He makes the smart play and that’s the way the game is going. I think Philadelphia saw that and I think they’re going to be very impressed as they get him into their pro system and continue to work with him.

"I think they’ve got a good one."

Not bad for their fourth-round pick and third defenseman in the 2019 draft.

(Luke Durda/OHL Images)

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The meaning of Oskar Lindblom's presence and comeback to Flyers

The meaning of Oskar Lindblom's presence and comeback to Flyers

It's August and Alain Vigneault doesn't forget the numerous talks with doctors in December about Oskar Lindblom.

He'll probably never forget those conversations; difficult, real-life discussions on a scary reality that can twist one's stomach into a knot.

Lindblom, the Flyers' 23-year-old forward from Sweden with a bright future and smile, had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones.

With what the power of positivity can do for a person's spirit, Vigneault was determined to stay positive.

So he asked ...

"Is there a chance that I could get him back for the playoffs?" Vigneault recalled asking the medical professionals. "Obviously the answer was no, he wouldn't."

Vigneault remembers the answer well. Almost in amazement of the new, unforeseen circumstances surrounding Lindblom's comeback, Vigneault cheerily brought up the remainder of the answer.

"Come next training camp in September, he should be back if everything went the way they thought," the Flyers' head coach said last Wednesday. "And things have gone the way they thought.

"This year, obviously, with the stoppage in play and the COVID-19 factor, the season has been stretched out. September is less than a month away, I was told that come training camp, he'd be able to play in September. So I guess we've got to get to September."

If the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Flyers need any extra motivation in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have it: September and the possibilities which the month could offer.

Lindblom, who in early July completed his radiation treatments and has been deemed without evidence of cancer at this time, is in Toronto to join the Flyers for the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament. After traveling home to Sweden to see family and loved ones and train following the completion of his treatments, Lindblom remains in quarantine, mandated by NHL protocols.

"I haven’t seen him and none of his teammates have seen him," Vigneault said Tuesday in a video interview. "We have texted, though. He’s in isolation. ... He’s close to having gone through the quarantine and the testing that he has to do to be able to be allowed to come back with the group and be able to skate with the group. I believe he’s a few days away from that. There’s no doubt that we’re real happy; every one of us is real happy to have Oskar around. Can’t wait to see him, can’t wait to see him on the ice with the team. That’s going to be a big positive for our group."

Lindblom, who will celebrate his birthday Saturday with birthday buddy Jakub Voracek, is on the Flyers' 31-man roster, which means he's eligible to practice and play in the tournament. After sweeping the round robin to climb atop the East, the Flyers open the first round Wednesday against the Canadiens (8 p.m. ET/NBCSP). During training camp last month, when the Flyers signed Lindblom to a three-year, $9 million contract extension, general manager Chuck Fletcher would not rule anything out for the young winger in Toronto; and why would he with a fighter like Lindblom?

“I don’t know what’s out of the question," Fletcher said July 22. "I certainly wouldn’t put any limits on Oskar. We obviously will do everything we can to protect him, but he’s looking forward to restarting his life and his career. Whatever that means, we’ll find out. We’ll work very closely with his medical team, our medical team and we’ll make the right decisions for him.”

If the Flyers are still playing in September, they'll be in the midst of a second-round series and aiming for the Eastern Conference Final. Maybe Vigneault gets Lindblom back for the playoffs after all? Although, it would be fair to think if that might be a stretch given all that Lindblom has gone through and where the Flyers could be with their lineup at that time.

Lindblom playing again will be momentous and memorable. It doesn't have to happen in these NHL playoffs. The fact that Lindblom is working toward the possibility of appearing in the 2020 postseason is a victory in itself. That is worth celebrating and commemorating.

"Osky, if he is going to be joining us back here, what it’s going to take for him to be even close to playing or practicing or whatever that may be, the work ethic he’s going to have to put in is a lot," Travis Konecny said last Wednesday. "For him to be able to commit to that, I mean, it makes our job seem like nothing. We have to go out and play hockey. Think about Osky, how hard he’s working just to come back and hopefully play one game — it definitely motivates us to do the work for him and make all the hard work he’s going to try to put in worth the time."

September is nearing and so is Lindblom's return to the boys, even if it's just practice and positivity for now.

No one will question the worth of that.

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Marathon Blue Jackets-Lightning Game 1 brings up memories of Flyers' 5OT epic

Marathon Blue Jackets-Lightning Game 1 brings up memories of Flyers' 5OT epic

The Blue Jackets and Lightning decided to open their first-round series Tuesday by playing more than TWO GAMES' worth of hockey in one night. 

The Lightning eventually won in the game's fifth - fifth! - overtime on Tuesday night, an unreal start to the teams' best-of-seven series. Playoff hockey is unmatched, overtime playoff hockey even moreso. 

And for plenty of hockey fans in the Philadelphia area, the game likely dredged up a flood of memories from one night 20 years ago: the Flyers' Marathon on Ice win over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

It's hard to wrap your head around the numbers, and the stories, that come out of a five-overtime game. The Jackets' Joonas Korpisalo racked up 85 saves on Tuesday night, 13 more than the Penguins' Ron Tugnutt in the Marathon on Ice.

Here's how Tugnutt experienced that game, as told during NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered: Marathon on Ice" podcast:

Tugnutt played 152:01 minutes and converted 72 saves. He was the losing goaltender in the Flyers' unforgettable 2-1 five-overtime win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In that odyssey of a hockey game, Tugnutt said he shed 12 pounds. Twelve pounds.

"I remember needing help going up the stairs by my legs, just I had nothing left," he said on the Sports Uncovered: Marathon on Ice podcast. "I was drained."

Losing 12 pounds over the course of a month is hard enough. In one night? Because you're busy standing in front of slapshots all night long? Even while you're fueling on pizza and energy drinks between periods?

It's almost unreal.

Tuesday night's game entered the pantheon of the longest hockey games in NHL history, a truly storied list:

1. March 24, 1936: Detroit 1, Montreal (Maroons) 0  | 116:30

2. April 3, 1933: Toronto 1, Boston 0 | 104:46

3. May 4, 2000: Philadelphia 2, Pittsburgh 1 | 92:01

4. August 11, 2020: Tampa Bay 3, Columbus 2 | 90:27

I can't imagine how Korpisalo is going to feel in the morning. And now the Jackets and Lightning have to go play the rest of the series.

...good luck!

To relive that epic Flyers-Penguins game, you can listen to "Sports Uncovered: Marathon on Ice" right here, and be happy for playoff hockey - even when that playoff hockey lasts for six hours.

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More Marathon on Ice coverage