VOORHEES, N.J. — Following last season's nightmare, the Flyers were eager for a much more normal 2021-22 season.
Their 2021-22 regular-season opener is a day away and they are far from smooth sailing to start.
Rasmus Ristolainen, one of general manager Chuck Fletcher's top offseason acquisitions on the back end, has not practiced in a week. He will not play Friday night when the Flyers kick things off at home against the Canucks (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
Patrick Brown, who was claimed off of waivers Monday to help the club's banged-up bottom six, landed on the COVID-19 protocol list Thursday instead of partaking in his first practice. He will not play Friday night.
For the Flyers, they can at least take solace in Ryan Ellis' return to practice. The team's prized offseason addition and all-situation defenseman had not practiced since Friday's preseason finale because of a lower-body injury. Ellis skated Wednesday, practiced Thursday and will play Friday in his anticipated top-pair spot alongside Ivan Provorov.
With their depth at forward taking a hit from injuries, the Flyers made two waiver claims in a three-day span. Along with Brown on Monday, they snagged Zack MacEwen from the Canucks on Wednesday. MacEwen is unavailable Friday as he awaits the approval of his U.S. visa.
"I was looking at my board of not available players and there are quite a few," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday. "That's just part of an NHL season. It's an organization's responsibility to have the depth they need to go through that. Give credit to Chuck and his staff again, we were short on depth players and short on players that could help us, and they pick up two guys on waivers that I've heard real solid things about. They'll get an opportunity to play for us and show what they can do."
The Flyers had six days between their final preseason game and first regular-season game. Those days at least helped Ellis for the opener.
"Whether it be rest, recovery, team bonding, whatever it is, it was all a good week there that we got," Ellis said. "I think we're fortunate for it."
Ristolainen, a bruising Finnish defenseman, is dealing with an upper-body injury and considered day to day. He last practiced a week ago before playing in the preseason finale. He has been rehabbing on the opposite ice. Vigneault doesn't expect Ristolainen's injury to be long term. When Ristolainen is healthy, he'll slide onto the Flyers' second defensive pair next to Travis Sanheim.
Nick Seeler is the Flyers' next guy up on defense. He'll be in the season-opening lineup Friday. The 28-year-old was drafted in 2011 by Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr when the two were with the Wild. Seeler is a stay-at-home type with good size. He has 105 games of NHL experience.
"Seels has been great," Carter Hart said. "He competes hard, he plays hard in his own end, he makes the simple plays and he battles. In the preseason games, he was a warrior, he made some huge hits, made some good plays in the D-zone. He's definitely a competitor."
The 29-year-old Brown was expected to practice Thursday after meeting everyone Wednesday and doing video work with the Flyers' assistant coaches. He'll have to wait for his next chance.
"There's a young man that's got a great opportunity and unfortunately he gets hit by COVID protocol," Vigneault said. "It is what it is, you've just got to deal with it. We had these plans, these opportunities. Guys for whatever reason — hurt, not ready, etc. — opportunities aren't there because they're not ready, it just gives it to somebody else."
The Flyers will now turn to Max Willman. The 26-year-old's NHL debut will come on the Flyers' opening night. Willman worked hard this summer, making the daily trip to Voorhees, New Jersey, to work with some of the Flyers' players. The college product has climbed to the Flyers all the way from their ECHL affiliate Reading.
"We love his speed, we love his energy," Vigneault said. "It's the start of a new season, there's great opportunities out here for a lot of people right now considering our situation. Guys have got to go out, play well and help us win games."
Seeler, Willman and Jackson Cates were all recalled Thursday from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and practiced with the Flyers. Cates will be the club's extra forward Friday.
Here's how the Flyers looked at practice Thursday. They will have a morning skate Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee-Derick Brassard-Cam Atkinson
Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-James van Riemsdyk
Max Willman-Nate Thompson-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov-Ryan Ellis
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Keith Yandle-Nick Seeler
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