Flyers

Have Flyers found late-round gem they covet in Wyatt Kalynuk?

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Christina Daly/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Have Flyers found late-round gem they covet in Wyatt Kalynuk?

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall talks about it all the time leading up to the NHL draft.

While everyone focuses on the first round, Hextall places equal emphasis on the mid-to-late rounds. Draft picks are lottery tickets and the later they are, the odds of hitting are longer.

Just before last month’s draft, Hextall again stressed how “friggin’ important” seventh-round draft picks are in constructing hockey teams, and then one turned heads at development camp.

“Wyatt Kalynuk, you guys probably don’t know much about him,” Hextall said. “He’s a smooth-skating defenseman at Wisconsin. He’s a late-round pick and he’s taken a step. You watch the way he skates, the way he reads the game, the way he passes, [it’s impressive].”

Kalynuk was the 196th overall pick in the 2017 draft or the 10th selection of the seventh round. He went to the University of Wisconsin but took an unorthodox path to the NCAA.

Born in Virden, Manitoba, Kalynuk didn’t take the road more often traveled by Canadian hockey players. Instead of playing in the CHL, Kalynuk opted for the USHL and eventually, college.

“When I was 16, I had the option to go to the Western Hockey League,” Kalynuk said recently. “But at that time, I was too small. I knew I needed more time to develop, so I played a year of junior hockey at 16 in Manitoba and then I moved down to the UHSL when I was 17.

“The whole idea was to give myself more time to develop. For me, I developed a little later than some guys. I didn’t really need to prove myself, I just had an opportunity to play a big role.”

During his freshman season at Wisconsin, Kalynuk went from a seventh-round pick to an intriguing prospect worth paying attention to as he progresses through Division I hockey.

Kalynuk played all 37 games for the Badgers and led the team with 22 assists. He became the first Wisconsin blueliner to score 25 or more points in their first season since Ulvis Katlaps posted 35 points in 1992-93. His 25 points were fourth on the Badgers and second among freshmen defensemen in the Big Ten. He was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and shared the Mark Johnson Rookie of the Year award with Wisconsin forward Linus Weissbach.

The Badgers finished sixth in the Big Ten during the 2017-18 season and lost to the University of Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. But Kalynuk was certainly a bright spot.

“I thought I had a decent year,” Kalynuk said. “I think coming in, I had pretty high expectations for myself. I knew bad things were going to happen, but when they did, I just tried to brush them off and keep moving forward. … I just tried to take it all in stride.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I wouldn’t say I was expecting to do that well either. I just tried to do my best. I got a good opportunity when I got there and did my best to take advantage.”

What drew Kalynuk to Wisconsin over other programs was equal part coaching staff and opportunity to play, but the lefty defenseman did suggest the Badgers’ history was a factor too.

With Tony Granato as the head coach — Granato coached Team USA during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics — and Mark Osiecki as the defensive coach, Kalynuk wasn’t as drawn to the Badgers’ style of play than he was the program’s ability to churn out NHL players.

“Mark Osiecki is the defensive coach there, he’s sent a lot of guys to the NHL,” Kalynuk said. “He’s really good at what he does. Him along with Tony Granato … if you look around college hockey, you can’t get much better than that. They’re pretty good coaches, to say the least.”

Osiecki served as an assistant coach at Wisconsin from 2004 through 2010 before he got his first college head coaching gig at Ohio State. He returned the Badgers’ staff in 2016.

Throughout his first stint coaching at his alma mater, Osiecki built his reputation of developing defensemen. On the 2010 national title team alone, the Badgers had Ryan McDonagh, Justin Schultz, Jake Gardiner, Brendan Smith, Cody Goloubef and John Ramage. Other NHLers to play for Osiecki at Wisconsin include Tom Gilbert, Davis Drewiske and Jamie McBain.

“He takes the time,” Kalynuk said of Osiecki. “We go out early almost every practice 20 minutes before everyone else. He just loves doing it. He focuses on a lot of little details that maybe other coaches wouldn’t, so I think he just loves it. That’s probably why he’s so good at it. I’ve never played for a coach who loves coaching as much as he does.”

More on the Flyers

Costly Michael Raffl injury comes at interesting time, creates more decisions for Flyers

Costly Michael Raffl injury comes at interesting time, creates more decisions for Flyers

The Flyers were likely looking to get Joel Farabee into the lineup at some point during the round robin of the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

An awkward play during the third period Sunday night has made Alain Vigneault's decisions a bit easier, but not in a good way.

Michael Raffl will miss time after suffering an undisclosed injury when he went into the boards while racing Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon to the puck.

Before the team's practice Monday at the Ford Performance Centre, Vigneault provided as much information as he's permitted to on Raffl's status. Because of a mutual agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to respect an individual player's right to medical privacy during this time, teams are not allowed to release specifications for any injuries/illnesses in the tournament.

Without putting pressure on his one leg, Raffl was forced to exit the Flyers' 4-1 round-robin win over Boston with 6:17 left in the game and did not return.

"I can't get into specifics, I can't get into lengths because of the NHL protocol," Vigneault said, "but I can say that he's not going to be available for a little bit here."

The good thing is the Flyers are not in the midst of a playoff series just yet. They do have some time on their side with two more games in the round robin as they play the Capitals Thursday (start time TBD) and Lightning Saturday (start time TBD). Given the Flyers were already expecting to utilize some different players during this portion of the tournament in preparation and evaluation for the first round, one could safely assume now that Raffl won't play at least in these next two games. The first round of the playoffs is slated to begin Aug. 11 and Raffl's status is obviously up in the air.

The 31-year-old's absence right now is a blow to an area of strength for the Flyers. The club's depth at forward has been a huge factor in the Flyers' 2019-20 turnaround. During the regular season, Raffl played winger and center, won a career-high 99 faceoffs, helped kill penalties and scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) over 58 contests. Playing fourth-line winger against the Bruins, Raffl had a big game with a goal, an assist and a plus-2 rating.

“He’s a great guy to be around," Sean Couturier said in a video interview Monday. "He’s loved in the dressing room. We’re going to miss him if it’s for an extended period of time. There are some other guys just waiting to get an opportunity. We have some depth, which is a good thing — we can use that."

The situation now calls for Farabee, the 20-year-old playmaking rookie who was pushing for a spot in the Flyers' first-round Game 1 lineup. Farabee will play Thursday and it would be surprising to not see him in the lineup at the start of the first round if Raffl is still unavailable. Maybe the Flyers look at Andy Andreoff or Connor Bunnaman, who have had solid stints on the fourth line.

Where Farabee slots in the lineup (not if he does) feels like the real question, though. The 2018 first-round pick has top-six upside but the Flyers' first two lines have been good with noticeable chemistry. Farabee could jump right onto the fourth unit, though the Flyers might like his contributions more in greater minutes with a different player giving a lift to the bottom line (see story).

"He's had a good year," Couturier said. "It’s tough your rookie year, you have some ups and some downs. I think the important thing is to grow from it, learn from it. He came back prepared and he’s looked good, so we’re excited to have him in the lineup. I think we’re counting on him to make a difference down the road."

The Flyers are off the ice Tuesday, so we should know more about the Flyers' decisions come Wednesday.

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Flyers open 24-team tournament with a bang by taking down NHL-best Bruins in round robin

Flyers open 24-team tournament with a bang by taking down NHL-best Bruins in round robin

BOX SCORE

Fans on Sunday afternoon celebrated the return of meaningful Flyers hockey after 145 days since the club's last game.

The Flyers themselves did some celebrating, too, by outplaying the league's best team for a 4-1 win to open their three-game round-robin slate in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

Michael Raffl, Nate Thompson, Philippe Myers and Scott Laughton netted goals for the Flyers, who came on strong in the second period and then controlled the Bruins to the finish line at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

The fourth-seeded Flyers helped their potential climb before the first round by getting a big game out of the way and opening the round robin 1-0-0.

Plenty to like with the Flyers' start to the tournament. Let's get into observations:

• Nobody should tell you to temper expectations if you're giddy over the futures of Myers and Travis Sanheim.

Who wouldn't be excited about two long defensemen no older than 24 years old that are mobile, create offense and are only getting better in the defensive end?

The two make up a young defensive pair with only four combined games of playoff experience entering the tournament. But the Flyers made a point during the regular season to have them learn and gain confidence by playing hard minutes in big situations. On Sunday, the coaching staff saw early returns on that game plan.

"Not only did we not hide those guys, but we purposely matched them against the best lines in the league. A: because they have that ability. But B: because we wanted them to grow," Flyers assistant coach Mike Yeo, who oversees the blueliners, said during training camp.

The 6-foot-5 Myers scored a nasty and important goal in the second period just eight seconds after Chris Wagner trimmed the Flyers' lead to 2-1.

"I love playing against the best players and I’m looking forward to the challenge," Myers said in camp. "It’s a challenge that I’m embracing with open arms."

Sanheim got the Flyers started with a nice feed to Raffl, who made a pretty finish to hand the Flyers a 1-0 advantage in the middle frame. Both Sanheim and Myers were physical and smart in the defensive zone, as well, breaking up plays when the opportunity called for it.

Against the Bruins this season, the duo has combined for four goals, six points and a plus-11 rating. They're not intimidated and that's huge for the Flyers' chances.

• If you want to get a true sense of how much deeper the Flyers are compared to years past, ask Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Two of the mainstay pieces to the club's core have put a lot of production on their shoulders but the Flyers haven't won a playoff series since 2012, Voracek's first season in Philadelphia.

They've admitted the difference of the Flyers' improved depth.

"I think you can tell that’s another reason why we’re winning games," Voracek said in February. "So many times me, G or [Sean Couturier] didn’t have any points, and we find a way to score four, five goals. Let’s be honest, it didn’t happen very often in the past. We are extremely deep. It feels like every time when somebody is off scoring-wise, somebody else is picking it up. That’s what the good teams do and we do it well.”

The Flyers' fourth line of Raffl, Thompson and Tyler Pitlick totaled two goals, three points and a plus-4 mark.

Giroux, Couturier and Voracek didn't need to score much. They combined for one assist but delivered quality defensive work and the Flyers beat Boston by three goals.

• One possible bad storyline from the Flyers' perspective to come from Sunday's outing was Raffl being forced to leave the game during the third period.

He went into the boards awkwardly in a race for the puck. He didn't appear in terrible pain but wasn't putting pressure on his one leg as he needed assistance off the ice from Flyers director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin.

After the game, the Flyers did not have an immediate update on Raffl as the play happened later in the final stanza.

"I looked at it quickly on the overhead just a little bit after it happened," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said in a video interview after the game. "Seemed like it was close to being a slew foot but I'd have to see the replay again."

Missing Raffl for any time would be a blow to the team's aforementioned depth. Stay tuned. The Flyers do know they have Joel Farabee waiting in the wings.

• All was well for Carter Hart in his tournament debut. He converted 12 saves in the first period and the lone goal he allowed was from a funny bounce off Robert Hagg's skate.

Hart made 34 saves on 35 shots.

"I know I've been here a short time, but he doesn't look 21 to me," Thompson said after the game in a video interview. "He reminds me a little bit of a goalie I used to play with in Montreal."

Thompson was referring to Carey Price.

The Flyers did not have to face Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask (unfit to play), who is 15-2-4 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in his career against the orange and black.

They instead saw Jaroslav Halak, who is no slouch. The 35-year-old veteran recorded a 2.39 goals-against average during the regular season but the Flyers got the best of him.

• The Flyers impressively held Boston's big trio of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron scoreless as the three were a combined minus-7. 

"I think our guys did a good job, especially Coots' line playing against them," Laughton said.

• Thompson, who received the nod over Farabee, looked off his game a bit early on in fourth-line duties. He had trouble with the puck on his stick a few times and sent a questionable pass through the defensive zone in the first period.

Then he made up for it with this shot to hand the Flyers a 2-0 lead in the second period. The 35-year-old knows the postseason, having played in an Eastern Conference Final and a Western Conference Final. A really good guy to have. General manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Thompson at the February trade deadline for a 2021 fifth-round pick.

• The Flyers have two more games in the round robin. They face the Capitals Thursday (start time TBD) and Lightning Saturday (start time TBD).

The Flyers could try some different looks Thursday (see story). Maybe the Flyers now lean more toward giving Raffl a game off. We'll see.

The Capitals and Lightning play the other Eastern Conference round-robin opener Monday (4 p.m./NBCSN).

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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