Flyers

In the background, Mike Vecchione out to break more ceilings with Flyers

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

In the background, Mike Vecchione out to break more ceilings with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Mike Vecchione leaned up against a stick rack in the hallway outside the rookie locker room at Flyers Skate Zone.

No one but an occasional prospect passing through was in sight.

Unlike with some other rookies at training camp, there was no hoard of recorders and cameras surrounding him.

This is just how Vecchione likes it — little anticipation, all behind the scenes.

"I kind of like not having to be in the spotlight," Vecchione said last Saturday. "I just get to go out there, play my game and just keep my head down and work hard."

Nearly a month after the forward signed with the Flyers at the end of March as an attractive college free agent, the organization improbably landed the No. 2 overall pick in the June entry draft, meaning a bona-fide center was coming. Then, another month later, the Flyers expectedly inked rising winger prospect Oskar Lindblom to his entry-level deal.

Within 32 days, the Vecchione signing, his NHL debut, the buzz — much of it had fizzled. Suddenly, a 2017 Hobey Baker Award (top college player) finalist was in the background.

Sort of like his status at training camp, a scene overflowing with youth and hope for the future. Blue-line prospects are everywhere. Nolan Patrick, who just turned 19 years old, is being watched like a hawk. And Lindbolm, 21, is hard to miss with his long blonde hair while playing alongside Claude Giroux for parts of camp.

Still young and blooming at 24, Vecchione is now up against Patrick, Lindblom and others for a spot on the Flyers' roster. No guarantees, but that's a feeling he knows well.

"Obviously when they draft Nolan, it's going to be a little tougher, but it's nothing I haven't seen before," Vecchione said. "They're going to take whoever is the best fit for the team. Right now, I'm on the wing, so it's a little different perspective. But, yeah, that doesn't change my mindset, what I'm going to do. I'm going to go out there, work as hard as I can, show them that I can be a good piece to this team. 

"I knew coming in it wasn't going to be easy, they didn't guarantee me anything and I knew I had to work for it, so, like I said, nothing new for me. I'm just looking forward to the challenge."

In fact, knowing beforehand the No. 2 pick would fall in the Flyers' lap wouldn't have changed much for Vecchione and his decision to sign here.

"No, I just had a good comfort level with the Flyers," he said. "It just felt like the best fit. When they got the No. 2 overall pick, it didn't change the way I felt about the organization, how I fit in here and how I could be a good asset to the team. Looking back in hindsight, I probably would have done the same thing. Right now, I'm still happy with it.

"Everything is about competition, competing out there, and that's what I've been trying to do my whole life. It's how I got here, so it fits me pretty well."

Looking at the counterparts in his current competition, Vecchione's résumé should remind many that he comes with a not-so-shabby track record himself. He is the all-time leading scorer in Union College history with 176 points and also ranks first in all-time assists with 105. After 63 points (29 goals, 34 assists) in 38 games his senior year — a single-season program record for scoring — Vecchione stood as the active career leader in the country.

"Nolan, what's he, 19? Oskar, 20, maybe 21? It's a lot of pressure put on the younger guys. For me, I'm 24," he said. "Yeah, I've [accomplished] all those things, but it's nice not to have all that — the media all over me, all the pressure on being the No. 2 overall pick or all the good things that you have to say about Oskar. They're two tremendous players, but you can't harp on them, put all that pressure on them — just let them go out there and play.

"But for me, I've done a lot of great things, I've been able to accomplish a lot. Yeah, I feel like I have a good pedigree, too."

Those achievements aren't as shiny when up against big names in an NHL training camp, but Vecchione, a 5-foot-10, 203-pounder, can look at them for motivation. It's a product of his work.

"It always seems to be that way," Vecchione said. "I think that work ethic, tenacity, all those things that I've had to overcome to get here has helped me a tremendous amount with maturity and mental toughness. Everything I've learned throughout my time playing hockey is you're going to have to work for everything you get and nothing is going to be given to you — hard work is going to get you a long way."

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol sees it.

"He's a worker," Hakstol said last Saturday. "I think that's the one thing you're looking for out of everybody, obviously. There's an awful lot more to it than that as you progress through camp, but he's worked hard."

Vecchione, a restricted free agent inked to a two-year extension on Day 1 of free agency this summer, doesn't mind where he plays. He'll start the season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley if that's the case. He'll play winger instead of center if that's what the Flyers want.

Quite frankly, though, he doesn't care one iota about projections.

"I feel like I can put the puck in the net, make plays out there," Vecchione said. "In college, I started as a third, fourth-line guy, played center and I worked my way up.

"I feel like I have a good shot at being a top-six forward with Lehigh and maybe a bottom-six with Philly. It's all about how you perform up there and maybe you can work your way up. I've been taught to never put a ceiling on anything. The sky's the limit and I've broken a lot of ceilings that people put on me before."

Ty Smith, with little bit of Gostisbehere and Provorov, should attract Flyers in NHL draft

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Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs

Ty Smith, with little bit of Gostisbehere and Provorov, should attract Flyers in NHL draft

Ty Smith will dash across the ice as if he's saying catch me if you can.

Flyers fans know that game well.

You know, when a defenseman doesn't look like one because they're undersized, striking fear into nobody … until they take the puck up ice and skate you in circles.

Sound familiar?

"I am very well aware of Shayne Gostisbehere's game and what he brings," Spokane Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert said two weeks ago in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Although Lambert coaches at the junior level in the Western Hockey League, he's tuned in with the NHL game. He knows of Gostisbehere because he follows hockey.

Lambert also knows him likely because he watches a player awfully similar to the Flyers' slender offensive blueliner. Meet Ty Smith, an 18-year-old prospect that will hear his name called Friday night in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft. Projected to be taken in the ballpark of 10th-to-20th overall, Smith could find himself going to the Flyers, who hold picks Nos. 14 and 19 and want to "restock a little bit" on defense, according to general manager Ron Hextall.

"Because of his size, I think people underestimate the type of effects he could have on a team or an organization," Lambert said. "Whoever gets Ty, whether it's Philadelphia or whoever may be lucky enough to land him, is going to be an organization that will be very happy with their pick and they're going to be very appreciative that somehow, someway he fell on their lap."

Gostisbehere, a left-handed shot, was selected by the Flyers in the third round (78th overall) of the 2012 draft. At the time, he was 5-foot-11 and between 160-165 pounds, but regarded for his slick skating and scoring ability.

Smith, also a lefty shot, is 5-foot-10, 176 pounds — tinier guy but a menace at the point of the power play with an NHL-ready offensive acumen. The lissome Canadian pivots, maneuvers, creates and transitions with some of the best in this strong defensemen draft class. If Smith's offensive repertoire lacks anything, it's the shot, a trademark of Gostisbehere's game.

"I think one of his strengths is his shot and his ability to get it off and get it on net," Lambert said of Gostisbehere. "I think that's where Shayne has a big advantage over Ty right now; Ty does not have that shot."

To the naked eye, while Gostisbehere seems to be an obvious comparison to Smith, Lambert remembered Ivan Provorov, as well. He sees traits from both of the Flyers' defensive pillars in Smith.

"You know what, when I think of Provorov, and I think of his hockey sense, and Gostisbehere, I think Ty Smith kind of fits in there somewhere," Lambert said. "A little bit of one and a little bit of the other, and you probably get a guy that equals Ty Smith. He's probably in between those two and I think they're both two special players."

Smith has become a defensive stud in the WHL, just like Provorov did with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Smith produced a 41-point increase from last year, putting up 73 on 14 goals and 59 assists in 69 regular-season games. He erupted for a seven-point night in February, a game Lambert said probably wasn't even Smith's best. 

He also went from a minus-12 in 2016-17 to a plus-44 this season. Lambert noted how such a mark is especially impressive considering Smith was matched up against the opposition's top players every game. Include the intangibles, and "the sky's the limit for Ty, even with his lack of size," the coach said.

"He's got two things that are special. One of them is his hockey IQ, the understanding of the game," Lambert said. "And probably the other one that you maybe don't know until you get to know him as a young man, is his character and just how he shows up every single day. It didn't matter if he played 35 minutes the night before or not, the next day, he's your hardest-working player at practice, so that shows a lot of leadership. 

"Not the most vocal leader, but certainly a leader that leads by example and he's a driver, a guy that pushes your teammates, pushes your team usually into special places."

Smith may be on the doorstep of starting to do so in the NHL.

"Well, to be honest with you, one of my fears is that he's going to get drafted and he's going to impress teams in a hurry," Lambert said. "And I say that as a fear, it's also one of my dreams, like I hope that for him."

It didn't take Gostisbehere or Provorov real long, either.

More on the Flyers

2018 NHL draft: Prospects the Flyers could select with the 14th overall pick

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Rena Laverty, USA Hockey/Terry Wilson, OHL Images/Larry Brunt, Spokane

2018 NHL draft: Prospects the Flyers could select with the 14th overall pick

As we inch closer to Ron Hextall’s fifth draft as Flyers general manager, we have a track record of what to expect this weekend at the 2018 NHL draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The Flyers have nine selections and two first-rounders. Hextall said last week he anticipates making both of his first-round picks (Nos. 14 and 19) but left the door open for a trade. In prior drafts, Hextall operated by a best player available mentality. While he said he’ll stick to the Flyers’ list, he let it slip they would like to restock their defense and desire more right-handed D-men.

We’re going to provide prospects the Flyers could target in the first round. First up, No. 14.

Joel Farabee, LW, 6-0/161, USA U-18 (NTDP)

While Hextall said a righty D-man is on his wish list, he also acknowledged the Flyers’ need for goal scoring. Farabee, an 18-year-old New Yorker from the USNTDP, fits that description well.

Farabee scored 48 total goals in 88 combined games and produced above a point-per-game clip between the USHL and NTDP. He brings high character and a commitment to a 200-foot game.

A speedy left winger, Farabee possesses a shoot-first mentality and his skating to create space. He’s headed to Boston University in the fall, where he’ll fine-tune his game and bulk up.

Rasmus Kupari, C, 6-1/188, Kärpät (Extraliga)

Hextall lives by building down the middle — centers, defensemen and goaltenders — so Kupari could be on the Flyers’ radar come Friday night. He’s one of the best skaters in the draft and owns tremendous puck skills while still having a ton of raw talent he needs to polish overseas.

Kupari, as a 17-year-old playing in Finland’s top hockey league, recorded 14 points in 39 games with Kärpät. He also made Finland’s 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships roster.

The centerman will be staying in Finland for at least another year, so patience will be required. Could be a few years before he comes to North America but is a high-upside prospect.

Bode Wilde, D, 6-2/197, USA U-18 (NTDP)

If the Flyers stay put, keep an eye on Wilde, a smooth-skating righty defenseman with a cannon for a shot and a solid frame for an 18-year-old, using it to separate players from the puck.

Wilde scored 12 goals and 41 points in 61 games with the NTDP this season and added three goals and 16 points in 25 games with the NTDP junior team in the USHL. 

The University of Michigan commit has plenty to work on but will get the chance to do so at one of the better college hockey programs. Needs to get smarter with his decision-making and sharpen his play in his own zone, but there are enough encouraging signs in which that won’t be an issue.

Ty Smith, D, 5-10/176, Spokane (WHL)

A smaller defensive prospect, Smith’s skating ability picks up for what he lacks in size. The game has changed, so size doesn’t matter as much anymore. Still, Smith’s skill level is high.

The Chiefs' defenseman scored 14 goals and 73 points in 69 games in 2017-18 and captained Team Canada’s U-18 team at the 2018 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championships.

Smith’s talent level isn’t that far off from the draft’s top D prospects. Spokane head coach Dan Lambert recently said Smith reminds him like a mix of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.

Joseph Veleno, C, 6-1/194, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Veleno may be off the board when the Flyers are on the clock but could last until 14. The centerman was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft after receiving exceptional status as a 15-year-old by the CHL, becoming just the fifth player to ever be granted that rank.

Finishing as the eighth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, Veleno has a pro-like work ethic with a high hockey IQ. He was traded from Saint John to Drummondville midseason in 2017-18 and finished with 79 points in 64 games between the two clubs.

Under the Hextall administration, the Flyers have valued smart players with high character and a commitment to playing a 200-foot game. If Veleno is available, he fits all that criteria.

Other names to watch

Barrett Hayton, C, 6-1/190, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Hayton is a prospect the Flyers should know plenty about. A solid two-way centerman who produced just under a point-per-game clip in 2017-18 playing for the powerhouse Greyhounds.

Serron Noel, RW, 6-5/210, Oshawa (OHL)
A monster of a winger, Noel falls under the project category. The Flyers’ farm system positions them to be able to take on a project like Noel but there appear to be better fits at No. 14.

Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 6-2/184, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Hextall has built a reputation as a GM who likes high risers — Travis Sanheim and Morgan Frost, for example — and Kravtsov definitely falls into that category. A very intriguing option at 14.

Grigori Denisenko, LW, 5-10/171, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
A Russian winger with sky-high potential. Not sure if he’ll be on the Flyers’ radar at 14 — might be a little high — but his ceiling could be enticing enough for Hextall to call his name.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Hextall

Flyers anticipate making both first-round draft picks

Flyers should know and like this D-man to 'restock'

Flyers desire righty D, but is Ryan Merkley worth the risk?