Flyers

Doors open for Flyers' prospects as they close on Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto

Doors open for Flyers' prospects as they close on Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Ron Hextall last month said the Flyers want to "get better every year, get younger every year."

They did not get better this season.

They did, however, take a step toward getting younger for next season when Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto left their exit interviews at Flyers Skate Zone.

To no surprise, the two blueliners strapped with expiring contracts were told on Tuesday they would not be re-signed this offseason.

Schultz turns 35 years old in August, while Del Zotto will be 27 in June. Both saw the writing on the wall with the Flyers' stable of defensive prospects not far from the NHL doorstep.

As the Flyers watch the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons, Hextall will look to get younger, as promised.

"He thanked me for my time; I thanked him for the opportunity," Del Zotto said. "We both talked about which way the organization's going. I think it's no secret with what's happening here and we ended on that note."

Schultz, a veteran of 15 seasons (three with the Flyers) and contemplating retirement, had the same message.

"Obviously, I kind of know where I'm at -- contract's done and I know the young guys here in the system," Schultz said. "They are going to turn to those guys. Just kind of move on and move forward."

Del Zotto spent three seasons with the Flyers but was limited to 52 games in 2015-16 and 51 in 2016-17 because of injuries, which resulted in a shrunken role.

"It's unfortunate, a little emotional," he said. "I've been here for three years, have made some great friendships. Obviously, there was a little up and down and very frustrating at times. You understand the business and you learn that at a very young age. You see where this team's at -- a lot of young guys coming up on the back end."

This leaves two jobs for the taking on defense. Another could open, courtesy of the Vegas Golden Knights and the June expansion draft (i.e. Brandon Manning, Andrew MacDonald). The departures also loosen Hextall's pockets a bit. This season, Del Zotto carried a $3.875 million cap hit and Schultz $2.25 million.

So, who's in line for the vacancies?

We saw two auditions last week in the NHL debuts of 21-year-old Sam Morin and 22-year-old Robert Hagg. Both were drafted in 2013 and have developed at Hextall's preferred pace. Morin is 6-foot-7 and strong along the boards. Hagg possesses a sound two-way game with good size at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds. The pair owns a combined five seasons of experience at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

"They're great players, they've got lots of talent down in the AHL," 20-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov said. "They've got a great team. Hopefully they'll go deep in the playoffs. It'd be a good experience for them but it's definitely exciting -- we've got a great team here and lots of talent everywhere else, juniors and AHL."

Including Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. Last summer, Hextall acclaimed Sanheim for his physical growth since being drafted in 2014. The 21-year-old is an offense-oriented defenseman who has put up 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in his first season with the Phantoms. Myers is only 20 years old and still playing at the junior ranks, but impressed greatly through training camp and preseason, when he stuck around longer than anticipated.

T.J. Brennan and Reece Willcox should be in the mix, as well, come fall.

What's prevalent is the Flyers will have options and competition for spots to join the likes of Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, both budding in their own right.

"We've got [several] free agents this year, so we'll probably have a little bit of turnover," Wayne Simmonds said. "There's a lot of younger guys in Lehigh that are high on the radar and they're really good players. I'm expecting a lot of young kids to be coming up and things to change a little bit."

Schultz and Del Zotto were the start.

"When kids are younger now and growing up, they are training sooner and doing more at a young age," Schultz said. 

"Obviously there's a learning process playing in the NHL and playing a full 82-game season. It's a process, but it's something where those young guys are developing a lot quicker and are ready to play when they come in."

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Capitals, Hurricanes set for Game 7 clash

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Capitals, Hurricanes set for Game 7 clash

There were two Game 7 matchups Tuesday night.

On Wednesday night, we've got another one and it should be good as the defending champion Capitals try to put away the Rod Brind'Amour-led Hurricanes, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

The first-round series hasn't lacked fireworks or physicality. Game 7 should be no different.

Below is the full schedule for Day 15 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Eastern Conference first round
7:30 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

Updated: 5:13 p.m.

The Flyers saw both ends of the spectrum with their first-round picks from the 2018 draft.

While Joel Farabee shined at Boston University this season (see story), Jay O'Brien struggled to find his game at Providence College.

After a freshman season comprised of injuries and five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games, it appears O'Brien's time with the Friars is over.

According to a report Tuesday by Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal, O'Brien has entered the NCAA transfer portal and is expected to play for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL during the 2019-20 season. However, per separate reports, O'Brien's decision for next season is still being decided.

O'Brien, a playmaking center, will have three years of college eligibility remaining.

Now, before anyone starts debating O'Brien's future, let's remember the importance of perspective with teenage prospects. 

O'Brien was perceived as a bit of project when the Flyers' previous regime of Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor selected him 19th overall last summer. Taking O'Brien at No. 19 was viewed by many as a reach, but the Flyers' scouting staff was high on the Thayer Academy product and trusted its evaluation. The Flyers took O'Brien over other centers Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

This season, Veleno put up 104 points in the QMJHL, Kupari had 33 points over 43 games in Liiga (Finnish pro league) and Lundestrom appeared in 15 games with the Ducks.

O'Brien, because of his smaller stature (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) and being drafted out of prep school, had an adjustment period playing Division I hockey (see story). Multiple injuries also didn't help his cause with the transition.

But patience with O'Brien was always going to be imperative. The Flyers drafted him on a lot of upside after taking more of a guarantee in the quick-rising Farabee five picks earlier. The 19-year-old O'Brien isn't lacking in ability or work ethic. Providence head coach Nate Leaman, who led the Friars to a national title in 2015, called O'Brien's skill set "elite."

"It takes time to learn to play at the speed, to play with the lack of space," Leaman said in January during a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story).

"These guys that come right from high school, it takes time and I know Philly has told us that they understand that also."

O'Brien paid little attention to pre-draft rankings last summer.

"I don't even know where I was," he said at development camp. "It doesn't mean much to me. It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

He'll have a new path in 2019-20, another chance to prove himself. There's still plenty to like, with plenty of time.

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