Phil Myers

Russian prospects Mikhail Vorobyev, Ivan Kosorenkov show their skills in Flyers rookie game

Russian prospects Mikhail Vorobyev, Ivan Kosorenkov show their skills in Flyers rookie game

Fans flocked to the Wells Fargo Center to check out Nolan Patrick and the organization’s stocked pantry of defensemen.

And yet, it was a pair of Russians who seemed to generate the most buzz during Wednesday night’s rookie game that saw the Flyers lose to the Islanders, 4-3, in overtime (see observations).

The pairing of center Mikhail Vorobyev and right winger Ivan Kosorenkov displayed a unique chemistry on a line with Carsen Twarynski. Vorobyev led all Flyers rookies with a pair of assists, including one play in which he spotted a pinching Travis Sanheim on a backdoor cut.

“Even on my goal there, Vorobyev, his vision to be able to find me backdoor,” Sanheim said. “I thought that was pretty good on him, and I thought all night they were both working hard and creating quite a bit.”

Vorobyev displayed an ability to hold the puck on his stick and wait for plays to develop, whereas other young centers might not have the patience to wait for a lane to open up. Selected 104th overall in the 2015 draft, Vorobyev signed his entry-level deal back in April and will report to the Phantoms when the season begins.

“You can see his skill level — he’s going to make some plays,” Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said after serving as head coach for this game. “He’s a big body, especially up the middle to have a guy with that size and skill, he’s going to be a nice option for us.” 

Kosorenkov, who is slightly smaller than Vorobyev, has learned to speak understandable English. He came to the Flyers during the team’s development camp back in July after he went undrafted playing one season for Victoriaville in the QMJHL, and was invited back for the team’s rookie camp. Watching Kosorenkov Wednesday, he’s built like a mini version of Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, with a burst of speed once the puck is on his stick and an ability to protect the puck in traffic, an element he’s been working on.

“We learned this thing in development camp, protecting the puck in the corners and battling every day,” Kosorenkov said. “I really worked on that this summer in camps. I think I improved in this area. I know it's very important for the NHL game and the North American game.”

Kosorenkov is hoping he has shown enough throughout development and rookie camp to earn his own entry-level deal, and spending more time in the U.S. will only prove beneficial for both players. 

“Obviously it’s going to be a little harder for them, they don’t speak English that much," defenseman Sam Morin said. "When they get past this language barrier, it’s going to be so much easier for them. I understood them a little bit when I came here, but their skills are unreal. It’s impressive. All those guys are good with the puck.”

News and notes
• One word to describe Nolan Patrick’s first game in a Flyers sweater would be steady. The second overall pick in the June draft felt no pain three months removed from core muscle surgery.

“I felt great until that last play in overtime,” Patrick said. “I ran out of gas going in on the offensive and then trying to get a backcheck. Other than that, I thought I played a good game for my first game since March.”

• Defenseman Phil Myers left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return for precautionary reasons. It’s not known when Myers sustained the injury, but it forced the Flyers to play with five defensemen, where fatigue and a lack of familiarity clearly played a part in third-period breakdowns.

“Our D was pushed to the limits, especially when we were stuck in the zone so much they couldn’t get their gaps,” Gordon said. “I think that’s something where you’re playing an exhibition game, there hasn’t been a lot of system work, so you’re going to get guys who are a little bit off the page.”

• John Stevens, the son of the former Flyers coach (2006-09) with the same name, scored the Islanders' first goal that tied the game at 1-1.  

“Yeah, it was pretty special. I grew up going to games here my whole life pretty much,” Stevens said. “A lot of people in the building are the same people that are here when I was growing up. So it is a pretty cool experience.”

In more ways than one, Flyers' young defense has unprecedented look

In more ways than one, Flyers' young defense has unprecedented look

As football season begins Thursday night, it’s a welcomed sign that hockey is right around the corner. The Flyers open rookie camp Monday and training camp next Friday. There is a hockey game at the Wells Fargo Center next Wednesday, when the Flyers host the New York Islanders in a rookie game. Winter is coming, and after a long summer of Phillies baseball, we’ll take it.

Although the Flyers have missed the playoffs three of the last five seasons, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about their prospects in 2017-18. Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom are the festival’s headliners, but the lineup is stacked with motives to tune in. We’re entering the enjoyable phase of the Flyers’ recharge, in which general manager Ron Hextall will begin injecting young blood into the roster, more so than we’ve seen in the past two seasons with Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

No longer will the majority of the buzz reside on the farm system while we ponder why Chris VandeVelde draws into the lineup every night. So long as the Hextall regime is in charge, it’ll be important to pay continued attention to prospects because it’s how he builds his program. Draft and develop will be a staple here for a long time.

The Flyers are entering a youth movement, and Hextall during the offseason made it a point to not block any of his kids from earning a spot in the lineup. There is a bevy of candidates to snag the open forward slots, and as we sit today, two spots on the blue line are up for grabs. Assuming all goes as expected, they’ll be rookies.

For the first time since 2008-09, the Flyers will have four defensemen that are 24 years old or younger with no more than two years of experience going into the campaign. Eight years ago, the Flyers finished with four blueliners 24 or under playing more than 25 games, with two of them in their third NHL season and the other two being rookies.

Braydon Coburn was 23 and in his third year. Matt Carle was 24, acquired from Tampa just 12 games into the season and in his third year. Ryan Parent was 21 and played in 31 games in his first season. Luca Sbisa played in 39 games as a 19-year-old. But that team also had 13 total defensemen play that year with plenty of veteran leadership.

This season will be different, however. The Flyers enter 2017-18 in an unprecedented situation, as they’ll have a young, largely inexperienced defensive group with four defensemen either in their first, second or third seasons.

But that doesn’t mean that the blue line will be a weakness. Instead, it should be a strength.

Gostisbehere is entering his third season, and Provorov his second. At least two of Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim will be here, and there is the slimmest of possibilities a third rookie will break camp with the Flyers. Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning are both 27 and Andrew MacDonald will be 31 on Thursday.

Any way we carve it, the Flyers’ defensive corps will have its growing pains this season. We can’t expect a band of first, second and third-year players to go through an 82-game schedule without learning moments, and we can’t look at Provorov as an exception. His rookie season didn’t go without miscues, though they were limited.

As we wait for the chips to fall in camp, the early bet is on Hagg and Morin cracking the roster this season with Myers and Sanheim beginning the season in Lehigh Valley. Both Hagg and Morin made their NHL debuts last April, and while it was an extremely small sample size, both looked as if they belonged. It would be a surprise if both 2013 draft picks don’t make the trip out west with the Flyers on Oct. 4. It’s safe to say at least one of them will be a Flyer this season depending on Myers and Sanheim’s readiness.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Myers and Sanheim beat out both Hagg and Morin, but it’s plausible one of them steals a spot from either Hagg or Morin. Hagg made tremendous strides in his third full season in the AHL last year, which led to Flyers assistant GM Chris Pryor saying in January he believes Hagg is “just about NHL ready.”

With Gostisbehere, Provorov and two of the four prospects in the fold, the Flyers’ defense will feature youth, puck moving and a steady two-way mix. Gostisbehere endured adversity in his second season, but as he regained his confidence from offseason hip/abdominal surgery, he flashed signs of the player he was in 2015-16.

Many expect Provorov to make a huge jump in his second season. Whether head coach Dave Hakstol continues to pair him with MacDonald is something that will be decided in the preseason, but it’s possible Hakstol decides to pair MacDonald with one of the rookies.

The inexperience will show at times this season, but it’s largely a group that should garner excitement and improved overall play than in years past. The puck should be out of the zone quicker with crisper passes, and it’ll be a bigger group than recent years. The added size will be welcomed. Of the four prospects in the mix, Hagg is the shortest at 6-foot-2, which, still, is decent size. Sanheim is 6-4, Myers is 6-5 and Morin is 6-6.

Gone are the days when the Flyers’ defense would feature Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Nicklas Grossmann, and other defensemen that no longer jell well with today’s game. Beginning this season, we’ll finally see what Hextall began to build when he took over in 2014. The blue line will be young, it’ll be inexperienced, and we haven’t really seen anything like this in Philly in quite some time, if ever at all, but it should be fun to track.

Feeling like NHLers, Flyers prospects Phil Myers, Oskar Lindblom ready to reach dreams

Feeling like NHLers, Flyers prospects Phil Myers, Oskar Lindblom ready to reach dreams

TORONTO — Skating around in an empty rink in August for a photo shoot might not seem like much, but for prospects Phil Myers and Oskar Lindblom, donning the Flyers' colors while on the ice together gave the pair an opportunity to envision what their 2017-18 season might look like.

Myers and Lindblom were on the ice together this week at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre inside the historic Maple Leaf Gardens for the annual NHLPA Rookie Showcase — an opportunity for trading card giant Upper Deck to shoot the players for upcoming products.

The Flyers prospects spent a large part of Monday afternoon on the ice together, feeding each other for one-timers and getting to know the rest of the rookie class from around the NHL.

“That’s what I dream about, so keep it going and try and make a spot in Philly,” Lindblom said of wearing the Flyers' colors.

Myers got to see his life in Flyers colors last October when he suited up in preseason games.

“Obviously I’m going to go [to training camp] with the mindset of making the team, that’s my ultimate goal,” Myers said. “It’s been my dream since I was a child.”

Myers heads to camp this year with the confidence of a full summer of training behind him. Last summer, offseason hip surgery hindered his ability to work out and the 20-year-old admitted to being out of shape during preseason play.

“I had stages this summer,” Myers said. “It started with putting weight on, then we were doing power and then at the end it’s more speed stuff. It’s paid off so far and I feel good. So I’m happy.”

The defenseman spent a bulk of his summer training in his hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick. He also trained with the Flyers for 3½ weeks. The 2015 free-agent signing didn’t do any extravagant trips this offseason, but he did catch a few concerts.

“I went to a concert in Philly, the Zac Brown Band, and I went to a music festival in Montreal, Ile Soniq, which was pretty fun,” Myers said. “It was a fun weekend, but I was still reasonable, I got the training in. It’s important to stay on track.”

With the youth movement in full swing, Myers sees an opportunity to follow the likes of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov on a young Flyers' blue line. 

Even with an opportunity, the Flyers should have up to two rookies on the back end; Myers knows there’ll be stiff competition with the likes of Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim also competing to be everyday NHLers.

“A little competition is always good,” Myers said. “All the guys are ... we all get along really well. We’re juggling to try to help each other make the team. It’s going to be a good experience and I’m really looking forward to it.”

For Lindblom, this is his second taste of North American hockey. The native of Gavle, Sweden, has spent parts of the past four seasons playing for Brynäs IF in the SHL, but got a small sample of American Hockey League action when he dressed in eight games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms two seasons ago.

“That was good for me just to see how it is over here, feel the environment, feel the games, good experience,” Lindblom said. “It’s a lot faster here, but give it a couple of games and then you’re in it. I went to Philly last weekend, trained there, after a couple of weeks, I’m going to be fine.”  

The 21-year-old scored 22 goals and 47 points in 52 games last season — up from the 25 points in 48 games he produced during the 2015-16 season.

Lindblom credits his development for the increase in point production.

“One year older, faster and stronger,” he said. “More skilled overall. I played with two good players over there, they helped me a lot.”

Though there are roster spots open, and Lindblom is certain to challenge for one, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound forward isn’t opposed to further seasoning in the AHL, if that’s what’s recommended.

“If I’m not good enough to play in the NHL, then I’ll need to take a little longer way, but that’s how they do it over here,” Lindblom said. “That’s not a big thing for me to go to the AHL. If it happens, it happens, and we’ll go from there.”

The influx of youth has veterans such as Wayne Simmonds excited for the upcoming season.

“There's a ton of 'em. Our prospect pool is probably top two in the league, so you can go down the list: Sanheim, Morin, Hagg, Lindblom — there’s a million guys I could keep naming off,” Simmonds said at the BioSteel Camp last week. “We’re going to have a lot of young defensemen coming in and I think it’s going to make our team better.

“With a good mix of youth and veterans, I think the youth can spark the veterans a little bit and the veterans will help bring the younger guys [along].”