Philadelphia Flyers Training Camp - Day One Insights

Friday, September 18, 2015
The Dave Hakstol era began Friday at the first day of Philadelphia Flyers training camp. Photo credit: Nina Weiss
It was a beautiful Friday weather-wise in Vorhees, New Jersey, but it was just as beautiful inside the Virtua Skate Zone as the Philadelphia Flyers opened training camp for the 2015-16 season. 

New Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, along with new Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon, assistant coaches at both the NHL and AHL levels and goaltending coaches alike were on the ice for the two sessions today - putting the players through a very rigorous, up-tempo practice on day one.

There were plenty of laps skated, bag skate type sprints and high intensity level 1-on-1 battles to go along with physical play on the boards in practices that left most of the participants hunched over and gasping for air.

First Practice Session

The first surprise of the day was seeing two forwards skating with the first (main) group this morning. Scott Laughton and Chris Porter skated with the 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders that mostly everyone had projected would comprise the NHL roster.

Only the first practice of the season and Hakstol himself said during his media interview that the staff was going to discuss tonight any possible lineup tweaks, but a look at the line combinations used by the main group:
Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds
Chris Porter - Scott Laughton - Brayden Schenn
R.J. Umberger - Vinny Lecavalier - Sam Gagner
Chris VandeVelde - P-E Bellemare - Ryan White 
Nick Schultz - Mark Streit
Michael Del Zotto - Evgeni Medvedev
Andrew MacDonald - Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning - Luke Schenn 
Steve Mason - Michal Neuvirth 
It should come as a bid of confidence for both Laughton and Porter that they practiced with the main group and it appears that they will be given an opportunity to compete for an NHL roster spot. Both players are signed to two-way contracts and would need to unseat a forward on a one-way deal, but crazier things have happened.

Laughton split his rookie season between the AHL and NHL, posting 27 points (14G-13A) with the Phantoms and six points (2G-4A) in 31 games with the Flyers last season. As a top line center with Lehigh Valley, Laughton began the season on a tear - posting 11 points (6G-5A) in his first 13 games before earning a call up to Philadelphia. After three months in the NHL, Laughton struggled mightily upon his return to the AHL - tallying just three points (1G-2A) in his first 14 games back in February and March before finishing the final 12 games with 12 points (7G-5A).

It will take an outstanding camp/preseason for Laughton to make the NHL roster out of camp, but I don't think it will be too long before Laughton is back in the NHL.

Porter is an 8-year veteran with 173 NHL games of experience under his belt. He's a former University of North Dakota player who was coached by Hakstol, so there's already some familiarity there. He's a quality bottom six forward whose projected ceiling is just that.

I caught up with Porter after this morning's practice and will have a story on him in the coming days, so stay tuned for that. My first impressions are that he's a character guy that knows the process of training camp/preseason, etc. and that he feels like he has an opportunity in front of himself to compete for an NHL job. If not, the Phantoms are getting a sure-fire leader/mentor in the AHL locker room that the rookies and prospects can learn from.

The Phantoms' AHL all-star representative last season was also practicing with the main group Friday, that being defenseman Brandon Manning. Manning signed a one-year, one-way deal for this season and up until the off-season signing of Evgeni Medvedev it looked as though Manning was a lock for the Flyers' blue line. Instead, he's one of eight defensemen on a one-way NHL contract at camp and practiced on a fourth pairing alongside Luke Schenn.

While it's certainly possible the Flyers stick with eight defensemen to start the season, it appears for now that it will take an injury or a trade on the blue line to make room for Manning to be an everyday contributor to the NHL lineup. I had a nice 1-on-1 chat with Manning after the first practice of the season and talked about his mindset coming into this season. More on that Saturday in an exclusive feature right here at Highland Park Hockey.

Second Session

The afternoon session showcased rookies/prospects and returning pros that are likely ticketed for AHL duties this fall. Much like the first session, these guys too were sent through the proverbial wringer with an upbeat practice.

The difference was that the second session was split among both rinks at the Virtua Skate Zone due to the sheer amount of players in group 2 (four goaltenders, 12 defensemen and 19 forwards). After a quick but tough skate, the guys had themselves a scrimmage. I jotted down some line combinations and they were as follows:

Team Black

Petr Straka - Tim Brent - Travis Konecny
Tyrell Goulbourne - Cole Bardreau - Colin McDonald
Samuel Dove-McFalls - Danick Martel - Brandon Alderson/Derek Mathers

Shayne Gostisbehere - Samuel Morin
Travis Sanheim - Mark Alt
Philip Myers - Nick Luukko

Jason LaBarbera - Connor Knapp

Team White

Taylor Leier - Nick Cousins - Aaron Palushaj
Michael Parks - Chris Conner - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Jay Rosehill - Luke Philp - Pavel Padakin

Ivan Provorov - Davis Drewiske
Robert Hagg - Logan Pyett
Maxim Lamarche - Jesper Pettersson

Team White took the 3-0 win on goals from Micheal Parks and Jay Rosehill (I missed who scored the third goal).

While it's hard to take much away from the line combinations of the scrimmage in terms of projecting a lineup for the Phantoms this fall (most of the lines/defense pairings had prospects not eligible for the AHL), one trio you could see in Lehigh Valley - possibly a top line - is that of Taylor Leier, Nick Cousins and Aaron Palushaj.

Those three dominated in the offensive zone most of the shifts they were on the ice together. They showed good chemistry for just being thrown together on a line today and they all possess offensive skill and vision with the puck on their stick. I spoke with Leier to catch up him again after having covered his rookie season closely and also talked to Palushaj since he was signed over the summer and is also likely beginning the season in Lehigh Valley. I have plenty of interviews to go through from camp Friday, so expect updates on these two guys sometime next week.

Loose Ends

Some other quick notes from the first day of training camp, defenseman Christian Marti and forward Radel Fazleev didn't participate Friday as both are out with undisclosed injuries.

If you missed it, I featured forward Michael Parks for my weekly Lehigh Valley Phantoms story for The Home News. Parks is another former UND player who recently completed his senior season and signed an AHL deal with the Phantoms this summer. He knows Hakstol's ways, but also ran into another familiar face at rookie camp who told him some things about Allentown, the PPL Center and the Phantoms fan base. You can check out that web-exclusive story here.


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