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Meltzer's Musings: 9/24/11

September 24, 2011, 10:56 AM ET [ Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
On the heels of a whirlwind first week of training camp that saw the club play four games in as many nights, the Flyers have today off. Although there is a practice at the SkateZone listed on the initial schedule, there will not be one held. Practice resume tomorrow morning.

Last night in Detroit, it was obvious that a lot of players had tired legs (especially by the third period) but the club played well defensively and got strong goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky to prevail, 3-1, and run their preseason record to 2-1-1.

Following are observations about how various players have looked at camp so far.

FORWARDS

James van Riemsdyk: JVR has picked up where he left off in the spring. He has continued to drive to the net aggressively and his confidence has grown to the point where he will try (and often succeed in making) plays that he never would have a couple of years ago. He's collected three goals in the last two games.

Claude Giroux: The Flyers' top forward has a career history to date of playing mediocre, uninspired hockey in the preseason and then answering the bell when it counts. The same seems to happening this year, and there is no cause for concern. His play on Wednesday night picked up a bit after a lackluster start.

Jakub Voracek: The new arrival has had a decent but not spectacular camp to date. He has created quite a few scoring chances, showing off his stickhandling ability and deft passing touch in the process. On the flip side, he's also been guilty of a few bad turnovers and taken a couple of preventable penalties.

Danny Briere: As a seasoned pro, Danny knows what he has to do to prepare for the season. He looked good in the game in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The goal posts got in his way a few times but that's all part of the game.

Scott Hartnell: Hartnell only played nine-plus minutes last night, and was not on the ice in the third period (at least as far I can remember seeing). There is no word yet on whether he sustained an injury of some kind, but was having his best game of the preseason to date. Previously, the veteran was playing OK, but some of the newcomers (especially Wayne Simmonds) were more effective and displayed greater energy.

Jaromir Jagr: What can you say about the future Hall of Famer that was not already known? It did not surprise me one bit that he recorded a goal and an assist last night, and then said afterward that he struggled and needs to get better. As long as he holds up over the grind of the season -- I'm talking about fatigue and aches and pains, not injuries that keep him out of the lineup -- he'll be fine. If Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom can do it, why can't Jagr? Even if Jagr proves to be just half the player he was in his prime, he'll adequately replace Ville Leino (and that's not a knock on Ville at all).

Wayne Simmonds: Enough has been said about the incident during the shootout on Thursday. Both as a hockey player and a man, Simmonds handled it perfectly. His play in the preseason to date has been tremendous. He's been fast and physical. He's been a force to be reckoned with around the net. The new acquisition has also shown some good hands, scoring a deflection power play goal in the preseason opener, tying Thursday's game late in regulation and calmly scoring the Flyers' lone goal in the aforementioned shootout. If he keeps it up, Simmonds could work his way up in the ice line rotation, taking power play time away from Hartnell in particular.

Brayden Schenn: Two things have been obvious in camp to date. First, Schenn has high-end skills and should be able to make the opening night roster (despite his very high cap hit due to bonuses). Second, he is very much a rookie. There are times where he looks very good and times where he gets schooled in battles against more experienced players. I thought his best game to date (including the rookie game) was the preseason opener against Toronto.

Max Talbot: I thought the new acquisition was one of the few veteran players who looked decent in the game in Philly on Wednesday. I loved that he stood up for Schenn without hestitation. Earlier in the game, he tried to throw some hits to create a spark when the team was seriously short on energy. His PK work has also been good. In short, Talbot knows his role.

Matt Read: The more I see of Read, the more he reminds me of longtime NHL forward Greg Johnson. He brings speed, tenacity and skill level that makes his lack of size into a non-issue. Read has shown off a deft passing touch several times, including springing Tomas Hyka for a breakway goal on a stretch pass as Hyka came out of the penalty box. Read had been having some trouble finishing chances until last night, when he buried a shot upstairs from about 30 feet away. On his own merits, Read has shown that he deserves serious consideration to make the opening night roster. The only factor that works against him at this point is the fact that he is waiver exempt this year and most of his competition for a spot is waiver eligible.

Andreas Nodl: Nodl has not been horrible in the preseason but he needs to elevate his game. He's been outplayed so far by Read and several others. Peter Laviolette experimented with him at the point on the power play on Wed -- a spot Nodl played a bit in college hockey but is unlikely to play during the season. Nodl has not played himself off the roster -- he is waiver eligible, anyway, and the team would be very reluctant to make a move with Nodl based on a few preseason games. However, Nodl needs to step up from now to the end of camp in order to be in the lineup (and not the press box) come opening night in Boston.

Sean Couturier: I really wish the rules allowed for the 18-year-old Couturier to play in the AHL this season, because he looks ready for that level and does not really need another season in the QMJHL. From the rookie game onward, it's been clear that the scouting reports on him were accurate -- he needs to add strength in order to better compete physically. He gets pushed off the puck a little too easily. He also needs to continue refining his skating to get a little more first-stride explosiveness. But in terms of the teenager's skill level and hockey sense, he is already way above where most recently drafted players are in their first NHL camp. Despite the fact that the Flyers signed him to an entry-level contract, I think he'll go back to his junior club before the end of camp.

Jody Shelley: I commented on his status yesterday. Even without being suspended, his roster spot was in jeopardy heading into camp. The timing of the 10-game suspension did not help his cause. The Flyers need every few hundred thousand dollars of cap space they can create here and there, and that alone puts the 35-year-old Shelley in trouble.

Blair Betts: You know what you get with Betts. There really isn't any competition for his 4th line center job at camp, because tryout invitee Adam Mair does not kill penalties nor has he taken nearly as many faceoffs as Betts in recent years (although Mair has had a similar respectable winning percentage). The only way I could see Betts being in any trouble would be if the Flyers were to use Talbot as their fourth line center.

Tom Sestito: Sestito has tried very hard to make an impression in the battle for the 12th or 13th forward spot. Last night in Detroit, he turned in some solid board work that the coaches surely noticed. Unfortunately, he's also been a little overzealous at times and made a few defensive mistakes in addition to taking a couple extra minor penalties while engaging opposing players. As a waiver eligible player, his audition will continue until the last couple roster decisions have to be made.

Harry Zolnierczyk: Harry Z has been one of the most pleasant surprises at camp. He's been very effective on the forecheck and has gotten under opposing players' skin with his yapping. I think he'll play for the big club at some point but his waiver-exempt status and the numbers game work against him for breaking camp with the NHL club.

Zac Rinaldo: Rinaldo scored the Flyers' first goal of the preseason and, thus far, has stuck to his vow to play a little more under control. Time will tell. He's caught in a numbers game in the battle for the 12th/13th forward spot, and is still waiver exempt. The middleweight agitator and Sestito will remain in competition and will likely still be with the club after the next cuts are announced. We'll see what happens when the final cuts are made. I don't think both Rinaldo and Sesito will make it.

Ben Holmstrom: I thought Holmstrom's first game of the preseason was a very good one, but he has not been noticeable since. He'll see time with the big club this season but is still waiver exempt.

Eric Wellwood: Wellwood was one of the preseason standouts as a rookie pro last year but has been pretty much lost in the shuffle this year. I strongly suspect that when the next cuts are announced, he'll be among those re-assigned to the Phantoms, along with names such as Jon Kalinski and defensemen Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon.

Mike Testwuide: Testwuide is usually a very clean player but his hit from behind and game misconduct last night probably will earn the second-year pro (and aspiring NHL rookie) a suspension. That's especially true because it happened just 48 hours after the play that got Shelley suspended. Testwuide, who remains waiver exempt this year, was probably not going to make the NHL roster out of camp, anyway. He's lost some ground relative to where he stood as a much-hyped rookie free agent out of college. I do think he'll have a good AHL season with a better start than last year.

Tyler Brown: There was a lot of talk about Brown in the days before the exhibition schedule started, and he was one of the standouts in the rookie game against Washington. Since then, his name has receded into the background. He'll be a Phantom this season, but is worth tracking to see if he can become a role player with the big club in the next year or two.

Michael Nylander: The non-roster invitee was a longshot to begin with, and it does not help his cause that he's struggled with a lower-body injury at camp. The club may give him a courtesy game (if he's able to play) next week but it's hard to feel confident that he'll ever be healthy enough again to play effectively in the NHL, especially given Nylander's age.

Adam Mair: From the time he was invited to camp, it was clear his best hope was not to make the Flyers but to get another NHL team interested enough to sign him.


DEFENSE

Chris Pronger: Pronger continues his skating and rehab work. The fact that he accepted the captaincy already indicates that he is progressing well enough to raise hopes that he'll be ready to play in October.

Kimmo Timonen: The biggest thing with Kimmo at camp is to make sure that he gets through it healthy. He knows what it takes to get his game ready for the season, and he has approached the practices and games in that fashion.

Matt Carle: The impending UFA is on a contract drive this season, and I would rate him as the Flyers' best defenseman at camp so far. He's been outstanding at both ends of the ice and has typically been a fast starter during his NHL career.

Braydon Coburn: Minus a couple of hiccups in his first game, Coburn has been the second-best defenseman at camp. He is also on a contract drive this year. No worries here.

Andrej Meszaros: The defending Barry Ashbee Trophy winner has had a so-so preseason but it should be noted that a) he is coming off hand surgery and only very recently started to get back close to full strength, b) he had an up-and-down preseason last year and went on to play a very strong season, and c) he's played with several different partners in camp, often inexperienced ones. But once the bell rings for real, the Flyers need him to play better than he has at camp so far.

Matt Walker: Walker reported to camp in great shape and has played quite well in the preseason. Unfortunately, his $1.7 million cap hit weighs down his roster-spot bid like a lead anchor. In the pre-cap era, his play to date would have him in a good spot to take over the role performed ably last year by Sean O'Donnell. For Walker's sake, if the Flyers' cap issues exclude him from a third-pairing spot, I would hope that other NHL clubs with a bit of cap space have interest in trading for him. Otherwise, he could very well be bound for waivers and an AHL assignment despite doing everything right over the summer and at camp. Hockey is a tough business sometimes, especially in the cap age.

Andreas Lilja: The veteran free agent acquisition has had a decent camp, but Walker has been a little better. Even so, the salary cap differential gives Lilja an edge as the cuts get made. It will take a little cap maneuvering to fit Walker, while the Flyers can carry both Lilja and Oskars Bartulis even without Ian Laperriere's forthcoming LTIR allowance being approved.

Oskars Bartulis: The Latvian defenseman was one of the few Flyers who struggled in the preseason opener and I thought he had some rough patches in his second appearance as well. However, he's improved with each game and played well last night in Detroit. He still struggles with his poise and decisiveness at times.

Erik Gustafsson: He's had a decent camp (even apart from his goal on Wed) but is caught in the number game for opening night. Being waiver exempt works against him. I think he's outplayed the waiver eligible Bartulis so far, but it may not matter.

Blake Kessel: His size and heavy righthanded shot may get him time with the big club at some point. Those are the attributes that earned him an entry level contract days after being invited to camp as a free agent. He starred in the rookie game and looked good in the preseason opener against his brother's club. Since then, he's had the expected ups and downs. Kessel needs to cover a little better and make puck decisions a little faster because NHL checkers arrive in a hurry.

Kevin Marshall: Marshall looked very nervous in the game in Philadelphia on Wednesday and had a mistake-prone performance in limited ice time. The third-year pro (who has yet to play a regular season NHL game) is losing ground in his quest to make the big club at some point in the final year of his entry-level contract.


GOALTENDERS

Ilya Bryzgalov: Only one of the three goals Bryzgalov yielded on Wednesday was potentially stoppable (and even that one came on a play where the shooter was allowed to skate untouched into the lower circle). He made some tough saves look easy. One area that looked rusty was his puckhandling. The big-ticket goaltending acquisition will be fine for opening night, and see a lot more minutes over the coming week.

Sergei Bobrovsky: Bobrovsky has been extremely sharp in two preseason outings, allowing just one goal in the two games. His lateral movement has been tremendous. Obviously, there's no question who will be the Flyers' starter this year, but Bobrovsky has been reminding folks of why he had them excited during the first half of last season and selected games of the second half of his rookie season.

Michael Leighton: Leighton looked sharp in Thursday's game in London, and was strong in the shootout (6 saves on 8 attempts). His back appears to be fine now after it ruined his season a year ago. Barring injuries to one of the Russian goalies or a team such as San Jose (ex-Flyer Antero Niittymäki will miss significant time at the start of the season) having interest in him as a veteran backup, he'll return to the Phantoms via waivers.

Jason Bacashihua: The most significant aspect of Bacashihua being tabbed as the backup goalie in a couple of preseason games this year is the fact that the club has not even made the pretense of taking a look at Johan Backlund yet.

Johan Backlund: He's going to be waived, and he's going to clear. I hope for his sake that he can be loaned to his former Swedish club, Timrå IK (although Stefan Ridderwall is off to a great start for that team). Perhaps another European team can use the former Swedish national team backup. He would still count against the reserve list this season, which is only a factor if Couturier makes the NHL lineup or if the team were to shock everyone by signing one of their two tryout veterans.

******

There is still something that has me confused about the whole debacle in which the NHL would not allow the Flyers to sign undrafted 18-year-old forward Tomas Hyka to an entry-level contract after his impressive performance at camp.

Under Section 8.9 (b)(iii) of the collective bargaining agreement, it states that an NHL team may only sign an undrafted player who played in Europe the previous season if he "was age 22 or older at the time of the last Entry Draft and signed an SPC which was signed and registered with the League between the conclusion of the Entry Draft and the commencement of the next NHL Season."

Obviously, this section of the CBA disqualifies Hyka from signing with the Flyers (or any other NHL team) as a rookie free agent. No quibble there.

From all appearances, however, the NHL has been inconsistent in enforcing this rule. Take the case of Sergei Bobrovsky, who:

a) was never drafted by the Flyers or any NHL club
b) played in the KHL in 2009-10, and
c) as someone born on Sept. 20, 1988, was 21 years old when he signing with the Flyers on May 6, 2010 and was 20 years at the time of the most recent (2009) Entry Draft.

Unless there's a contradictory section of the CBA that could have cited to make Bobrovsky eligible -- and I have no idea what could be -- his qualifications to sign with the Flyers last year should been denied on the same basis as the 18-year-old Hyka.

In Hyka's case, in fact, there was far more justification to bend the rules about where he played last season and declare him a North American player (which would have allowed him to be signed right now).

Since the NHL already has a precedent for overlooking the CBA's European rookie free agent age rule and also of allowing teams to hold onto the rights of drafted players from countries that no longer have a transfer agreement with the NHL (including the Czech Republic), I think you can easily justify overlooking the CBA's rules about where someone played the previous season if he's playing in North America at the time the NHL team attempted to sign him.

I suppose it's all a moot point now that Hyka is back with Gastineau in the QMJHL but, if I were the Flyers, I would have argued this one pretty vehemently. You can't bend certain rules and then say that others must be followed to the letter.

By the way, Hyka had a four-point effort (2 goals, 2 assists) in Gatineau's 6-2 win over Blainville-Boisbriand last night. The game stat sheet is here.

******

Several of the Flyers drafted CHL prospects, including 2011 draftees Nick Cousins and Marcel Noebels will be in action later today. I will post their stat lines on twitter (@billmeltzer).

In Finland, goaltending prospect Niko Hovinen turned back 24 of 26 shots in the Lahti Pelicans' 4-2 win over TPS Turku. On the young season, Hovinen has won four of his five starts (two in regulation, two in overtime), posting a 1.75 GAA and .938 save percentage. He is also 5-for-5 in stopping shootout attempts so far.
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