Quick Hits: September 13, 2021
1) We are two days away from the start of the Flyers' 2021 Rookie Camp and a little more than a week from the start of full NHL camp. The majority of the returning and new NHL veterans on the team are now in Voorhees. Team captain Claude Giroux joined the workouts today.
2) On the current edition of the Snow the Goalie podcast, Anthony san Filippo and Chris Therien discuss why they feel Rookie Camp is relatively unimportant and runs for too long. They also talk about the frequent lack of surprises in training camp in terms of who makes the opening night roster. To listen, click here
I have a somewhat dissenting opinion. Rookie Camp is step one of the process of solidifying the organizational depth chart. You expect to see some separation between how the more highly touted and/or older and more experienced prospects fare as compared to the rest of the pack. There are sometimes surprises, however. For example, standing out in Rookie Camp is how Phil Myers and, later, Egor Zamula won entry-level contracts as free agent invitees.
Additionally, having a strong Rookie Camp, in some cases, can be the start of a surprise run to an opening-night roster spot for a rookie who was not expected to start the year in the NHL. A recent example: I don't think anyone in 2019 would have predicted that either Connor Bunnaman or Carsen Twarynski would be on the NHL roster come opening night in Prague. Or go back to 2010 when free agent rookie signee Sergei Bobrovsky, whom even the organization itself had penciled in to start the season with the Phantoms was heads and shoulders above the other goalie in Rookie Camp, had a very good NHL training camp and ended up the Flyers opening night starter (and winner) in Pittsburgh.
Go back to 1998. The late Dmitri Tertyshny, a low-profile prospect drafted in the sixth round three years earlier and widely expected to spend a spend a full year in the AHL, impressed Bob Clarke and Roger Neilson in main camp to the point that he made the NHL team out of camp. He went on to spend the entire season in the NHL before the tragic offseason boating accident that took his life at age 22.
Surprises such as these do not happen every year or even most years. To me, though, part of the value of a Rookie Camp is providing opportunities such as these. Additionally, the transition from Rookie Camp to NHL Camp a week or so later is an eye-opener for many prospects about how much higher the bar gets elevated when they playing among NHL players.
3) I'll use Morgan Frost as an example of how yearly progression in Rookie and NHL camp can be used as a benchmark from the start of one hockey year to the next.
In the team's 2017 Rookie Camp, late first-round pick Frost showed some of his skills but really wasn't a standout. He was signed to an entry-level contact, went back to the Soo and had a 112-point season (coincidentally, the same number of points that Claude Giroux had for Gatineau in his draft-plus one year).
In 2018, Frost fared fine in Rookie Camp, including a four-point (1g, 3a) showing in the Rookies Game against the New York Islanders' rookies. In his first crack at an NHL camp a week or so later, Frost looked overwhelmed. He wasn't able to keep up with some of the drills. General manager Ron Hextall cut him less than a week into main camp. Frost returned to the Greyhounds for his draft-plus-two year, played in the World Junior Championship (four goals and eight points in five games), posted a 103 points through his first 52 games of the OHL regular season and finished with 109 points in 58 games (Giroux had 106 points in 56 games in his draft-plus-two year in the Q).
In 2019, all the talk in Flyers Rookie Camp was about the trio of Joel Farabee, Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe. When main camp rolled around, in battle drills on Day 2 or 3, Alain Vigneault matched up a line of Frost, Ratcliffe and Jakub Voracek against a line of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Farabee. Farabee held his own Voracek although he certainly didn't dominate. Couturier ate Frost alive on rep after rep, as did Giroux against Ratcliffe.
The next day, Frost was matched against Mikhail Vorobyev; not nearly as accomplished of a player as Couturier but still bigger, stronger and more experienced than Frost. On this day, Frost did a lot better although Vorobyev won a little more than half of their battles. It was a confidence builder for Frost, who went on the have a pretty good preseason (despite battling a groin issue that kept him off the ice for a few days) and he lasted until one of the latter roster cuts. Ratcliffe continued to struggle against the pro guys and was cut sooner. Farabee was the final cut after the team went to Europe, and Bunnaman and Twarynski parlayed consistently strong camps into surprise opening night NHL roster spots.
Frost's rookie year in the AHL saw him make the All-Star Game and make his NHL debut (scoring goals in each of his first two games) but performing a bit inconsistently overall. It wasn't a spectacular first pro year but one with more good than bad.
Fast forward to training camp in January 2021. Frost put together a strong NHL camp. There was no Rookie Camp due to the timeline. Frost excelled in numerous drills and held his own in the scrimmages (there were no preseason games against other NHL teams). He made the NHL roster but, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his second game.
He has now rehabbed the shoulder. The expectation is that he should be a top performer in Rookie Camp, match or exceed his January showing come NHL camp and challenge for an NHL roster spot. He may very well be assigned to the Phantoms to start the season -- the numbers game works against him after the offseason signing of Derick Brassard, plus it's been a long time since his last bonafide games due to the pandemic and the shoulder injury. However, Frost has the ability to change that plan either in camp or once the season begins.
2) This leads me to my final point about rookies in training camps: While we all tend to place a big emphasis on NHL camp and who opens the season on the roster, the truth of the matter is that training camp ends up being a faint, distant memory before long.
It's the season itself -- regular season and playoffs -- that get remembered. NHL rosters change over the course of the year. Regardless of where he starts the season, a call-up player can stake down an NHL job based on his performance. It's also not uncommon for a September camp standout to fade from view as the season progresses; see Carsen Twarynski in 2018-19 (a very late cut in NHL camp) and 2019-20 (opening night NHL roster, but more time ultimately spent back with the Phantoms.
3) Flyers Daily: Flyers senior advisor Paul Holmgren is the guest on today's edition of Flyers Daily on the Flyers Broadcast Network. Jason Myretutus and the Class of 2021 United States Hockey Hall of Fame inductee discuss the growth of American hockey, Paul's work with USA Hockey as well as the Flyers and more. To listen, click here