Flyers Prospect Camp

I was able to squeeze out two days this week at the Flyers 2009 Rookie Camp at the SkateZone in Voorhees, NJ. Watching these players for just two mornings really does not allow for a complete review but I figured I would talk about some of the more important names in the Flyers system that we may very well see suiting up for the Orange and Black in the next few seasons.

James vanRiemsdyk - 2007 Round 1 (2nd Overall)
-In the two mornings, certain players would catch my eye, and others would just kind of blend in. JVR just seemed to blend in. That is not good considering he is thought of as the top prospect in the Flyers system. On Friday, he was barely noticable on the ice. I had to look to find him. During the scrimmage portion of the day, a penalty would result in a penalty shot. On Sunday, JVR took one penalty shot and also participated in the shootout at the end. For a kid with the abundance of skills he has, he did not show them in either attempt. He looked real bad taking both shots (missed the net on the first and mishandled the second). He did show flashes of speed Sunday once he got his legs moving, but his lack of explosiveness is cause for concern. He does look to have gained some muscle weight since the end of the Phantoms season, but he would have to really turn it up at training camp in September to make the Flyers roster.

Kevin Marshall - 2007 Round 2
-The Flyers traded up two years ago to take Marshall, a defenseman, in the second round. When I saw him at Rookie Camp 2 years ago he was small and thin and I really did not see what all the hype was about. Within the last year, he has grown a couple inches and put on some serious muscle. He looks like he could be a force this year in the organization. He will most likely play for the Phantoms this season. It was tough to watch him really play because I was on the opposite side he was playing defense on. He has all the makings of being a punishing physical force on the blueline for the Flyers one day. As for the upcoming season, he will have to take the next step in the AHL with his first season as a Phantom.

Marc-Andre Bourdon - 2008 Round 3
-Bourdon is a highly touted defenseman in the Flyers system. He can provide offense, be physical, and even drop the gloves. He really impressed the organization in the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). This was my first opportunity to watch him play, and in the little bit of time, I liked what I saw. He has descent size but plays big with his body. He threw a couple big hits in the scrimmage and moved the puck well. He made some mistakes but that is to be expected. I wish I had more of an opportunity to watch him.

Oliver Lauridsen - 2009 Round 7
-It's not too often a 7th rounder in his draft year catches your eye. This kid sure did. He is 6'6 and was easily the tallest and most physically dominating player in the two days I saw. I would consider him more of a "project" but he moved surprisingly well for a big kid. I was really impressed and if he continues to develop in the next few seasons at St. Cloud St., I believe he will be a solid defenseman in the AHL and, he will have to work hard, but with his size could crack an NHL lineup. In Sunday's scrimmage he drew some attention with a couple big body checks, one on Phantoms enforcer Matt Clackson. Clackson took offense to it and challenged him. Lauridsen did not seem willing. Clackson spent the rest of the scrimmage chasing him around challenging him to fight. There is one more day of camp for them to go. Unfortunately I will not be able to see it.

Rocco Carzo - Undrafted
-I mentioned Rocco in my last blog. Carzo practiced with my varsity hockey team at Cardinal O'Hara when I was a senior and he was in eighth grade. He played only his freshman year at O'Hara contributing in their only Flyers Cup Championship in 2006. He graduated O'Hara this past spring, while also playing in the USHL (United States Hockey League) for Des Moines. He did not play hockey for O'Hara sophomore through senior year. He really impressed me this week. He got much taller and gained some muscle since the last time I saw him. He was one of the youngest players at camp this week and did not look out of place at all. He was invited to camp this season even though he is undrafted and unsigned. I believe he is going to play in college this upcoming season. I did get to watch him work with the Flyers skating coach, and he was showing Carzo different ways to use his legs to be a more explosive skater. The best thing Rocco can do this week is learn as much as he can and apply is next season in college. He can only improve if he continues to work hard.

There were a couple things I noticed that could reflect what the organization is thinking for the upcoming AHL season. There were two line combinations that played together throughout the week that could very well be the top two lines for the Phantoms this upcoming season:

Andreas Nodl - Jonathon Matsumoto - James vanRiemsdyk
Patrick Maroon - Jon Kalinski - David Laliberte

All six played for the Phantoms last season, even though JVR did not join the team until late March. These are the next six prospects we will see this season at some point with the Flyers. Last season it was guys like Darrell Powe, Jared Ross, Nodl and Kalinski. Kalinski had the serious blood clot in his leg last season and from the looks of it at camp, he is ready to take the next step. Maroon, Laliberte and Matsumoto had break-out seasons for the Phantoms last year and will be expected to match the contributions. If they do, we could see them called up if injuries occur to any Flyers on the roster.

With rookie camp about over, we are about two months away from training camp. It cannot come fast enough. I really do not see the Flyers doing anything serious in terms of roster moves before camp. There will be rumors but aside from little tweaks, I do not foresee anyone like Briere or Gagne being moved. The new season is right around the corner. I really cannot wait for it.


Free Agent Frenzy

Going into the NHL draft at the end of June, the Flyers had already come to terms with new starting goalie Ray Emery on a one-year deal. The team was still looking for a top-tier defenseman, a back-up goalie, and other role players at the forward position.

Just prior to draft Friday I wrote my last blog talking about Jay Bouwmeester and how I thought he would be the best option for the Flyers to attempt to acquire as the top-tier d-man. I figured forward Joffrey Lupul would be the cap casuality as would d-man Randy Jones or Matt Carle. Well, we found out as the draft began that I was correct on only two of the pre-draft predictions. Those two were Joffrey Lupul and the fact that the Flyers would trade out of the first round. Paul Holmgren shocked almost everyone in Flyerdom with a blockbuster trade that sent Joffrey Lupul, top prospect Luca Sbisa, 2009 1st round pick, 2010 first round pick, and a conditional 3rd round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for superstar defenseman Chris Pronger and minor league Ryan Dingle.

Many fans of the Orange and Black feel the Flyers gave up too much for the 34-year-old Pronger. I tend to agree with Paul Holmgren in that you have to give up something to get something. Chris Pronger is the ultimate warrior. Almost everyone that disliked this trade will change their minds the first time Malkin, Crosby or Ovechkin cut through the crease and meet Mr. Pronger. Pronger also steps up his game in the playoffs. In 2005-06 with the Oilers, Pronger led an underdog Edmonton team to the Cup Finals only to lose to the Canes in seven games. The following year he went to Anaheim where he helped lead the Ducks to a Stanley Cup championship. Even this past season in Anaheim, the Ducks barely squeaked into the playoffs as the 8th seed, but upset the President's Trophy winner San Jose Sharks in the first round. Then they took the defending champion Red Wings to the seventh game. Through all of that Pronger was one of the major players for the Ducks. He will be loved in Philadelphia, even if it is only for one season.

With Pronger now a Flyer, the defense is now set, unless Homer decides to dump salary by getting rid of Matt Carle or Randy Jones. I do not really think that is necessary right now, but if something comes along, who knows what could happen. As it stands now, the defense looks like this: Timmonen, Pronger, Coburn, Parent, Carle and Jones. If those six players are used correctly, I do not see many weaknesses.

When July 1 rolled around last week, it started the free agent period in the NHL. The Flyers wasted little time setting up the goaltending tandem for next season with the signing of former Flyer Brian Boucher. Boucher is a different goalie than Flyers fans remember. He's older, wiser, and was the backup for the best team in the NHL, the Sharks, last season. He played a significant role in that as well putting up solid numbers in San Jose. I am very confident with Boosh backing up Ray Emery.

Many fans wanted Mike Knuble to be resigned. Unfortunatley because of the salary cap, the Flyers were not able to do it. Knuble will take his 30 goals down south to Washington and play on the powerplay for the next two seasons with Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nick Backstrom. He should continue to score for the Caps. The Flyers responded by bringing in another locker room leader by the name of Ian Laperriere. When I first heard the signing I was a bit annoyed with bringing in another fighter. Then doing some reading, I learned just how valuable of a player Laperriere is. He does not just fight. He is a leader, and like Pronger, a warrior on the ice for your team. I remember being at the game last season when he chased Scott Hartnell of the Flyers around the ice until he fought him. It was because Hartnell was running a couple Avalanche players. Laperriere came to their defense. Flyer fans will love him as well.

So within the last month, the Flyers got two new goaltenders, a top-tier defenseman, and one role player. They did lose about 50 goals of production from Lupul and Knuble, but that is ok because of two reasons. Adding Pronger's offensive upside, a healthy Danny Briere, and an emerging star in Giroux, that should make up most of the lost goals. The other reason is the amount of goals the Flyers should give up this season. A revamped defensive group and new goalies will, in my opinion, lower the goals against of this team by a large amount. The numbers will end up evening out. This Flyers club, on paper and healthy, is better than last season's team.

The upcoming week will be a big one for Flyers top prospect James VanReimsdyk. The Flyers begin rookie camp this week. In my opinion, this is the first step JVR has to take to show the Flyers brass he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. If he shows he can step in, it would save the Flyers more cap room since they will not have to go out and sign another winger. He will not make the roster this week, but with a poor showing, he can certainly kill his chances.

Rookie camp runs this Monday through next Monday at the SkateZone in South Jersey. Thursday the group will head to Stone Harbor for the annual Trial on the Isle where the players will participate in a mini triatholon and charity softball game.

I will be heading over to the SkateZone Friday morning to watch some of the on-ice practice. I will be sure to write up another blog shortly after talking about some of the Flyers top prospects. I will be sure to look out for JVR, top defensmen Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall, and also local kid Rocco Carzo. Carzo was an eighth grader practicing with my varsity hockey team at Cardinal O'Hara during my senior year. He starred for O'Hara in high school before going out and playing in the USHL.