VOORHEES, N.J. – The cacophonous cries for help on the Flyers blue line resonated throughout much of the summer.
The belief was, (and maybe still is by many), that the biggest need for the Flyers is on defense.
However, when getting a closer look at the organizational depth chart, and getting a glimpse at what likely will be the group of rearguards that will make up the six-or-seven defensemen on the Phantoms in the enhanced AHL, it’s easy to see that defense will be a strength for the affiliate, which is a plus for the organization as a whole.
“There are a bunch of defensemen here with NHL experience under their belt, and with the situation in hockey right now, it will be a positive for a lot of us,” said Danny Syvret, 27, who is entering his eighth season as a pro. “We’ll have bigger roles on the Phantoms than if we were back in the NHL and we’ll be better suited to develop ourselves.”
Fans know Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson from their contributions to the big club last season, and they’ll likely be getting top pair minutes in all situations for the Phantoms.
The next two defensive prospects who will get a chance to get a significant amount of ice time are Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen.
Manning, 22, was an excellent defenseman with the Phantoms last season – when he was healthy – and even made it to the Flyers for four games as a bit of a reward for his fine play.
“He has shown the ability to join the attack,” said Phantoms coach Terry Murray. “He’s got good feet and skates very well. He’s got a bit of an offensive mindset. In the game against Albany [last Tuesday] I saw a skirmish along the boards and he skated right in and supported his teammates from the blue line to make sure they weren’t going to be outnumbered in any of those physical situations, and that’s a good sign to me.”
As for Lauridsen, the 23-year-old is simply imposing in stature, and continues improving in specific aspects of the game.
“He’s a big body,” Murray said of the 6-foot-6 Denmark native. “He’s got size, strength, intensity and emotion in his game. But I’m really starting to see good things from him on the penalty kill. He’s blocking shots and is working very hard to get into those shooting lanes, which is a skill in and of itself.
“If you get a player that size down the road who can play minutes and kill penalties, you want to give him as much time as possible.”
Syvret is a definite on the team, and likely so is Cullen Eddy, who has been a fixture on the Phantoms for the past two seasons.
The battle appears to be for the No. 7 defenseman between Blake Kessel, a Phantoms regular last season, and Zack Fitzgerald, an eight-year AHL vagabond who is on his fifth different AHL team in the last five seasons. In each of his previous stops he has also accrued more than 200 penalty minutes, so he might have an edge as an enforcer.
“It’s good to have veteran players as long as they are the right kind of role model,” Murray said. “As long as the effort and the play is there on a consistent basis – if you have good veterans who bring the right attitude and the work, they’ll lead and show the way.”
Another bonus for this Phantoms team is the roster stability it will have until the NHL season begins. In most years, rosters are constantly in flux, with players moving up and down and not a lot of consistency and cohesiveness forming.
This year will be different.
“It’s going to be different for sure,” said Bourdon. “We’re going to have one team and not guys coming up and down all season. This year we’ll be able to stay together and get a good chemistry and I think we’ll have a very strong unit back here.”
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