Nick Schultz was the second player the Minnesota Wild ever drafted. He played 743 games for the club, which is still the franchise record, although Mikko Koivu could pass him this season. For 10 years, his Septembers were the same – show up at camp, greet everyone, hop on a familiar sheet of ice. For years, it was a comfortable beginning to the season.
Then Schultz was traded to Edmonton in 2012. The following year was the lockout, and although he played all 48 games, the uncertainty of the season and then rushing in for an expedited training camp was a bit stressful. Last year he was on the move again, going to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline, and then was a free agent after the season. He arrived in Philadelphia a year ago on a one-year deal, essentially meaning he had to prove his value once the season started.
Well, Schultz did just that, and he earned a contract extension last February. So for the first time in a while, he comes into training camp with a bit of a weight off his shoulders. He’s one of a handful of Flyers who view exhibition games in a completely different place personally than they were in a year ago, and thus are able to focus on hockey a little bit more.
“Once you get traded a couple times it makes it a little harder to move around, especially since I have a young family so it makes it a little more difficult,” Schultz said. It was nice to come in here and get the opportunity to play a lot last year and sign for a couple more years. It’s nice to be in one spot in an established organization that’s committed to winning, and it’s a great place to play.”
R.J. Umberger is also in a different spot, but not because he’s unfamiliar with Philadelphia. In fact, when he returned last fall after being re-acquired in the June 2014 trade for Scott Hartnell, he was certainly coming back to his old surroundings. But Umberger was struggling with injuries, and was doing his best to play his way through them. That didn’t work too well, and it affected him greatly both on and off the ice. After off-season surgery, Umberger is attacking camp with his full ability.
“It’s not even close [to last year],” he said. “It’s night and day. I feel so much better. I’m healthy for the first time in a couple years. I honestly never thought I’d feel this good again. It’s encouraging and it’s fun to be on the ice when you can move around good.”
Ryan White is also putting an injury behind him. A year ago, he’d played his entire career in the Montreal organization but found himself not re-signed by the Habs. It wasn’t until August that he signed a two-way contract with the Flyers, but not too long after that, he ruptured a pectoral muscle during a workout. The injury kept him from game action until December, and all he could do was watch as camp started without him. But upon his return, he played well enough to earn another contract, and is headed into the season healthy.
“I think every good season starts with a good camp,” White said. “It was tough last year not getting one in. It’s tough just jumping right in when guys are going full speed so it’s nice I get the same start as everybody. It’s been good for myself to get ready for the season.”
And then there’s Michael Del Zotto, who’s heading into the year with a bit of a new lease on life. He was a former first-round pick of the New York Rangers, but the Rangers gave up on him and traded him to Nashville at the 2014 deadline – and then the Predators let him go to free agency.
When Kimmo Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots in early August of last year, the Flyers signed Del Zotto to a one-year deal – essentially giving him a chance to re-establish his career. Much like Schultz, he did that, posting 32 points in 64 games and fitting in well as a mobile, offensive-minded defenseman that the Flyers didn’t really have. Now he comes into camp with a shiny, new two-year contract and is looking to build on that success.
“Overall it’s nice coming back knowing the team for the most part, the organization, and knowing the city,” he said. “You feel a little more comfortable the first couple of days.”
For those four Flyers especially, it’s a welcome bit of security that they hope will translate to a great year on the ice.