Then, all of the sudden, he becomes the media darling of camp. The player whom those with an untrained eye might not expect to make the final roster, but a player whom management has had targeted as a possibility for a regular role for some time.
In recent years, Darroll Powe and Sergei Bobrovsky certainly fit that bill and on a different level (high expectations, but didn’t expect to make the team after their first training camp) so did James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier.
Who that candidate might be for the upcoming season remains a mystery that won’t be unveiled until late September or early October, but among the handful of candidates who could be that surprise player is Tyler Brown.
Brown may not have caught the eye of the casual observer last season. He played 71 games for the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL after the Flyers signed him as an undrafted free agent in March, 2011.
Brown, 22, had just 17 points for the Phantoms last season (eight goals, nine assists) and readily admits he didn’t figure out what his role would be until halfway through the season.
But, there was an Easter egg of sorts left for fans by Flyers management during the playoffs last spring when Brown was one of the nine players called up to be the “Black Aces” – a group of players only on the roster for a major post-season emergency, but who get to continue practicing with the organization even after their affiliate season has ended.
There must have been something though that the Flyers liked about Brown if his statistics weren’t jumping off the page…
“There’s no question he has NHL quality speed,” said Chris Pryor, the Flyers Director of Hockey Operations. “He’s an exceptional skater with good size. He just needed to find his role in the organization and once he did, he was a really good player for us.”
Brown, who was a solid offensive talent with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL when he was in juniors, finishing third on the team in scoring in his final season (57 points in 67 games) and leading the team in playoff scoring (14 points in 11 games) in 2011, said the adjustment from junior hockey to professional hockey was a little overwhelming at first.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Brown, who didn’t participate in either scrimmage game at last week’s prospect camp as he dealt with a nagging injury. “In juniors, you feel like you work hard and you get rewarded more often. Then in the pros, you realize you have to work so much harder and the offense is so much harder to come by.”
Brown said it was a trial by fire playing in the AHL last season, but that by January he had figured out how he was supposed to play at the next level.
“It’s a difficult adjustment sometimes to go from being a scorer to being a forechecking forward,” he said. “But I know that’s what I have to do to be successful as a pro and I’m going to keep working on those aspects of my game and do whatever I can to help the organization win.”
What he can do is use his natural born gifts of size and speed to pressure opposing defenders to turnover the puck, or win those all-important 50/50 puck battles.
And while no one will tell you Brown has uncanny vision, or the softest of hands, people who’ve watched him play will talk about his strong work ethic and his ability to play at both ends of the ice.
While Development Camp maybe didn’t go as well as Brown would have liked, thanks to the injury, he’s not going to take it easy for the rest of the summer.
“I’m going to stay here with some of the other guys and work out with (Flyers assistant strength and conditioning coach Ryan Podell),” he said.
It’s a concept that sometimes gets lost on younger players, but Brown sees the merit in an offseason training program run by the team. It also allows him to get into more of a comfort zone with the team and the people around the organization, and, he hopes, a leg up on competition for one of those precious few roster spots on the Flyers.
“It would certainly be a dream come true,” Brown said. “And having been here last year, I kind of know what to expect, so that’s in my favor. But, I still have to go out and perform the way the team wants me to perform to take advantage of my opportunity. I know there’s still a lot I can learn and I lot of things I can improve on and I will do whatever the team wants me to do, but hopefully I make enough of an impact to make them think a little harder about where I will be playing next season.”
* * *
To reach Anthony J. SanFilippo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37