Hear from Oliver Bonk at Flyers Development Camp.

A funny thing happened to Oliver Bonk in his draft-plus-one year. In November, London Knights head coach Dale Hunter – a longtime Flyers ally despite being a bit of a menace to the team during his playing days – put Bonk in the “bumper” position on the power play, which is the forward that takes up residence at the top of the crease and looks to hammer home passes from down low, as well as clean up rebounds and try to deflect shots from the point.

It was a bit of an oddity to see when video clips of the phenomenon started making their way back to Philadelphia. There was Bonk, all 6-2 of him and in his familiar #59, looking like he’d wandered astray.

The thing was though, he didn’t look out of place. And Bonk, who scored only 10 goals in the 2022-23 season, found immediate success. He scored in his first game in the role, snapping a personal goalless drought of 57games that spanned regular season and playoff contests. When the season was over, Bonk had ballooned from 10 goals to 24, 15 of which were scored on the power play, and his point total went from 40 to 67 in seven fewer games.

The craze spread throughout London. “Bumper Bonk” became a catch phrase that partially defined London’s season. T-shirts were made (they’re available on the internet) and suddenly a new nickname was following around the Flyers prospect.

“It was kind of funny,” Bonk said following the first day of on-ice work Tuesday at Flyers Training Center in Voorhees. “Teammates would call me like jokingly and stuff like that, but it was it was a fun thing during the year.”

Certainly the Flyers took notice, but that’s not the only thing that’s stood out to the organization over the past season and also this week as Bonk returns for his second Flyers Development Camp.

“His confidence really shows out there,” said Riley Armstrong, the director of player development for the Flyers who spearheads this camp. “He looks like he's played pro hockey already, the way he just handles himself in the locker room and out on the ice. Throughout the course of the year he never put a teammate in a bad spot when he's breaking a puck out, and then I think “Bumper Bonk” got put into play there and I think his confidence kind of grew being on the power play and scoring a lot of goals in that area. He’s young, he knows who he is as a player, [and] he's so smart - covers for teammates well, breaks pucks out well, and he's rewarded with the offensive opportunity at the end of the day. Definitely looking for big things from him coming into training camp this year.”

“Bumper Bonk” generates the highlights, but it’s all those other things that the Flyers were expecting from Bonk when they drafted him, and his development in those areas will be even more exciting to the Flyers front office. After all, the bumper role may not follow Bonk into the NHL.

“We'll talk to Rocky [Thompson] about that when that time comes,” Armstrong said with a smile, referring to the Flyers assistant coach who runs the power play. “But I definitely think that once he takes strides to come up here, we talked about that's where he knows I'm just going to break pucks out, I know how to play my game, I'm going to shut down the other team's top players and kind of let the forwards do their thing. I think the one thing he is really good at though is jumping up into the play. He understands when to go, so I think he's going to be able to create his own opportunities.”

A lot of that hockey sense comes from being around the game all his life as the son of former NHL center Radek Bonk, himself a former first-round pick (third overall) of the Ottawa Senators in 1994. Radek’s 969-game NHL career was played mostly before Oliver was born, but Radek did play five more years in his native Czech Republic beginning when Oliver was four. The family settled back in Ottawa after Radek’s career and Oliver started playing in that youth hockey hotbed with his dad never far away. It’s developed a strength that he now brings to his NHL quest.

Flyers prospect Oliver Bonk answers questions after development camp day one

“I think just the biggest part of me is smarts and using your IQ,” he said. “[I’m] not the biggest, not the fastest, not the strongest, but I think I can always use my head to outsmart guys and get better position and stuff like that. So I think overall just like a smart cerebral D.”

The odds are in favor of Bonk heading back to London for another year of development, and he understands that – but at the same time, he’s going to do everything he can come training camp time to make that a difficult decision for Danny Briere.

“You’ve got to come and believe you're gonna make the team,” Bonk said. “It's probable that I go back, but I think you’ve just got to put it in your head that you want to stay here, you’ve got to battle every single guy and do your best, because if you already think you're going back then you're probably going to end up back there.”