Now that the Flyers have a reasonably healthy group of prospects in camp -- in addition to the pandemic, the 2020-21 season was a nightmare in terms of major injuries to prospects, which cost quite a few a large portion of the season or, in a couple of cases, the entire season -- the depth of talent in the farm system is more evident.
The Development Camp roster does not even include the likes of collegiate prospects such as Bobby Brink, Jay O'Brien and Ronnie Attard. Due to NCAA regulations, none of the organization's prospects are available for the late August/early September camp.
Nonetheless, there are a slew of prospects on hand who were originally drafted by the Flyers in the first round or second round. Various attendees, including Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, Cam York, Tanner Laczysnki and Egor Zamula already have some NHL games under their belt.
On Wednesday, Allison (undisclosed, but did not skate the latter session on Monday), Laczynski (hip surgery rehab) and Matthew Strome (facial injury suffered on Day 1 of camp) did not appear in the first session of the morning.
Mike O'Connell, the Flyers' recently hired senior advisor to Chuck Fletcher on matters of player development, spoke to the media following the Day 3 session. We will have more about the former longtime NHL general manager, his decision to move from the LA Kings organization to the Flyers and his observations from development camp in an upcoming article.
Ratcliffe enters pivotal season
As a second-year pro in 2020-21, Isaac Ratcliffe had a very difficult season. Due to an off-season rib fracture and collapsed lung, Ratcliffe had a belated start to an already delayed and shortened 2020-21 American Hockey League season. He required multiple surgeries.
When he finally returned, he never got untracked offensively with just two goals and eight points in 22 games of bottom-six duty. He did show a few flashes of his abilities -- particularly on a breakaway goal that was his individual season highlight-- but they were few and far between for the former OHL 50-goal scorer.
After getting off to a tough start with the Phantoms during his rookie season of 2019-20, Ratcliffe was moved down in the lineup by then head coach Scott Gordon and told to focus on playing a fourth-line role at even strength and become part of the penalty killing rotation for Lehigh Valley. This was a departure from his main duties with the Guelph Storm but Ratcliffe embraced the challenge and said at the end of that season that he felt being a penalty killing role player could become his ticket to the National Hockey League.
With Ian Laperriere now at the helm behind the Phantoms bench, assisted by Jason Smith and Riley Armstrong, it remains to be seen whether he will remain in a checking oriented role or move back up in the lineup to a more offensive-minded spot with potential power play time.
The player indicated after Tuesday's Development Camp session that he's prepared for whatever tasks he's asked to perform and feels much better physically than he did last season. Last season, Ratcliffe said that he only started feeling close to 100 percent healthy late in the campaign -- for roughly a five-game stretch -- and then suffered an ankle injury to exit what had been a brutal year both physically and mentally. Since then, he's gotten healthy and turned the page.
"I'm a hundred percent better now. I had a really good summer back home in London [Ontario]. Definitely got bigger. I'm the strongest I've ever been," Ratcilffe said.
The player estimated that he put on 10 pounds of lean muscle over the offseason and currently packs about 225 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame. Ratcliffe admitted that his offensive game went south in his two seasons since junior hockey but he feels like it's returned, along with his confidence with the puck on his stick.
Ratcliffe can become a restricted free agent (arbitration ineligible) for the first time in 2022. Other potential restricted free agents include Joel Farabee and Frost.
Ersson eager for first taste of North American pros
On June 3, 2021, the signed 21-year-old goalie prospect Samuel Ersson to an entry-level contract. Ersson has come to North America for the 2021-22 season, where he may compete for playing time in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It is possible that the Phantoms could have an all-Swedish goalie duo with Felix Sandström and Ersson, although Kirill Ustimenko (now healed from hip surgery that cost him the entire 2020-21 season) remains in the equation as well.
The Flyers drafted Ersson in the fifth round (143rd overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft. He developed rapidly thereafter, sweeping Rookie of the Year, Goalie of the Year and League MVP honors at the Allsvenskan level for Västerås in 2018-19.
That season, Ersson was also Sweden's starting goalie at the the World Junior Championships. His 3-1 record and 2.23 GAA and a .922 save percentage backstopped the Swedes into the medal round with an undefeated record through round robin play.
Ersson moved up to the SHL and back to his parent club, Brynäs IF Gävle in 2019-20. He had an OK season at Sweden's top level, holding his own but not dominating as he did in his Allsvenskan season for VIK the previous campaign.
This past season. Ersson quietly had a very strong campaign for a struggling BIF team. He also represented the national team, appearing in one game at the 2021 IIHF World Championships.
"I worked on some technical things. Moving around a little less, getting rid of unnecessary motion, and that was a big help to me," he said.
Ersson also said that he felt the time was right to come to North America now rather than spending an additional year in the SHL and coming over for the 2022-23 season. The player said that he is not yet sure as to whether he will start the upcoming campaign in Lehigh Valley or in the ECHL with the Reading Royals but will take whatever comes with an eye toward continuous improvement.
This summer, Ersson worked out with fellow Flyers prospect Sandström (who is also a former Brynäs player). Ersson said on Tuesday that Sandström has been a huge help to him in discussing what to expect during the transition to playing in North America and has offered tips on both on-ice and off-ice matters.
Millman seeks expanded AHL role
Along with Foerster and Zayde Wisdom, defenseman Mason Millman had the expedited opportunity to play in the American Hockey League last season due to the pandemic-driven cancellation of the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season. Millman, who turned 20 on July18, dressed in 13 games for the Phantoms. He recorded three assists.
"Getting the privilege to go in there as an under-ager really opens your eyes," Millman said. "From the junior jump to the pro jump, battling against guys who are 220 or 230 pounds. [Experienced] guys who are 30 years old. That makes a huge difference in the game, strength-wise and weight-wise. I think just recognizing the strength you need to put on and the size you need to put on. Working out hard every summer, seeing guys like Ratty [Ratcliffe] train as hard as they do. It's a realization of how much stronger you need to be to compete against those guys in the corners and out there [in the scoring areas] for sure."
Millman is a fleet-footed blueliner who is a skilled passer and likes to join the play up ice. Apart from continuing to add strength, Millman has worked the last two seasons on striking a balance between being aggressive offensively without taking low-percentage risks. He's now of traditional rookie age to play in the American Hockey League, and is in a good spot to push for extended ice time relative to his usage a season ago.
In terms of physical development, Millman said he personally prefers to work out alongside training partners who are bigger and stronger than he is. It heightens the level of challenge and intensity of the workouts.