The "official" start of the 2016-17 Flyers season is still a few days away, but Tuesday saw Flyers practice jerseys on the ice at Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees for the first organizational practice of the new year when the 21 players taking part in the team's Rookie Camp skated for a couple hours following a day of off-ice testing.
"It's a great opportunity to get in two or three days of work here before main camp," said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, who ran Tuesday's practice. "I think it's a huge benefit for the young guys to be able to have a day or two of practice and more so have an opportunity to play an exhibition game tomorrow, and then step into main camp."
Hakstol will run Tuesday's morning skate but will step aside to let Phantoms assistant coaches Riley Cote and Kerry Huffman run the bench for Tuesday night's rookie game against the New York Islanders at the Islanders' practice facility in East Meadow, NY.
The group is certainly an intriguing one for several reasons, certainly not the least of which is a defensive lineup that could be a glimpse into the team's future. Three first round draft picks will play in the game - Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Sam Morin - as well as Philippe Myers, who went undrafted in 2015 but developed to the point that many pundits said he would have been a first-round pick this past draft if the Flyers hadn't snapped him up as a free agent last fall.
They're joined by two players who are in the same boat that Myers was last year when he attended camp on an invitation basis - Garrett McFadden and Brennan Menell, as well as Reece Willcox, a 2012 draft pick who is turning pro after wrapping up a four-year career at Cornell University.
Some of the Canadian junior players have had a chance to warm up already - Provorov, for example, has played in three exhibition games for the Brandon Wheat Kings before coming to Philadelphia. One of the big questions coming into camp is whether he'll go back to Brandon or stay with the Flyers - he's ineligible to go to the Phantoms because of an agreement between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League regarding players under 20 years old.
"I'm really excited," Provorov said about the opening of camp. "Hockey's back. The offseason is nice for a bit, but then you want to get playing again. Hopefully I can do great and make the team."
On the front end, the Flyers will be looking at several players who they hope will have a bright future. Travis Konecny, one of the club's two first-round picks in 2015 along with Provorov, is looking to show the team's front office that he is NHL-ready. Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Radel Fazleev, both members of the Flyers' 2014 draft class, are embarking on their first professional seasons, and Roman Lyubimov, a 24-year-old free agent signing by the team out of the KHL this offseason, will be seeing his first game action with the team.
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Lyubimov comes to the Flyers after six years with CSKA Moscow, and helped his team to Game 7 of the league's championship series. But the Flyers took notice of him at the World Championships, where he had four goals and four assists in 10 games.
"The Flyers showed interest after the last year," Lyubimov said via translator after the first ice session. "We talked and I decided to show up here and give it a shot. The last couple years have been pretty physical games and I think pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adjust to the smaller ice surface."
Two of the Flyers' more intriguing goaltending prospects are backstopping the team through this camp - Carter Hart, one of the Flyers' three second-round picks this past June, and Alex Lyon, who signed with the Flyers as a free agent over several other suitors after finishing his senior season at Yale, will likely split the game action.
"It's just basic structure," Hakstol said. "We're not going to overload these guys with all kinds of systems. We want them to be able to go out and play the game. That's what it comes down to. I think it's a great opportunity to go out and work hard together, play in a game situation and just show us what they can do in a game setting."