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MELTZER: Taking it to new levels

Flyers contributor examines the path and growth at each stage to become a pro hockey player

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

During the Flyers recently completed 2019 Development Camp, as with every year, the talents of prospects from a wide array of hockey backgrounds were on display. The disparity of the attendees' ages and their corresponding levels of physical maturity and/or skills refinement is always interesting to behold. 

For returning attendees such as incoming first-year pros Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe, they already knew what to expect during the July camp. Their main focus is on getting ready for Rookie Camp and NHL camp in September.

"Kind of just enjoying Development Camp. Not too much stress, but there is a wing spot open right now [on the Flyers' NHL roster], so obviously that's my goal to make the team. Pretty realistic, so if I'm up and down or don't make it this year I wouldn't be surprised. I just have to prepare to either play in Philly or Lehigh, so that's where I'm at right now," Farabee said of his mindset during the first day of Development Camp.

"There are definitely a lot of things I want to work on. I'm just going to feed off of what the coaches are telling me here and what the practices are like and see what they want me to get better at and see how it goes. Like I said, development camp is not too stressful, It's just getting back in the swing of things, getting to play hockey in the summer again."

Before September's camp, Farabee will participate in the World Junior Summer Showcase (July 26 to Aug. 3 in Plymouth, Michigan). He is slated to be one of one of six returning players from last year's silver-medal winning Team USA roster. Farabee is a shoo-in for another roster spot on Team USA if the Flyers make him available to USA Hockey. 

"We'll see what happens. I've had great experiences representing my country," Farabee said.
World Junior tournament participation is more likely if Farabee is with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms next season rather than the Flyers. In 2014-15, the Flyers permitted Phantoms rookie defenseman Robert Hägg to join Team Sweden for the WJC. On the flip side, although Hockey Canada was interested in having Nolan Patrick join their 2017-18 WJC squad during Patrick's rookie NHL season, Patrick remained with the Flyers. 

For his part, of course, playing in the NHL is Farabee's ultimate goal. In the meantime, two first-time attendees at Flyers Development Camp -- 2019 first-round pick Cam York and 2019 second-round pick Bobby Brink -- will also be the Summer Showcase. 

York was the No. 1 defenseman on the ultra-stacked 2018-19 USTNDP Under-18 team that produced 17 full-time players selected in the 2019 NHL Draft (a new single-year NHL Draft record for one team). The incoming University of Michigan freshman stands a strong chance of earning a WJC spot and receiving power play time. At his first Development Camp, the California native was like most of the first-time attendees: taking in the environment and thinking about what it would mean to him to eventually play in the NHL for the Flyers.

"I remember when I was a little kid I would always tell my parents when they came out to Anaheim we need to go to this game. It's one of those organizations that has a rich history and always a successful team. So, just really looking forward to being a part of it," York said.

"The first thing I learned about Philadelphia is that they have passionate fans. They want to win. They hold their players really accountable and as a player I think that's what you want, so I'm just really happy to be here."

The Denver University-bound Brink also spent time with USNTDP prior to the start of the USHL season and previously had a USNTDP stint in the under-17 age group. However, he was not drafted directly from the national under-18 squad (rather, Brink was a member of the Sioux City Musketeers) and is not counted among the 17 USNTDP draftees for official record-keeping purposes. In a crowded and highly talented roster field that also includes a similar type of player in Cole Caufield, Brink will have some work to do to earn a role on the WJC team.

Both York and Brink -- like Farabee and Frost before them -- attended their first Flyers Development Camp knowing that adding much-needed muscle to their frames would be one of their primary missions in the years following their selections in the NHL Draft. The 5-foot-8 Brink currently carries around 160 pounds on his frame, while the 5-foot-10 York is in the mid 170s.

Now two years removed from the 2017 NHL Draft, the 20-year-old Frost reports that his weight is up to about 185 pounds on a frame that is between 5-foot-11 to 6-feet tall. The 19-year-old Farabee, one year removed from the 2018 Draft, currently carries about 175 pounds but hopes to add another 10 to 15 pounds as his body as he continues to mature. 

Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said that he fully expects Frost and Farabee will have to make adjustments from what worked at the junior (Frost) and collegiate (Farabee) levels to what will be successful the pro game; a maturation process that comes only through first-hand experience and continued development.

"I think [the biggest differences are] pace and strength. You are going from playing against 16-18 year old's as a junior player and same, well Farabee played college so maybe [the opponents are] a little bit older, but, all the players it doesn't matter if they play in the AHL or NHL they are going to be smarter and stronger. The things that I've found is when they do move up they have to figure out what they can and cannot do. What's going to work and what's not going to work for them," Gordon said.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the prospects who have already gone through the NHL Draft and major junior/collegiate hockey was Development Camp invitee Carson Briere.  

The son of longtime Flyers fan favorite Danny Briere was already very familiar with the facilities in Voorhees and personnel around the team, but the camp experience itself was an eye-opener before he embarks on a collegiate career at Arizona State. By playing among some high-level NHL prospects, established major junior and collegiate players, Briere got a first-hand look at the level to which he needs to bring his game to someday have a pro career of his own.

"I'm just trying to get better. I'm taking it a day at a time. I don't think there is any pressure on me. If I don't make it, I don't make it, If I do, I do. I'm just trying to get better at hockey and have some fun and have it translate to college and we will see what happens from there," Briere said.

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