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MELTZER: Tough Choices

Among the rookie class, a look at who the remaining candidates are for a roster spot

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

One thing has been clear throughout both Rookie Camp and NHL Camp for the Philadelphia Flyers this September: there is a lot of talent in the farm system that is knocking on the door of becoming solid players as pros. Some will take longer than others to arrive in the NHL, some may eventually have to go elsewhere to find a spot, and not all will be stars at the top level. Nevertheless, there is a slew of talent both in quantity and quality. 

This has not escaped notice from other NHL organizations, as well as from Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr. In the latest edition of Elliotte Friedman's weekly "31 Thoughts" column, an NHL scout is quoted saying about the Flyers' prospects, "My goodness, Philadelphia is loaded."

The long-term future appears to be bright, but about the immediate future? With six days left in the Flyers' training camp before the team departs for Europe to close out the exhibition season in Switzerland and then open the regular season in the Czech Republic, there are still numerous rookie hopefuls in the mix to earn opening-night roster spots, even excluding defenseman Philippe Myers (who still qualifies as an NHL rookie for the 2019-20 season because he fell slightly below the games played threshold last season to lose rookie status for the upcoming season).

No one has played to the level where he's made himself "uncuttable." However, all of the remaining players have played well enough to create some tough choices so far. Here's a look at the seven potential rookie forwards still in the mix after eight days of camp and four preseason games to date.

Joel Farabee (W): The 19-year-old Farabee has impressed with his tenacious forechecking ability, two-way awareness that is exceptionally mature for a player his age and his puck skills. He's not flashy but he is pretty complete. The one thing that Farabee has not done is get on the scoresheet in either the Rookies Game or the NHL preseason, despite being in the middle of a slew of scoring chances.

"He's doing a lot of good things. I like his details, and his approach. Joel is a smart hockey player, and obviously we've been giving him the opportunity to play with other skilled players," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. 

Morgan Frost (C): The 20-year-old Frost missed one game and two days of practice with a minor groin issue but returned to the lineup on Thursday. He was one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal team performance against Boston. Frost has shown hints not only of the offensive talents that made him one of the top scorers in Canadian junior hockey the last two years but also two-way awareness. He's stronger physically than a year ago and winning more puck battles. 

"He is getting more and more poise and confident as camp goes on, that's generally how it works for the younger guys. You want to get a taste of the NHL speed and action. Certainly, figure out what you can and cannot get away with as a player. He is a confident guy and has a lot of skills. The more confident and comfortable he gets I think he'll be able to show off what he can do," said James van Riemsdyk. 

Like Farabee, the one thing Frost has been unable to do (apart from a primary assist in the Rookies Game) has been to put up points in the preseason. He's been robbed a couple of times and both he had Farabee have hit goal posts multiple times. Frost has also set up some great chances for linemates, but none have gone in. Vigneault said on Saturday that it would be a big thing for both players if they can get rewarded on the scoresheet.

"Just for feeling good about yourself and confidence-wise it would be great to see them. They are getting so many looks. You always say, 'As long as the chances are there, sooner or later it's going to pay off.' I am hoping for those young men, that it is," Vigneault said. 

The coach continued, "I don't think we are at that decision-making point. There are a few games before we leave for Europe. Those two young men, you can tell there are a tremendous amount of upside and smarts to their game. We have a lot to work with there. Just a matter of doing what's right for the team. That's what we're going to do when we make the final decisions."

German Rubtsov (C): With the status of center Nolan Patrick (upper-body injury, week-to-week) unclear for the start of the regular season, both the 21-year-old Rubtsov and Frost are being evaluated as options for the season-opening third line center spot if Patrick is unavailable at the beginning of the campaign. 

Alternatively, Rubtsov could also slot in on the fourth line with Scott Laughton moving up to the third line. A center with good two-way awareness and a fundamentally sound approach as well as some skill with the puck, Rubtsov was put to the test by dressing for three preseason games in four nights. 

The third game of that stretch -- the Boston game -- was not a good night for Rubtsov or the team in general. However, he's had a very strong camp overall in both practices and the other games, and has caught Vigneault's attention.

"As far as his understanding of the game, I think it's real good," Vigneault said after Thursday's loss to the Bruins. "We're going to give him off obviously the next night. He's going to get another opportunity to play because I like what I have seen from him so far."

Mikhail Vorobyev (C): Yet another candidate for the third-line or fourth-line center spot, the third- year pro already has 15 games of NHL experience under his belt. He made the Flyers opening night roster a year ago and later having a second (albeit brief) recall to the team.

Vorobyev was one of the Flyers' best players in the Rookie Game (which was to be expected) and has also had some strong days in practice and his first preseason outing even if he hasn't been as much of a consistent training camp standout as he was in 2018. Consistency and engagement are the keys with Vorobyev. In terms of his physical strength, puck skills and ice vision, he has already shown that he is of NHL-caliber ability. 

Carsen Twarynski (W): A year ago as a first-year pro, Twarynski was one of the most pleasant surprises in the Flyers' NHL Camp, and lasted until the final few roster cuts. He subsequently struggled early in his rookie AHL season, but started to put things together later in the season. This September, Twarynski has skated very well, using north-south quickness, tenacity and a willingness to drive to the "greasy" areas of the ice to make an impression. He got rewarded by scoring a goal in Saturday's 4-1 win over the Rangers.

"For me tonight, the best player on the ice was Twarynski. He played a solid game at both ends. Great on the forecheck. Made some great decisions. There's no doubt the young man is making a strong case for himself," Vigneault said.Video: NYR@PHI: Twarynski knocks own rebound out of midair
 
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Twarynski is competing for a fourth-line wing spot against veteran forwards Andy Andreoff, Kurtis Gabriel (sidelined week-to-week with a lower-body injury sustained in the second game of the preseason) as well as veteran tryout winger Chris Stewart. Fourth-year pro Nicolas Aube-Kubel is also in the hunt.

"When I'm going fast is when I'm doing my best. As long as I am moving my feet and playing with guys that understand that and play the same way it's going to work well," Twarynski said. "I've got to work. I am trying to earn a spot here and I am not a flashy player by any means, but I know the spot that I am battling for. That's what I've done my whole life and what I'm going to keep on doing."

Nicolas Aube-Kubel (W): A standout in the second game of the preseason, Aube-Kubel has tried to set a physical tone while playing a solid all-around game in camp and showing some speed. He dressed in nine games for the Flyers last season, albeit in very limited ice time on the fourth line. Consistency and playing with discipline remain the keys to the player's NHL hopes. Unlike the other youngsters still pushing for roster spots, Aube-Kubel is subject to waivers this year if the Flyers elect to send him back to the Phantoms for the start of the season. He'd have to clear waivers first. Last year, the Flyers lost winger Danick Martel via preseason waiver claim by Tampa Bay.

Connor Bunnaman (C/LW): Coming off a 19-goal rookie year for the Phantoms last year, Bunnaman worked hard over the summer to reduce his body fat percentage and continue to work on his skating. The 6-foot-3, 214-pounder has shown himself to be a formidable net-front presence and has taken strides in other areas of his game. He was rewarded by surviving the first large-scale round of roster cuts that came on Friday. 

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