Voorhees, NJ – Despite being traded from one side of the country to the other, new Flyers defenseman Denis Gauthier and right wing Niko Dimitrakos were already in town on Friday morning to take part in their first practice with their new teammates. Gauthier's flight from Phoenix landed Thursday night, while Dimitrakos took the red-eye, arriving around 6:00 a.m. on Friday morning.
Both are happy to be in town with their new team. Gauthier is excited to play for a squad that will be involved in the postseason, while Dimitrakos is excited to get a fresh start after some ups and downs with the San Jose Sharks.
"I wanted it to work out in Phoenix, but if there's a team that fits my style, Philadelphia is right at the top of the list," said Gauthier. "It's always a place I've always wanted to go ever since my draft day because of my style of play. I was excited to have a chance to be back in the playoffs and have a chance at the Stanley Cup."
Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke has already compared Gauthier to Rangers agitator Darius Kasparaitis.
"He will go up the middle and hit people. Like Kasparaitis, he''ll go after the better players on other teams," said Clarke on Thursday after the trading deadline expired. "It was one area where we felt like we had to get better, especially with the injuries we have on defense."
Gauthier welcomed the comparison.
"If you're a physical player, you find a way to set yourself apart from the other guys," he said. "If I don't bring that to the game then I'm just an ordinary player and probably wouldn't be in the league for as long as I have. That's what I love to do. It's not something that I force myself to do, it comes naturally."
Ken Hitchcock got his first look at Gauthier as a Flyer on Friday morning at the team's practice facility. The way that Hitchcock described the 6'3'', 223-pound defenseman should be music to Flyers fans' ears.
"The thing on Gauthier is he's a throwback player. He's a player that plays physical and very aggressively," said Hitchcock. "He loves to play hard defense. He gets the puck out, he keeps it simple, he's a really good penalty killer, and he knows his role and is willing to play it. He's got lots of backup on this team to play the way he can. He's a great add for us."
Flyers pro scout Dean Lombardi originally drafted Dimitrakos when he was the general manager in San Jose. Dimitrakos has been labeled an underachiever by some hockey minds, but a fresh start could be the jumpstart he needs according to Hitchcock, who had him on a line with Mike Richards and Brian Savage during practice.
"We've watched him play one practice, and it's obvious that he has top-end skill," said Hitchcock. "Sometimes a guy needs a change. Playing in the East is a very intense environment. Playing in Philadelphia is not any different than playing in Montreal or Toronto or Edmonton. If you play well and you play hard, these people will appreciate it and if you don't, you're going to hear about it. He knows that already, because we spoke about that. He's got a terrific opportunity here and he's playing with good players. I think he'll take advantage of it."
"Mentally I was kind of out of it a little bit at the beginning of the year, and wasn't playing to my capabilities," said Dimitrakos, who has four goals and 12 assists in 45 games this season. "I was afraid to make plays, and you can't play like that if you want to succeed in this game, especially here. You have to play with patience and poise, and hopefully I will get that back. It felt good yesterday to know that I was coming here."
Dimitrakos adds an element the Flyers have lacked this season, said Hitchcock.
"We don't have a natural right-winger with that type of speed and skill combination, and he's a good add," he said. "It's my job to get him up and running and to find the right buttons to push to keep him focused and motivated."
Rathje Playing With Pain
Flyers defenseman Mike Rathje has been playing with a torn labrum in his right hip, and will have to deal with it the rest of the way until he can have surgery in the off-season.
"It's sore. There's an injury, but it's just something that I have to work through to help the team win," said Rathje. "I'll take care of it once the season is over. I don't know exactly what it is, but there is something there. It's just something I'll deal with in June when we're done."
Johnsson Getting Better
Kim Johnsson, who has been out of the lineup with post-concussion symptoms, may be on the mend.
"He is going to get some more testing [Friday] afternoon to see where he is," said Flyers Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim McCrossin. "The doctors and medical staff feel like we're going to see improvement. Kim is staring to see improvement. Does that say that he's going to be coming back? I really hope so. I feel that we're starting to improve and that he's getting better."