Brandon Manning got his first taste of the National Hockey League in March when the Flyers called him up for a four-game stretch. He got the chance to play in arenas packed with fans and for a team jockeying for playoff positioning, a unique experience in his hockey career.
Four months later, Manning finds himself in a more familiar situation as one of 40-plus players participating in the Flyers Prospects Camp.
Many of the young players on hand are there to learn a few lessons from a coaching staff that collectively played thousands of games in the NHL. Manning, however, said he is using camp to kick-start his offseason training, an effort he hopes yields a roster spot with the Flyers at the conclusion of training camp.
“I think it’s just about getting going,” Manning said. “I’m going to be here all summer working out and trying to make the team out of (training) camp. I think just getting your feet going. I haven’t been on the ice since the playoffs. Just kind of get comfortable out there and then go from there.”
Manning is the only player participating in prospects camp to have appeared in the NHL. Yet, he is among a small group of players in camp that potentially could see some time with the Flyers in the immediate or not-to-distant future.
The camp’s roster features a handful of players who spent significant time with the Adirondack Phantoms last season, including center Jason Akeson, who finished second on the team in scoring with 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists). The roster also includes center Nick Cousins, a third round pick in 2011 who tallied 88 points (35 goals, 53 assists) in juniors last season.
A number of players that appeared at last year’s camp appeared with the Flyers, including Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, Matt Read and Manning.
Manning, a defenseman, said his brief stint in the NHL taught him that every year is an opportunity.
“You can’t say, ‘hey I’m only 22 or I’m only 19,’” Manning said. “If you look at guys like Couts and Schenn, the young guys that stepped in last year, I think the league is changing a lot and there’s a lot of young players that make the team younger.”
Manning, 22, did not score during his four games with the Flyers, but finished with a plus-1 rating while averaging 13:43 minutes on ice. He was recalled from the Phantoms in the playoffs to practice with the Flyers, but did not appear in any postseason games.
Manning said he feels he’ll have an opportunity to get more playing time with the Flyers this season and admitted to keeping an eye on the Flyers’ offseason moves.
“You pay attention to what the Flyers are doing but that’s completely out of my control if they have 10 (defensemen) or if they have two (defensemen),” Manning said. “It’s the exact same thing for me – come in and try to make the team. Obviously, if they have more guys it’s a little bit more difficult, but that’s what hockey is about. I’m going to push myself this summer and see what happens.”
Cousins, an 18-year-old who spent last season with Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League, said he wants to pick up a few lessons from camp just as he did last year, his first time at prospects camp.
“I think last year was a little bit of an eye opener for me,” Cousins said. “The guys are a lot stronger and a lot bigger. The pace is a little bit faster compared to juniors. But I think coming into this camp this year I have a lot more confidence. I know the guys around the room and even some of the coaches I got to know a little bit better. Coming into this year, I have a lot more confidence.”
Cousins said the Flyers told him to take a “professional approach” as he headed back to juniors last year. Considered one of the team’s top prospects, his 88 points were a sizeable improvement over the 68 points (29 goals, 39 assists) he posted the previous year with Sault Ste. Marie.
“Going back to juniors you just try to improve your game every day and get better as a player on and off the ice,” Cousins said. “I think that helped me mature as a person and kind of crept into my game a bit.”
Ian Laperriere, the Flyers Director of Player Development, said he watched Cousins play about eight times last season. He said Cousins has some progress to make before getting to Philly, but said he could see him playing as a third-line center one day.
Laperriere praised Cousins for his love of the game and his agitating ways. An agitator himself during his playing days, Laperriere said that’s a characteristic that can’t be taught.
“Sometimes, it’s like hey buddy, calm down, but that’s what makes him the player that he is,” Laperriere said. “Every game that I’ve seen him play, at the end of the game, somebody tries to take his head off. I don’t know what he’s saying out there, but every game I walk downstairs to go see him, I’m shaking my head (saying), ‘I don’t know what you say to those guys, but they all want to kill you.’
“For me, it’s great, because he’s a point-getter too in juniors. He’s all skills. Yes, he’s a disturber, but at the end of the day, he’s the main guy for Sault Ste. Marie. He’s the power play guy and the go-to guy there.”
While Cousins goes through camp for the second time, defenseman Oliver Lauridsen is completing his fourth camp. A seventh round pick in 2009, Lauridsen said camp has become more skills-oriented since Laperriere started running the show.
“It’s a little bit more skill and a little bit more easing into it than my first couple years,” Lauridsen said. “What we’re hoping to get out of it is getting a nice, easy start to the whole season and getting a good role on the ice.” Lauridsen credited Derian Hatcher and Kjell Samuelsson for helping him improve his style of play.
“They’re both staying on top of me and making sure I move my feet quicker, make the quick passes and obviously bring the physicality to the game and just play tough all night long,” Lauridsen said.
Lauridsen made the transition from juniors to the American Hockey League last season. In 65 games with the Phantoms, the defenseman posted seven points (three goals, four assists) with a minus-5 rating. He said he’s mindful that the Flyers called up various defensemen last season and hopes they one day give him the same chance.
“Obviously, you want it to be yourself, but also it’s nice to see that the organization is feeling pretty comfortable calling up defensemen all the time,” Lauridsen said. “I’m happy for the other guys who got the chance last year. Hopefully, I’m going to go back and really do good work this year.”
The Flyers prospects are slated to scrimmage both Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone.