‘Tis the season for setting goals, not necessarily scoring them.
That will come later. For now, the focus of the 29 prospects that have gathered this week at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
in Voorhees is on instruction and preparation for the campaign ahead.
The annual rookie camp
, which runs through Friday, is a lead-in to the team's main training camp. Head coach John Stevens will blow the whistle to officially kick off the 43rd season of Flyers hockey on Sunday morning
|James van Riemsdyk turned pro late last season after two years at the University of New Hampshire. (photo courtesy UNH) |
"It's hard not to look ahead and get excited about training camp, but it's all business this week, too," said James van Riemsdyk
, the second overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and the Flyers' most touted prospect.
Van Riemsdyk, 20, and fellow left winger Patrick Maroon, 21, figure to be among the candidates to challenge for one of the final roster spots - if not the final spot - on the big club. But, first things first...
"Mini-camp in July was more about conditioning," van Riemsdyk continued. "But this is the real deal. It's all about competing now and pushing ourselves to the limit. Everyone has their goals, and mine is to have a great month of preseason and to make the Flyers from the start."
Though he has participated in mini-camps over the past three summers, this year marks van Riemsdyk's first rookie and training camp exercises with the Flyers. The Middletown, New Jersey native officially turned pro this spring
, after recording 74 points (28 goals, 46 assists) in 67 games over two seasons at the University of New Hampshire.
"It's going to be amazing, to line up with and go head-to-head with guys like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Danny Briere
for the first time. And to battle guys like Chris Pronger
...it's going to be a challenge, but also a lot of fun in that this is what I love to do. This is my life.
"I can't even explain how excited I am to get started."
Maroon may not be as well known as van Riemsdyk among those who closely follow hockey prospects, but he might have an advantage over his counterpart in that he already has a full season of pro experience under his belt.
The St. Louis, Missouri native led all Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL) in rookie scoring during the 2008-09 campaign with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 80 games. After a slow start, he picked things up and eventually came into his own, while playing a line with Jon Matsumoto and David Laliberte.
"Having a full year in the AHL was huge for me," said Maroon. "It was a big jump from juniors, with the speed of the game and the size of the players. As a pretty big guy myself, I had to make certain adjustments, like understanding when it was smart to take the body, and when to back off. I had to work through some penalty trouble, but that's the kind of thing I feel like I understand now."
Maroon, who battled weight issues earlier in his career, says he is now in the best shape of his life. He shaved off another 10 pounds this offseason, and now stands in at a chiseled 6'3’’, 218-pounds.
"I've worked very closely with [team trainer] Jim McCrossin and worked out harder than ever over the offseason. It's all in preparation for an opportunity to show the Flyers what I can do. I saw last year as a chance to get started and I want to build off of that now.
"I feel like I'm ready to take another step in my development because of where I'm at physically and mentally. Skating is still something I need to work on, but that's probably the area of my game that's improved the most, because I've worked so hard at it."
While van Riemsdyk and Maroon will take their shots at making the Flyers straight out of camp, the situation appears to be a bit different for top defensive prospects Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon - both fresh out of the QMJHL.
By nature of the defensive position, there are fewer roster spots available. Besides, the developmental curve for young rearguards tends to be a lot sharper than it is for forwards. Still, Marshall, 20, and Bourdon, who will turn 20 on September 17, are well regarded within the organization.
Both will have the chance to stake their claim during training camp and, while they figure to be Adirondack Phantoms-bound to start the season, could establish themselves as call-up candidates.
"There are a lot of different ways to look at it," said Marshall, who was hand-picked to serve as captain of the Quebec Remparts by the team's Hall-of-Fame owner, Patrick Roy, last season. "My main goal is to come in and have a great rookie camp and then a great training camp.
"I know the situation here, and I also know that I'm young and this will be my first pro season. If my role is to play for the Phantoms [at the start], that is something I look forward to, for sure. Maybe, if the opportunity is there to play for the Flyers at some point, perhaps because of injury or whatever the case, I know I will be ready."
Marshall established himself as one of the top all-around defenders in the Q over a four-year period, the first three seasons of which were spent with the Lewiston MAINEiacs. He finished second among Remparts blueliners last season with 38 points (9 goals, 29 assists) in 61 games, and was first on the team by a healthy margin with 125 penalty minutes.
While he is not expected to develop into a top offensive rearguard in the pros, Marshall's gritty edge and leadership abilities give him advantages that many young defenseman are lacking.
|Marc-Andre Bourdon, a defenseman, will likely begin the season with the Adirondack Phantoms. (Getty Images) |
"I understand what I bring to the table, and the kind of player I am," he said. "I'm not going to try to do everything, because that's not the player I am. But I will do what I have to do to help my team win. Every night."
Bourdon will be one of the more intriguing players to watch once training camp begins. Like Marshall, he excels in the physical aspects of the game, but also showed off an offensive dimension in juniors that the Flyers hope will translate to the next level.
He split time with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Rimouski Oceanic last season, tallying an impressive 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 54 games. He was named defenseman of the year and a first team all-star in the Q in 2007-08 after registering 59 points (12 goals, 47 assists) and 69 games with the Huskies.
"For sure, I feel very confident heading into training camp," he said. "So far, rookie camp is going very well. I feel very comfortable out there. I'm looking forward to playing in preseason games with the Flyers, and seeing where I fit.
"Because I can bring a physical game and can score, I think that I will be an asset. Whatever role I am given, I will always do my best and know that I can succeed. Like everyone, I want to play in the NHL, and this is my next step toward doing that. It is my dream, and I am getting closer."