After playing into some tough puck luck during the preseason, Flyers left winger Jordan Weal delivered for the team when the games started to count. Working a give-and-go with Travis Konecny, Weal scored a goal off the rush on opening night for the Flyers first power-play marker of the 2017-18 season. The Flyers went on to defeat the San Jose Sharks, 5-3.
The next night in LA, things didn't go as well in a 2-0 loss to the Kings. Weal generated a pair of shots on goal but it was hard for his line to find operating space in frequent matchups against a line centered by ex-Flyer Jeff Carter.
"The first game went well, both as a team and individually," Weal said. "(The second) night was a tough game. We played well as a team but our line couldn't get much going out there against a tough line."
Even so, Weal has shown both creativity and patience.
Much has changed for Weal over the past year: He came to training camp with a new two-year contract at a significant raise and the knowledge that he finally held a secure spot on the team's NHL roster. Although he'd spent the entire 2015-16 season at the NHL level with the Los Angeles Kings and Flyers, he only dressed in a combined 14 games (10 with the Kings, four with the Flyers). Now he's a regular on the Flyers' second line.
One year ago, Weal came to the Flyers training camp trying to win an NHL roster spot. Despite producing some preseason highlights, he was placed on waivers on Oct. 9 for purposes of being assigned to the American Hockey League's Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Available to any team in the NHL, the small but highly skilled forward went unclaimed as they set their opening night rosters.
By the end of last season, Weal staked down a regular spot in the Flyers' lineup. One of the top offensive producers in the AHL (47 points in 43 games with the Phantoms), Weal also performed impressively when he got an opportunity to play regularly for the Flyers.
In 23 games for the Flyers, Weal posted 12 points (eight goals, four assists) as he rattled off a five-game point streak between March 26 and April 2 that included goals in four straight games. He found chemistry on a late-season line with Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds. Just as important, even after switching from his more accustomed center position to left wing, Weal showed two-way awareness as well as offensive skill.
"I think that I found my game. I got my mojo back about five games into the season with the Phantoms. I was just waiting for my opportunity with the Flyers. I was fortunate that it came, and things went well," Weal said.
Over the summer, Weal was a highly sought player on the unrestricted free agent market. He opted to stay with the Flyers.
"I like the direction the team is going and I wanted to be part of it. I feel comfortable here, and I think you can just look around the [locker] room and see that there's a lot of really good players. It's exciting," Weal said.
Weal's new linemate, highly touted rookie center Nolan Patrick, used the same word to describe his combination with Weal and reigning Bobby Clarke Trophy (Flyers MVP) winner and NHL All-Star Game MVP Wayne Simmonds.
"It's pretty exciting," Patrick said. "They're both amazing players and they both had great years last year. To be able to start… with those two is pretty cool."
Over the course of practicing and playing together during the preseason, Patrick clicked with Weal. Several times, they worked well-orchestrated give-and-go plays. Both players have an innate sense of when to hold onto the puck and when to dish it off to a teammate.
Although Weal had only one point (an assist) in exhibition play, he was in the middle of setting up a variety of scoring chances both at even strength and as a member of the Flyers' second power play unit. It was only a matter of time until pucks started to go in the net.
"It's good when you can get five or six games together as a line, get to know each other's tendencies and establish some chemistry. I think it's off to a pretty good start," Weal said.
Weal, however, is not one to rest on his laurels. For example, on a late Sunday morning in training camp, one day ahead of the Flyers' preseason home-and-home set with the New York Rangers, Weal took extra skating. He was on the ice until the very end of practice despite being in the starting lineup the next evening.
It was precisely that sort of work ethic as well as his skill that has earned Weal the respect and trust of Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. The player came to camp with a relatively secure NHL roster spot but took nothing for granted.
"Weals has earned it," Hakstol said. "He comes to the rink every day ready to work and he prepares himself like a pro. Last year, maybe he didn't have as good of a camp as he'd have liked, but he handled it the way you'd like to see a young player handle it. He went out, did what he needed to do, and he earned a spot on our team."
Knowing full well how quickly things can change in hockey, the 25-year-old Weal has every intention of continuing to earn his keep. A rink rat at heart, Weal exits the ice after each practice and every game with the look of someone who is already champing at the bit to get right back out there. His skill and work ethic paid some dividends right off the bat in the regular season opener.
The Flyers take on the Anaheim Ducks in the third of their season-opening, four-game road trip. Puck drop is 10 p.m. ET (NBCSP & 97.5 The Fanatic).