This week in Voorhees, 23 Philadelphia Flyers prospects join hundreds around the NHL in what is, in the grand scheme of things, the first practice of another hockey season. It’s a day they’ve encountered several times before in their hockey careers – likely first at the mite level a dozen or more years ago.
Of course, this time it’s different. They have all reached an NHL camp, many for the first time. The stakes grow as a player gets older – it starts out as the first day on their first team, and then maybe it advances to a higher age group or a higher level in the same age group. Eventually they reached elite youth hockey, and then from there were drafted by a major junior team or stepped onto a college campus for that first practice.
Wherever a player comes from, a day like Monday in Voorhees is the goal, and those 23 Flyers prospects achieved it. Now it’s the first day of figuring out where they go next.
For some, the NHL roster is the goal. Others will head to the AHL, or are fighting for a spot there. And others will find themselves back with their junior clubs, their professional opportunity still down the line.
For those coming into camp for the first time, there’s a lot of ways to find help navigating the waters. Some guys can latch on to a teammate they’ve played with before, or for European players, a fellow countryman who’s been there.
As Travis Konecny enters his first professional training camp this week, he has a bit of a fringe benefit in the form of Scott Laughton. To a certain extent, Laughton is living Konecny’s life three years in advance.
Laughton and Konecny are cut from similar cloth. They grew up less than two hours apart in southern Ontario. Both are gritty centermen who came out of the Ontario Hockey League as late first-round picks, and as luck would have it, both picks belonged to the Flyers. Laughton was drafted 20th overall in 2012, and Konecny was picked 24th this past summer.
Despite the proximity, the two didn’t know one another before this summer, outside from being OHL opponents. But now, Konecny has the opportunity to watch Laughton’s path, as if he benefitted from watching an opponent on a golf course take a putt along the exact same line to the hole as his own. The two went out to dinner on the eve of rookie camp, and there was a bit of information-sharing going on.
“[I] just try to help him out with that, to be comfortable with things like that so you’re not sitting in a hotel all day and doing nothing,” Laughton said. “Try to take him out and just try to make him comfortable. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think guys know what they have to do, but it’s more of the nerves and things like that.”
Seeing nerves on the ice is nothing new for Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, who would be completely excused if he had some himself when his own NHL debut arrives on October 6. He’s seen plenty of players hit the ice for their own first time in his 11 years as the head coach at North Dakota, with college programs having a lot more turnover than NHL organizations.
“Nerves are okay,” Hakstol said. “I think that would be my message [to the players], nerves are okay. Don’t be too focused on that. To play the game you have to be able to handle some of those jitters, but most importantly know that you’re prepared and go out and do the things you do well. Don’t try to get too far away or try to do too much. Go out and do the baseline things you do well and make sure you do it from the very start as you get more comfortable in the camp.”
Konecny and others have more or less the same strategy coming into the camp – try to get past the enormity of the achievement and just settle down and do the things that got them here.
“It’s exciting,” Konecny said. “It’s my first real NHL camp. At the same time you’re trying to calm yourself down and do the things you’re good at to the best of your ability. I think for me I’m just taking it one step at a time, trying to work hard and prove myself, and enjoy the experience.”
Ivan Provorov, the Flyers’ other first-round pick, finds himself taking the same approach.
“Everybody’s got talent, so here you’ve just got to work harder than everybody,” he said. “Just play my game and compete as hard as I can. Every time I’m out there, just do something to help the team.”
Provorov found himself talking to another Flyer prepping for an NHL debut – Evgeni Medvedev, a fellow Russian who the Flyers signed out of the Kontinental Hockey League this summer. Medvedev’s got 15 years and 332 KHL games on Provorov, but Provorov speaks more English – the language is completely new to the veteran.
And even for players such as 2015 fourth-round pick Samuel Dove-McFalls, who admits that a return to junior is almost certain, the overall attitude is to do the best they can this week and build on that both this season and beyond.
“I know I’m not really going to make the team this year, but I’m just going to do my best and give it all I’ve got, and try to impress Ron and Dave as much as I can,” Dove-McFalls said. “You’ve got to compete. That’s what they look for – hard workers. That’s what I’ve done my whole life, so I think I’ve just got to play the way I’ve been playing, just play my style and not try to be who I’m not.”
Workouts continue on Tuesday and Wednesday at The Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone, with the rookie camp slated to hop on the ice at 9:45 AM both days. All Flyers veterans are now in town as well preparing for the start of training camp on Friday, and many can also be found skating informal workouts as well. Sessions are free and open to the public.