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Flyers likely need camp to solve logjam on defense

by Adam Kimelman

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall understands he might have a bit of a math problem with his defense when training camp opens Sept. 17.

The Flyers have eight defensemen on NHL contracts, and five prospects who will be fighting for roster spots.

That doesn't include any players the Flyers might bring into camp on professional tryout contracts.

"We've talked to a couple guys," Hextall said Thursday. "Whether it happens or not, I really don't know. ... We've certainly had an eye on it. We've got feelers out on a couple guys."

Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn and Brandon Manning return from a group that allowed 2.72 goals per game last season (tied for 21st in the NHL). Radko Gudas, acquired at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline from the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Braydon Coburn, will be healthy when training camp starts after having season-ending knee surgery in January.

In May, the Flyers signed 33-year-old Yevgeni Medvedev. The 6-foot-3, 198-pound left-shot defender was a three-time all-star in the Kontinental Hockey League; he helped Russia win the silver medal at the 2015 IIHF World Championship.

"We needed to add a defenseman on the back end with some size and puck-moving ability and skating ability, and we feel like we did that with Yevgeni," Hextall said.

Although the veterans will have the best chance at being among the six or seven defensemen on the opening-night roster, there will be a significant push from a handful of prospects, topped by Ivan Provorov, the seventh pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound left-shot defender played with Brandon of the Western Hockey League last season and led WHL rookies with 61 points in 60 games.

Also expected to make an impact at some point with the Flyers are Travis Sanheim, 19, their top pick in the 2014 draft (No. 17); Samuel Morin, 20, the 11th pick of the 2013 draft; Shayne Gostisbehere, 22; and Robert Hagg, 20.

Could that impact come as soon as 2015-16? It's possible, but Hextall said it would have to follow an overwhelming performance during training camp and preseason games.

"If they come in, they're going to have to prove to us and the staff that they're going to make us a better team for 82 games," Hextall said.

Morin nearly did so last season, staying with the Flyers until the final round of camp cuts. He returned to his junior team, Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He missed time because of a broken jaw but had 32 points in 38 games and helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"Sam had a really good preseason," Hextall said. "He played well, he played solid. In the end, there's no doubt in my mind we made the best choice. It's tempting. You got a big guy (6-foot-6, 202 pounds). He's the type of guy we need; big guy, skates well, has a good defensive stick. Lot of good things there. In the end, we made the right decision."

Hextall said he won't necessarily make the same decision this year.

"That's part of the evaluation process for us," Hextall said. "Is a kid better playing down here eight minutes a game or somewhere else playing 20, 22 minutes? I think you guys all have the impression that I'm going to send kids down no matter what; that's not the case. But I do err on the side of ... not going to put a guy in when it's too early."

Two weeks from the start of training camp, Hextall said the logjam of defensemen doesn't have him worried.

"Things will play their way out one way or another, and we'll make decisions based on everything that you put into the mix," he said. "Contract comes into it, experience, a young kid. There's a lot of things that go into decisions, the fits. We don't know the fits of our [defense] pairs. There's so much that's going to happen between now and Oct. 1."


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