Folks! Hockey is officially back. The prospects wrapped up their rookie camp with a pair of games against the Rangers’ prospects up in Allentown over the weekend, and they came away with a nice pair of wins, and a lot of strong impressions made. Let’s get right into them, shall we?
The big picture
Before we get rolling, we should make a quick note that these two games were, well, they were extremely rookie games. Much of Friday’s was a bit of a snooze-fest, as it took the teams a little while to settle in, and until they did, we saw them playing pretty conservatively, pretty tight defensively, trying to avoid being the first one to make a big mistake. Which was perhaps a good thing for a coach to see, but less engaging for us. In any event, this game still ended in a Flyers win, 2-1 in overtime.
Saturday was, then, decidedly the opposite—much wider open and more chaotic. The Flyers were buried by shots, 37-15 in total (more on that later), but still managed to put up a commanding 5-1 win, despite never really looking like they were controlling play. But hey, it’s still a sweep.
If there’s one player that really flashed across these two games, it was Lycksell, in some of his first games played over on the smaller North American ice. He picked up the game tying goal on Friday, and he chipped in another on Saturday, as well as primary assists on two of the Flyers’ other two goals.
There was a lot that stood out positively in his game. He’s always been a pretty nifty stickhandler, and that was on display this weekend. He brings good quickness and his shiftiness was a real asset to him, He was one of the only Flyers on Friday who was able to find much speed to move through the neutral zone with control, and he proved to be a dependable entry generator for his line. And that shot, of course, looked pretty lethal. Plus, the strength he’s added over the last year has helped him hold his own better in battles, something that was really needed as a smaller player.
Lycksell’s skill game has always been exciting—and one that seemed to me would translate even better to the smaller ice—but it’s been nice to see him continuing to evolve into a more complete player.
Now, we might have expected Lycksell to pop in this setting, considering he has several years of professional experience and that’s being put up against teenagers in this tournament, but his skill level flashing was impressive, all the same.
If there was one thing Foerster made clear this weekend, it’s that he has something of a flair for the dramatic.
He delivered the overtime winner on Friday, and picked up an assist on Saturday, setting up Egor Zamula’s goal. He also brought a physical presence in droves, not shying away from delivering some big hits (two of which, though, did get him penalized on Saturday). The offense popped for Foerster as it always does, but just as he did at the World Juniors last month, he’s working to prove that he can bring more to his game outside of just that offense. It still needs some polishing, but it’s certainly an exciting prospect, and it will be interesting to see how he continues to build on that when he gets back to playing in (probably) the AHL in a few weeks.
Ersson only got in for the one game on Saturday, but he did play the whole of it, and he really impressed. After playing only four games during the 2021-22 season due to injury issues, he said his only real objective was just to make it through this one, and we’re here to tell you that he accomplished all of that and more. Physically, he seemed to hold up well under the workload—which was substantial, as we mentioned, as he faced 37 shots across the whole of the game and had to weather a few flurries of pressure as his skaters failed to clear the puck out of their own end. All told, his rebound control was solid, and he looked polished and economical in his movements, and he didn’t get himself into any undue trouble, and it was just the one shot that beat him. This game had the potential to go sideways in a bad way for the Flyers, and Ersson was the one thing keeping that from happening, until the skaters were able to get a bit of offense going.
It was, in short, just about everything we might have hoped to see from Ersson. And, while we expect he’ll get some time in the AHL to start the year to get back to game speed and continue to polish out, the fact that a very good goalie prospect is back and not looking like he missed a beat is good news for a team that doesn’t seem to have a super solid plan in place to address their backup goalie situation at the NHL level.
Bits and bobs
Noah Cates, honorable mention
Cates also falls under the umbrella here of players we expected would do well in this tournament, but still impressed, all the same. Cates played on a line alongside his brother Jackson and Tyson Foerster, and while it took them a little while to get going in the first game, once they did, they were putting together some really nice offensive looks. Noah and Jackson also put up one of the real highlights of the weekend on Saturday, with this shorthanded goal.
We know by now that Cates isn’t going to be putting up highlight reel chances on every single shift (though, of course, he’s certainly capable of it), but the details working in his game are just as important, and we saw those working well this weekend too. Cates was driving play, checking well when everyone was playing entirely too much defense for a rookie game, and all of this impressed us, but more importantly, his coaching staff. He’s seen to compete for a job with the Flyers in camp, and he’s seen a very strong foundation for himself.
Egor Zamula and Ronnie Attard back in action
With the number of defensemen on the roster for this camp, and the fact that Zamula and Attard are set to get longer looks in main camp, they were given the night off on Friday to give some of the other kids a first look. But Zamula and Attard were able to get in for Saturday’s game, and paired together, no less, and it was… the mixed bag you might have expected. Both of them are still polishing out their games and can fall victim to big gaffs from time to time as a result, and we saw a couple of those, but they both did showcase their upside as well. Both chipped in goals off of big shots from the point, had a couple well-timed breakups, and contributed well to the team’s transition game.
There’s work to be done yet, but it’s clear that their upside still leaves a lot to be excited about.
This tournament also got pretty chippy. Some shots were exchanged, we saw some gatherings after whistles, but there was only one proper fight, and even that might be a bit generous—Adam Ginning did sort of drop the gloves, a couple of punches were attempted to be thrown, and then he just sort of knocked down the Ranger, and that was the end of that. It was a tough look, honestly, so Ian Laperriere brought in some reinforcements to offer up some pointers to after they wrapped up their session for the day.
And teaching fighting in camp feels a little strange, so here, the context is important. Laperriere isn’t necessarily advocating for fighting—quite the opposite, actually—but he understands the reality of the game, that it still takes place. And when Ginning was pulled into that fight, he didn’t really know what to do to protect himself, so that’s a lesson that needs to be learned. The last thing we need is any more of these kids getting hurt.
A strange camp ahead
Main camp opens up this week, and while it’s all well and good that many of the prospects had a strong showing in this rookie tournament, it may not end up meaning a whole lot in terms of their chances to make the big club out of camp . The roster is pretty veteran heavy, and right now, realistically, we’re looking at someone like Noah Cates being in the mix for one of the open forward spots (along with Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison), Attard potentially getting in as a seventh defenseman, and Ersson potentially getting a longer look, but the reality is that this roster isn’t as wide open as it has been in some years past, and some of the kids may be boxed out already. That’s good news if you’re hoping to see a more exciting Phantoms team this year, but bad news if you’re looking for some dramatic training camp battles. So it goes.