Flyers training camp: 6 things you need to know

Flyers training camp: 6 things you need to know

September 11, 2013, 10:00 am
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Flyers training camp will be held at the Wells Fargo Center this year instead of Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. (AP)

Training camp with a twist.

Starting on Wednesday, Flyers veterans will report for team pictures and physicals -- not at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. -- but at the Wells Fargo Center.

Training camp begins in full on Thursday with three groups of players on the ice from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many of the Flyers’ prospects will also be part of those sessions, which last through Friday.

Although general manager Paul Holmgren didn’t rip up the roster after failing to make the playoffs last season, he did make several moves that figure to greatly impact whatever success Peter Laviolette’s club has this season.

Heading into camp Thursday, here are six things to watch for:

1. Who’s the starting goaltender?

It’s easy to look at the Flyers’ two goalies -- Ray Emery and Steve Mason -- and simply say: The former has the starting job, hands down. But to do that would dismiss how impressive Mason was last season with the Flyers.

If ever a guy seemed totally reborn coming to Philadelphia and trying to put the past behind him, it’s Mason, who had a superb 1.90 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in seven games for a team going nowhere fast at the end.

Yet, the battle in camp is one where there is no clear-cut winner going in.

Emery has the edge given his 17-1 record, 1.94 GAA and .922 save percentage in just 21 games last season with Chicago. Plus, he’s a traveled veteran with a Stanley Cup now.

Assistant general manager Ron Hextall believes this is going to be a fascinating battle to watch and Hexy’s not willing to say who wins it. Both are hungry to be named No. 1.

2. Where does Vinny Lecavalier fit?

You can imagine the look on Jakub Voracek’s face when told that the ex-Tampa Bay captain would very much like to play the right side on Claude Giroux’s line, which would mean Voracek would have to go to left wing and Scott Hartnell would drop down to the second or third line.

Voracek shrugged, noting he’s never played left wing before and this is something that has to be settled in camp. Indeed. The Flyers’ lines are up in the air as camp gets underway.

For one, Giroux has not been cleared to use his wrist, so he’s not a factor initially, but he is expected to be in the lineup for the season opener -- Oct. 2 at home against the Maple Leafs.

The Flyers have a contingency plan, but do you ignore the obvious chemistry Giroux and Voracek have cultivated since Jaromir Jagr left? You can’t, even if Lecavalier wants to play right wing with those two players.

What about Lecavalier between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds? That makes sense. It all has to be figured out, and it’s a challenge since Giroux’s status is unclear.

3. Who’s the starting six on defense?

Assuming Andrej Meszaros (multiple left shoulder injuries) passes his physical, the Flyers have a real challenge on defense in terms of who will be their starting six are and who wins the seventh spot.

Because Meszaros was the most injured of last year’s group, he comes into camp as the sixth or seventh defenseman. If he’s the sixth, then who is your No. 7? Erik Gustafsson? Nick Grossmann?

There are actually too many bodies and we haven’t included Hal Gill, who is in camp on a tryout. Nine defensemen are on one-way deals, meaning they have to clear waivers if sent down. Right now, the odd man out at No. 8 would appear to be Bruno Gervais.

The Flyers are looking for a way to unload both salary and a defenseman during camp given that they have committed $34.2 million to the blue line and remain $2 million over the $64.3 million salary cap.

It seems safe to say the group that begins camp won’t be the same when it ends.

So who loses out?

4. What is Dan Cleary’s impact?

The Flyers agreed to a three-year contract with the former Detroit left wing late Monday night, but because of salary cap constraints, they can’t actually sign him until October.

Cleary is expected here on a PTO -- a tryout. With him around, that means one less forward makes the roster. The Flyers are expected to carry 14 forwards. It’s likely Cleary takes a spot that would have gone to Tye McGinn or Scott Laughton.

5. Will new goalies alter the Flyers' style of play?

It almost took an earthquake to get Ilya Bryzgalov to leave the sanctuary of his net and go after a puck being dumped or shot into the Flyers’ zone. Not so with Mason, and more than a few defensemen, most notably Kimmo Timonen, mentioned how much easier it was to play in front of Mason knowing how aggressive he was at handling pucks. Emery is the same way.

The Flyers have a legit chance to totally revamp their breakouts and transition game with two goalies that play the puck -- saving the defense at least 10 feet in turnaround distance. This should allow a quicker, smoother transition up ice this season and it’s something that has to be nailed down in camp.

6. Will Scott Laughton be among the top nine skaters?

Holmgren said going into camp that the organization owes it to give Laughton every opportunity to make the roster. He stuck around for five games last season before going back to junior.

And because of his age -- 19 -- he has to play either with the Flyers or go back to junior -- no Phantoms. Assume for a minute Laughton, a natural center, makes the roster.

Where does he fit?

If Sean Couturier, who is noticeably bigger with added muscle, is your third-line center, you can’t find decent minutes for Laughton on the fourth line. He’d have to move to wing. Or you put Lecavalier on the wing and use Laughton at center.

Max Talbot was the fourth-line center and heads into camp there. Whatever the Flyers do with Lecavalier will have a trickle-down effect on Laughton, not to mention Cleary’s presence. Again, it would be a waste to keep Laughton here if he’s not among the top nine. He needs ice time if he’s going to stick around.