Berube talks Del Zotto, adjusting Flyers' defense

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Berube talks Del Zotto, adjusting Flyers' defense

Training camp for the Flyers won’t open until mid-September, but already coach Craig Berube has some major readjusting to do with his blue line.

Tuesday’s shocker -- Kimmo Timonen is out indefinitely with multiple blood clots -- left the Flyers without their top defenseman on a blue line already a tad old and too slow.

By nightfall, general manager Ron Hextall had signed Michael Del Zotto to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

That kind of contract screams prove yourself again, and we’ll talk long term.

Yet it also set into motion what Berube must do moving forward more than a month before training camp opens in adjusting his defensive pairs.

“He has lots of skill, speed,” Berube said of the 24-year-old Del Zotto. “He gets up in the play offensively. [He] worked the power play before in New York. He has a lot of skill.”

Berube’s first order of business now is figuring out where Del Zotto fits.

Timonen spent nearly all last season -- and most of his Flyers career -- paired with Braydon Coburn.

Berube tried Coburn with Andrew MacDonald at Pittsburgh late in the season and was intrigued by what he saw. That could be a pair to start the season.

“MacDonald and Coburn played together some games last year and I really liked what I saw there as a shutdown pair,” Berube said.

“[Mark] Streit and [Nick] Grossmann played together for quite some time. We’ll see. Maybe with Luke Schenn. Just going into camp you’ve got to look at some combinations and see what looks good.”

So for starters, Berube seems inclined to use Del Zotto with Schenn. He wants a stay-at-home defenseman with a mobile player on every pair. Nick Schultz is the sixth man going into camp.

“I always like a puck mover with a stay-at-home guy, but there are always games when we put two big guys together,” Berube said.

The loss of Timonen can’t be downplayed. His play on the ice, his leadership in the dressing room, his work on the power play, etc. Even at age 39 with declining skills, the Flyers will miss Timonen.

“Definitely, I know what we will miss without Kimmo,” Berube said. “We’re obviously concerned with Kimmo’s health. That is always first and foremost. We wish a good recovery and see him get back on the ice. His health is first.

“I can’t sit there and worry about Kimmo not being on the ice. Just get better. He’s been a great Flyer, but the most important thing is his health and not hockey.”

Del Zotto is not in Timonen’s caliber. He was a rising, young star when he came into the NHL in 2009 with the Rangers. Since then, Del Zotto’s stock has dropped dramatically.

He played parts of five seasons on Broadway with 26 goals and 95 assists for 121 points in 292 games. His breakout year was 2011-12 with 10 goals and 41 points in 77 games, while earning a plus-20 rating.

Much like with the signing of goalie Steve Mason back in April 2013, the Flyers see this as a fresh beginning for Del Zotto with a chance to earn a better contract in the future.

“Absolutely,” Berube agreed.

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”