Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.
Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.
He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side.
That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.
The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.
“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.
“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”
After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.
“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”
He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.
While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.
“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”
The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.
“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.
It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.
“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”
He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.
Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.
His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.
Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.
That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.
“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”
So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.
“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”