There were many unanswered questions heading into the Flyer’s preseason training camp: How would the team evolve on and off the ice? Who would find an extra letter sewn to the front of their jersey? With an abundance of young talent, who would make the final roster opening night? And what to do to slim down a very crowded blue line?
With preseason wrapping up Saturday night versus the Rangers, these answers are not yet set in stone. Following a loss to the New Jersey Devils, Head coach John Stevens spoke of the theme heading into the start of the season:
“Our whole motto coming into this year is we can’t expect anything to be given to us. We have to welcome the work and be willing to earn it.”
A theme that has not been lost on his blueliners especially considering 23 skaters showed up for a maximum seven spots on the opening night roster. Yesterday Lars Jonsson, 25, and Nate Guenin, 24, were sent to the Phantoms leaving the Flyers with a roster of nine defensemen. [Editor's Note: Please see update from Ms. Koester that follows this story.]
Both players had admirable runs in the preseason, but are young enough that they can still spend time with AHL affiliate Phantoms. Both players, along with Ryan Parent, are sure to see ice time at some point during the season.
Of the six definite spots, there are five assigned almost without question. Braydon Coburn, Darien Hatcher, Lasse Kukkonen, Jason Smith, and Kimmo Timonen will undoubtedly be wearing orange and black on October 4 in Calgary.
This leaves a maximum of two spots that will be filled by Denis Gauthier, Randy Jones, and Alexandre Picard. Stevens has denounced the idea of a seven-man lineup and questions the thought of eight due to “great depth at the forward position”.
Due to the fact that Gauthier is a veteran player—this will mark his 11th season in the NHL—he is much more likely to be traded in the event that he fails to fit into the final roster. He can’t be sent to the Phantoms without clearing waivers, not to mention the move would definitely not sit well with the 6-3, 224-pound, 30 year old.
Randy Jones has been having a great camp; his skating has improved as well as his two-way abilities. He has been seen in three of the six contests thus far and has proven his consistency, a questionable factor thus far with the team. Jones is one game away from reaching 100 games in the NHL and as a Flyer. He posted 22 points (4g-18a) and 38 penalty minutes in 66 games last season.
The only reason Jones is not listed with the five aforementioned “definites” is a right hip flexor injury he sustained in the Flyer’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. He is not slated to play the rest of the preseason, but the team seems optimistic that he will be back in action the week of the opener.
Finally, the last skater in the mix is Alexandre Picard. At 22, Picard has the capacity to be sent to the Phantoms but his performance thus far has proven he definitely doesn’t want to be. The fact that Picard can still be found on the roster proves that the organization is truly dedicated to filling needs, and ultimately the best players will get those roles available. Picard will definitely be one to watch as the preseason comes to a close.
There are nine defensemen currently on the roster competing for what will most likely be six spots (plus one reserve). While Mike Rathje is still technically on that roster, his health makes him a secondary factor, especially since he was injured in his first game and has yet to play since. Barring a miraculous turnaround, it is safe to say Rathje will not be found on the opening night roster.
So the final math is fitting three defensemen into a maximum of two spots. If Jones recovers from his hip flexor injury in enough time to make the roster, that opening will close. In the event that Stevens and the rest of the organization agrees on bringing in a seventh man, it seems all signs point to Alexandre Picard.
As stated before, nothing is set in stone, and with two games left to play there is sure to be a battle for the final spot on the Flyers’ blueline.