It’s GAMEDAY at PPL CENTER!
By Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer philadelphiaflyers.com
The Philadelphia Flyers’ Rookies will take on their New York Rangers counterparts on Friday evening at the PPL Center in Allentown (home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms) for the first match of a two-game set. Game time is 7:05 p.m. EDT.
Last year, the Flyers’ Rookies swept the two games. In Game 1, the Flyers Rookies prevailed in overtime, 2-1. Tyson Foerster scored the winning goal, while Olle Lycksell tallied in regulation. Defenseman Matthew Robertson scored notched a second period power play goal for the New York side.
In the rematch, the Flyers Rookies prevailed, 5-1, despite being outshot by a 37-15 margin. The Flyers went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill with a shorthanded goal and were 1-for-3 on the power play. Additionally, among the five goals that the Flyers scored, three of the tallies were sniped and the other two were virtual slam dunks off well executed passing plays.
The Flyers Rookies received goals by Egor Zamula, Lycksell, Noah Cates (shorthanded), Zayde Wisdom, and Ronnie Attard (power play). Lycksell led the way overall with a three-point game (1g, 2a). Rangers prospect Bobby Trivigno broke up Samuel Ersson’s shutout bid early in the third period, temporarily cutting New York’s deficit to 4-1.
FLYERS ROOKIES TO WATCH
Foerster, a hopeful for the Flyers opening-night NHL roster depending on his performance in camp, is arguably the highest-profile prospect on the Flyers Rookies Roster for the two-game set. Last season, Foerster led the Phantoms in scoring with 48 points (20g, 28a) and played in the American Hockey League All-Star Game. Late in the 2022-23 campaign, he made his NHL debut and produced seven points (3g, 4a) in eight games with the Flyers.
Elliot Desnoyers was the Phantoms’ goal-scoring leader (23 goals among his 44 points) as an AHL rookie last season. The two-way center played in all game situations for head coach Ian Laperriere’s club. Desnoyers also appeared in four NHL games during the latter part of the season.
A Hobey Baker finalist in 2021-22 for NCAA champion Denver, playmaking forward Bobby Brink is now fully healthy after missing the first half last season due to surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. He started to round back into form late last season and finished the 2022-23 NHL campaign with 12 goals and 28 points in 41 games.
Emil Andrae, an excellent puck-moving defense prospect with power play upside offensively, joined the Phantoms late last season after completing his Swedish Hockey League campaign with HV71 Jönköping. This coming season, Andrae will spend his first full campaign in North America. He’s aiming to make the jump directly to the NHL level but, if not, will gain valuable experience first with the Phantoms.
Originally drafted by the Flyers in the second round (54th overall) of the 2021 Entry Draft, Finnish winger Samu Tuomaala is returning to North America to play for the Phantoms in 2023-24. A speedster with a heavy shot, Tuomaala had some ups and downs in his native Finland the last two seasons after briefly starting the 2021-22 campaign in the AHL with the Phantoms. In the second half of last season, Tuomaala seemed to regain his offensive confidence while continuing to grow more of a two-way game. He’d added considerable physical strength over the last two years.
Signed by the Flyers to entry-level NHL contracts earlier this year, forward Alexis Gendron and offensive minded defenseman Ethan Samson are under-the-radar names to watch the rookie game. At the QMJHL level last season, Gendron racked up 33 goals and 47 points in 34 games following a trade to the Gatineau Olympiques. He followed it up with 14 goals and 19 points in 13 playoff games. Samson, meanwhile, compiled 60 points (18g, 42a) in 60 Western Hockey League regular season games for the Prince George Cougars in 2022-23.
In the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers selected defenseman Oliver Bonk with the 22nd overall pick of the first round. Philly later traded up to gain a second-round pick in order to take highly-regarded goaltending prospect Carson Bjarnason. In round three, with the 95th overall selection, the Flyers took agitating and speedy forward Denver Barkey (a teammate of Bonk’s with the OHL’s London Knights). In round 4, 120th overall, Philadelphia picked Slovakian speedy puck-handling wizard Alex Ciernik.
All four players — Bonk, Bjarnson, Barkey and Ciernik — are attending their first NHL Rookie Camp this September and all are slated to play in the Rookie Games.
RANGERS ROOKIES TO WATCH
The Rangers Rookies roster is highlighted by the presence of left winger Brennan Othmann, whom the Blueshirts selected with the 16th overall pick of the first round in 2021. The now 20-year-old forward represented Team Canada at each of the last two IIHF World Junior Championships.
Last season at the Ontario Hockey League level, Othmann tallied a combined 29 goals, 38 assists and 67 points in 56 games for Flint Firebirds and Peterborough Petes. In the playoffs for OHL champion Peterborough, Othmann added eight goals and 25 points. J.R. Avon, who is at Rookie Camp with the Flyers but has not been on the ice thus far, was a Petes teammate.
Adam Sykora, selected by the Rangers in the second round (63rd overall) of the 2022 Entry Draft, got his feet wet in North American pro hockey last season in two games with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. A fixture in Slovakia’s Extraliga with HK Nitra and the Slovakian national junior team in each of the last two WJC tournaments, Sykora is a player with a reputation for a “high-compete” game, willingness to go to the greasy areas and two-way upside.
Russian forward Maxim Barbashev, has played in North America for three years at the QMJHL level for the Moncton Wildcats. He’s the younger brother of Vegas Golden Knights forward Ivan Barbashev. Maxim, selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, flirted with a point per game in the Q last year. Versatility is one of the younger Barbashev brother’s main assets, although he may not have the same offensive upside as Ivan.
Goaltender Dylan Garand showed promise in the AHL last season as a rookie with the Hartford Wolf Pack. There was some inconsistency in the 21-year-old netminder’s game but he also cranked out his share of top quality performances. The former Kamloops Blazer and Canadian national junior team goalie entered the pro level wilh a strong pedigree from junior hockey and has developed at an encouraging pace since being selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft.
Soo Greyhounds center Bryce McConnell-Barker enjoyed a strong draft-plus-one season in the OHL for a last-place Greyhounds club. Without much help across the lineup, the 2022 third-round pick paced Sault Ste. Marie with 30 goals, 47 assists and 77 points while dressing in all 68 games of the season.
Robertson, who scored in the first game of last year’s Rookie Game set against the Flyers Rookies, has slow-cooked in the AHL with Hartford after being selected by the Rangers in the second round of the 2019 Entry Draft. The 2023-24 season will be a crucial one in determining his professional path. More defensive-minded at the AHL level than he was in the Western Hockey League, the Rangers would like to see Robertson consistently use his big frame (6-foot-3, 210-plus pounds) to his advantage.