If you’re like me, you love rookies and love seeing them in the lineup on any of the Philadelphia sports teams.
They represent the future, bring energy, and make us believe they could be a big piece toward better days.
Older fans will remember how rookies Lonnie Smith, Keith Moreland, Bob Walk and Marty Bystrom played big roles for the World Series champion Phillies in 1980, or how first-year player Jimmy Watson was a major contributor to the Flyers’ run to the 1974 Stanley Cup.
More recently, who can forget how a rookie running back from Glassboro, Corey Clement, had the game of his life in Super Bowl LII in 2018? Clement had four catches for 100 yards, including a 22-yard TD reception, as the Eagles stunned the mighty New England Patriots, 41-33.
All of those rookies performed beyond expectations at crucial moments.
Which is a roundabout way of getting to today’s topic: How many rookies will contribute for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2023-24?
Well, the good thing is that, unlike the aforementioned players, the Flyers’ rookies won’t be under much pressure to perform. The above rookies, you see, were under the microscope because their teams played for championships.
Playing for respect
This year’s Flyers team will be playing for respect, not championships. Yes, the young players will still be trying to make an impact and prove they belong, but unless something unexpected happens, they won’t have much pressure to perform.
When the main training camp rolls around on Sept. 21, new general manager Danny Briere hopes lots of rookies make an impression and give coach John Tortorella a difficult decision on whether to keep them on the roster.
Tyson Foerster, Bobby Brink and Elliot Desnoyers are the rookie forwards with the best chance to make the team out of camp. Among the rookie defensemen who are vying for spots: Emil Andrae, Ronnie Attard, Helge Grans. and Adam Ginning. (Defenseman Egor Zamula barely misses qualifying for rookie status, but has played in just 26 NHL games.) The Flyers are also high on rookie goalie Sam Ersson, but he is waiver-exempt so could start the season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
“Ideally, you would like to see those guys emerge and be counted upon on a game-by-game basis,” said Keith Jones, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new president of hockey operations. “There’s going to be plenty of opportunity, and I think we’ve made that clear.”
Jones said “it’s going to come down to the guys who want to grasp it and make the most of that chance. It doesn’t mean it has to happen this year, though. We want to make sure we allow them to grow – and when they get here, they’re not here for a cup of coffee. We want them to continue to develop. … and take the next step like the guys did last year.”
Difficult to assess
Briere was asked how many rookies he would like to see start the season in Philadelphia.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “Look, last year, we gave a few guys a chance up front to play a bigger role. And not necessarily rookies but young guys.”
Noah Cates was a rookie forward who blossomed. Owen Tippett wasn’t a rookie, but was a young player who scored 27 goals in a breakout season. Morgan Frost wasn’t a rookie, either, but he scored 19 goals in his first full season.
“All these guys got a chance to play more; they were given a bigger role,” Briere said. “Hopefully on defense, we have a chance to do that this year, and see where we stand and what we have. But at the same time, if they’re not ready, we do have some good veterans surrounding them.”
Added Briere: “We like where we’re at with the prospect pool on defense. We’d like to see a few of them take a step forward.”
Andrae, who has been compared to a young Kimmo Timonen, only played 10 games with the Phantoms last season. That would seem to indicate he needs more AHL seasoning.
Not so fast, Briere said.
“He’s played pro in Sweden as well; he’s played against men over there,” Briere said. “So, yeah, we feel he’s played enough, and this camp will dictate how ready he is.”
In other words, veterans like Sean Walker and Nick Seeler are going to have competition for starting spots on defense. That’s good to hear because this season is all about development, and even if Walker and Seeler aren’t in the lineup every day, they are still valuable defenders who can teach the rookies several things along the way.
Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.