Defense looks like it will be the Philadelphia Flyers’ biggest weakness this season. So, if you are going to give up lots of goals, why not do it with some youngsters who are at least gaining experience?
That’s one theory as the Oct. 12 season opener in Columbus inches closer.
The Flyers are expected to carry eight defensemen, and, based on what general manager Danny Briere has said, they want to get younger on the blue line.
That means Emil Andrae (age 21), Helge Grans (21), Ronnie Attard (24), Egor Zamula (23), and Adam Ginning (23) are in the running for one of the Big Eight jobs.
Lots of vets
The veteran defensemen should include Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Marc Staal, Sean Walker, and Nick Seeler, along with Cam York, who is just 22 but is considered a staple on the back end.
Those six, however, won’t necessarily be playing all the time. There will be opportunities for the kids.
Zamula, who bulked up from 180 to 200 pounds in the summer, would have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL’s Phantoms. Provided he shows no ill effects from last April’s shoulder surgery, he is the leading contender for an open spot, whether it be as the No. 6, 7 or 8 defenseman.
One of the other youngsters will also probably make the team, and it looks like it will come down to Ginning or Attard because Andrae appears to need more AHL seasoning.
Ginning and Attard both played well in the Flyers’ 2-1 exhibition loss to the New York Islanders on Wednesday.
Attard, the more offensive of the two, was an AHL All-Star for the Phantoms last season. He collected 12 goals and 32 points in 68 games. Offense is his calling card. The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder had five shots on goal against the Isles, and his righthanded shot makes him attractive.
Ginning, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound Swede drafted in the second round in 2018, played a team-leading 22:27 Wednesday and showed surprising flashes of offense with 10 shot attempts, including five on goal. That said, he is a stay-at-home defenseman who knows his path to the NHL is based on his strong defense.
“I feel comfortable with the way I’m going to play,” Ginning said after a camp session Thursday in Voorhees. “I’m going to be a defensive defenseman. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to play offense or never going to try to create something. But my main goal is to play good defensively and make sure we don’t get scored on.”
Does he like his chances of sticking with the Flyers out of camp?
“There’s a lot of bodies here and it’s obviously hard to make the team right away,” said Ginning, who says he feels much more comfortable than he did at last year’s camp. “But I’m doing everything I can right now and we’ll see what happens. If I have to play more with the Phantoms, I’ll do that and try the best I can to get a call-up and be here.”
In his first year playing in North America, Ginning led the Phantoms with a plus-24 rating last season. If he starts the season back in Allentown, he undoubtedly will be recalled when an inevitable injury strikes a defender,
Coach John Tortorella liked what Ginning showed against the Islanders and his overall camp.
“The thing I like about him is he’s in the way,” Tortorella said. “He understands the position and where he needs to be. That needs to be a big strength of his because of how long he is and what area he can take up. I think he’ll get a faster track to the National Hockey League if he hones in on that and works on his positioning.”
Tortorella said Ginning “had some good minutes” against the Islanders. “He’ll probably get another game and we’ll just keep evaluating.”
Keeping Ginning (or Attard) only makes sense if they are going to play at least half the games on the Philadelphia Flyers’ schedule. If they are only going to be a No. 7 or a No. 8 defenseman, they are better-suited playing every game for Lehigh Valley.
That’s the dilemma facing Tortorella and Briere.
From here, playing the kids seems like the logical decision.
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 email@example.com.