Philadelphia Flyers Prospect Mini Camp Review
BY ROB REATH
This year was full of surprises at the Flyer prospect camp, some pleasant ones and some disappointing ones. Usually one or two players shine at the expense of others and vault their status with the club while inadvertently raising questions about the rest of the pack. This year there was no dominant player taking their game to new heights and forcing management to take note like Claude Giroux did last year, and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter did in their initial seasons.
Still, there were a lot of telling moments from key players.
James vanRiemsdyk did not shine, but played quite well and more importantly showed up in better shape than he did last year. Clearly, he spent the summer taking advantage of the fact the Flyer training facility is located just 85 miles up the road from his home. It looks as though vanRiemsdyk’s decision to play university hockey may not have been best one for his development, as he managed just one goal in his last 15 games there.
Flyer GM Paul Holmgren felt it was important for him to play with someone who will get him the puck, so John Matsumoto got the call.
Matsumoto had a strong camp, paying the price to fish out pucks for vanRiemsdyk and making creative passes often very late in the play as this pair showed good chemistry. Steve Downie was the other player on their line, and he played adequately. For Downie, this may have all been done before, but he still showed some fire, getting into a fight with Matt Clackson. Clackson, who has a limited skill set, may have been trying to show the Flyer brass that he was “bringing it” to camp with a serious attitude, but his judgment and timing of trying to instigate seemed a bit out of place at times. Finally, Garrett Klotz took Clackson on as well, displaying a clear understanding of the enforcer’s role.
Klotz is a great kid with a great attitude, but his skill set is also lower than the other prospects, so one wonders how far he and Clackson can go on their pugilistic abilities alone. Both appear to be strictly fighters at this stage in their careers.
Kevin Marshall did not stand out at camp, but shows very good work habits and was rewarded with a pro contract by the Flyers. Marc Andre Bourdon was hurt so he could not show much. He definitely needs to work on his speed and mobility before getting to the bigs.
There were some defensemen in the fold who raised a few eyebrows. Mike Ratchuk can burn it all the way up ice and consistently showed he could skate rings around most of the other prospects in a gear that they just simply don’t have. He made a couple of bad decisions, but for the most part he was flying in between traffic effortlessly. On the downside, he is not a gritty player and was also taken out with devastating checks more frequently than any other prospect. For instance, on the last day of camp, Giroux nailed him with a world-class hit that reminded people of Dale Hunter’s heyday. In fact, Grioux took Ratchuk out so badly, people thought he might not play ever again. However, to his credit, Ratchuk came back two shifts later.
Luca Sbisa also justified his first round selection to an extent. Unlike most players who seem strained and tend to force their reverse C-cuts in backward skating drills, Sbisa moved effortlessly and fluidly about twice as fast as most other prospects, finishing most backward skating drills about 20 paces ahead of the pack every time.
Sbisa played fairly well, displaying a good, crisp first pass, but he was looking to pinch too early and got burned several times. When he didn’t get caught, he was a key component in the offensive zone, but, clearly, he needs work on the decision making process. Still, he was one of the better players at the camp.
Ryan Parent was probably the best defender with his unspectacular, but highly efficient play.
Zac Rinaldo had a strong camp for a guy who most considered lucky to even be there. He is fast, feisty and intense. I’m not sure how he’d fair against established vets, but he definitely shows promise.
Rob Bellamy played pretty well, but seems to have hit his ceiling as a checker with limited offensive abilities.
Giroux played very consistently, but the expectations on him are through the roof so despite a strong camp he still didn’t dominate the way one might have hoped. He did make great passes and show off his moves and skating, while potting the odd goal. Giroux oozes with promise every time he is on the ice.