Who will it be? And when?
That’s the underlying story behind the Flyers Development Camp, where Philadelphia’s NHL hopefuls have gathered this past weekend for a crash course on how to get — and stay — at the next level. Of particular interest is the logjam of defensemen the Flyers have been stockpiling through the draft the past few years — Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, Mark Alt and most recently first and third round picks Travis Sanheim and Mark Friedman.
New GM Ron Hextall and coach Craig Berube are crossing their fingers at least a couple of them have what it ultimately takes to make the grade. Just don’t hold your breath expecting it to happen soon. For one thing the Flyers have a staggering $30.04 million — nearly half their $69 salary cap allotment -- committed to returning defensemen Mark Streit ($5,25 million), Andrew MacDonald ($5 million), Braydon Coburn ($4.5 million), Luke Schenn ($3.6 million), Niklas Grossmann ($3.5 million), Kimmo Timonen ($2 million) and newcomer Nick Schultz ($1.25 million).
Plus, there’s Chris Pronger’s annual $4.9 million which doesn’t come off the cap until after the first day of the season when he goes on long-term injury, while they retain the rights to Erik Gustafsson, who’ll play in the KHL this season.
Of that group all but Timonen and Schultz are locked in for the following season, too, which — barring trades —doesn’t leave much room for the kids to crack the lineup. That’s assuming they’re good enough, of course. And keep in mind the last home grown defenseman to play regularly for the orange and black was Chris Therien in 2004.
"Making the team going into training camp, that's everybody's goal," said Gostisbehere, the star of Union’s NCAA champions, who won the title on the same Wells Fargo Center ice he hopes to eventually call home. "But if that's not in my future for right now, that's fine.I'll be in the AHL and it will be fun."
On the other hand the 6-foot-7 Morin, last year’s No. 1 pick, sees no reason he can’t break through now.
"If I have a good camp, we'll see," said the just-turned 19-year-old Morin, who racked up 117 penalty minutes in just 46 games this year in Juniors "I live in the present.Right now I'm in development camp after my Team Canada camp. For sure, I think I'll have my chance."
But with so many holdovers clogging the lineup, the likelihood is Sixers fans will see Joel Embiid and even Dario Saric play before Flyers fans get to see wholesale changes on the defense. Perhaps one day, though, the kids will grow up and begin to make their mark.
"In three to four years, maybe all of us are up at the NHL level," predicted the 19-year-old Swede Hagg, who expects to learn more playing for the AHL Phantoms than if he went back home. "It would be really fun if me, Ghost (Gostisbehere), Morin and Sanheim could be a top four in the Flyers in four years."
From his lips to Ron Hextall’s and Craig Berube’s ears, the Flyers can only dream of that day.