September may mark the return of NHL hockey, but it also brings along the most tumultuous time of the year for professional players. This past week began the disappointment for the Philadelphia Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall as the team began the sizeable trimming that will eventually lead to just 23 players left on the full-time roster.
Flyers Cut 12, Waive 5, Lose Martel
Between Thursday and Saturday, Hextall trimmed training camp by 17 players. However, only four were really of note. Those are German Rubtsov, Mike Vecchione, T.J. Brennan and Danick Martel.
Everyone assumed Rubtsov would play with the Phantoms this year, but after a strong start to preseason and encouraging words from Hextall, seeing his name on the first Lehigh Valley cut was a tad surprising. Still, he should enter Phantoms camp with some confidence and a little more fanfare that before training camp.
Vecchione was a dark horse center option for the Flyers and a player who some think can carve out an NHL career. He didn’t look like either in his preseason games. That’s a mild disappointment for an undrafted free agent that came to Philly with some promise, but he’s since been passed by a number of players.
When it looked like Andrew MacDonald wasn’t going to be ready for the season, his spot was contested by Brennan, Christian Folin and Philippe Myers. However, Myers was never going to make the team and sit in the pressbox. Brennan and Folin can do that though as veterans already in their prime.
With Brennan waived, one could have assumed Myers would not have sat for Folin. But MacDonald returned to the ice Monday much quicker than anyone thought. Myers is likely to be returned to the Phantoms soon, but if there’s a longterm injury on defense, he seems to have the inside track over Folin and Brennan.
That leaves us with just Martel, who was one of five players placed on waivers Friday, and the only one claimed. The 23 year old is now a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Martel started last season on fire scoring 14 goals in 17 games with the Phantoms. That earned him a four-game stint with the Flyers where he showed some offensive skill but also highlighted that his small stature (5-foot-8) may keep him from ever being an NHL player. After he was demoted, Martel scored just 11 more goals over the course of the season.
While it’s never easy to lose a player for nothing, Hextall wasn’t going to get an asset for Martel and his waiver claim was a surprise. If the Lightning can offer Martel an NHL opportunity then that’s great for him. The Flyers will also appreciate one less forward on a crowded Phantoms offense.
Frost, Ratcliffe Returned to Juniors
I wanted to separate these two from the players that suffered their respective demotions during “Cut Day” since Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe were cut a couple days before, and the former was seriously considered by most as a third-line option.
Instead, Frost played in a rookie game, two days of training camp, a preseason game and was sent back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The simple fact is that the 19 year old needed a dominant camp and it didn’t happen.
Frost looked good on the power play in the rookie game and was on a line with Michael Raffl and Dale Weise, two positive signs, but he didn’t impress enough in practice or in the game to force Hextall and company to keep him around.
It didn’t help that Jordan Weal looked good at center and another prospect Mikhail Vorobyev, closed the gap for one of the center spots on the Flyers. Not to mention, Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera are also NHL-capable centers (maybe just the first one) and Frost continued to slip down the depth chart.
Although the outrage from Flyers fans over the demotion wasn’t as big as it could have been, this isn’t a bad thing for Frost. He’ll get to improve his game while dominating offensively and getting to play in the World Junior Championship should he make Team Canada.
Ratcliffe, meanwhile, always had a minuscule chance of making the team. With a better result during his one preseason game maybe he could have stuck around longer.
Flyers sign Yegor Zamula to ELC
The Flyers had five ATOs in camp and found one they deemed talented enough to warrant a contract. Zamula, a Russian defender with the Calgary Hitmen, was signed to an ELC Thursday and was returned to the WHL afterward.
Zamula played in two preseason games for the Flyers and showed a calm demeanor despite his age and contract status. Some noted that his season improved last year after a move to the Hitmen and the stats agree with that. In 38 games with the Regina Pats, Zamula scored seven points. In 31 contests with the Hitmen, the 18 year old scored two goals and 11 points.
The Flyers like their late-season improvements from prospects and Zamula seems to fit that bill.
As I noted on Twitter, the Flyers have a host of prospects and a limited number of contract spots. Zamula earning a contract just shows how much the Philly brass liked him.
Hextall Grade: A
Hakstol didn’t figure too much into this week, but Hextall had an easy week. The best was signing Zamula, who looks like he could become an NHL player one day. The cuts were fairly straightforward so it’s easy for him to pass there.