When Alain Vigneault took over as the Philadelphia Flyers head coach in 2019, he sent the tone for his tenure quickly. With the cameras trained on him for the NHL’s Behind the Glass docu-series when he dropped the quote that is still being used as the team’s Twitter bio: “Be a _______ Flyer.”
On Thursday, Vigneault met with the media following the first on-ice session of 2021 training camp wearing a team T-shirt with inscriptions that double as this season’s mission statement.
“‘Something to Prove’ and then the back is pretty simple, ‘Got to get to work.’ That’s what it is,” he explained.
“Everyone on our team — coaches have something to prove, young players coming in have something to prove. Veteran Philly players have something to prove, and new veteran Philly players have something to prove. We all have something to prove individually or collectively. The only way to do it is by getting to work, which is what we are trying to do.”
Who’s With Who?
For Thursday’s session at the Flyers Training Center, players were divided into three groups. Group C got things started early, while the players who are expected to compete for NHL jobs this season were divided into Groups A and B.
Today's practice groups: pic.twitter.com/fBHyTHGF3L
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) September 23, 2021
Per Jordan Hall of NBC Sports Philadelphia, here’s how the lines were deployed for the main groups:
Day-van de Leest
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) September 23, 2021
With Kevin Hayes sidelined while he recovers from this week’s abdominal surgery, Vigneault chose to put Morgan Frost right into the fire, centering James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee.
“With Hayesy out, Morgan’s a young player that hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last couple of years,” Vigneault said. “But, high expectations, high-end prospect. With Hayes going down, it gives him a quick opportunity to show what he can do and what’s supposed to be his skill set. He’s supposed to be a top six forward, in theory, so I’ll give him that opportunity.”
Free-agent signing Derick Brassard also got a plum assignment, centering Oskar Lindblom and Cam Atkinson.
“Brass, I wanted to see in the middle because for me, he plays his best hockey in the middle,” said Vigneault of the versatile veteran, who he coached for three seasons with the New York Rangers between 2013 and 2016.
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On the back end, each of the top three pairs features a new Flyer matched up with a returning player. Ivan Provorov played with Ryan Ellis, Travis Sanheim with Rasmus Ristolainenen and Keith Yandle with Justin Braun.
“Ryan Ellis, from what I can tell from him right now, he’s a pro,” Vigneault said. “He does it the right way, and he’s not afraid to use his experience to come in and help, whether it would be a young player or an older player. His adaptation to our group is coming along and I know it’s going to get better.”
When Ristolainen was asked for his first impressions of his new partner, “He’s a big boy, too,” the 6’4″ Finn remarked of the 6’3″ Canadian, Sanheim. “A big boy with a good stick. Can skate and make plays. I think it’s going to be fun, because we can both play offense and defense.”
As for his renowned mean streak, “It’s a big part of my game,” Ristolainen added. “I like to take hits and give hits too. Obviously, try to make the other team hate me and not want to play against me.
“I’ve had some good battles against my new teammates so it’s a big part of my game. I can’t wait to get going.”
Yandle is another former Ranger who’s known to Vigneault. “I know I’ve said this a few times,” the coach reiterated. “Everything about him and the relationship with his teammates, everybody just loves him.”
“Playing against him, you know that his stick is very annoying,” said Claude Giroux, who matched up against Yandle during some Day 1 drills. “You go one-on-one with him and he is a competitive guy. Just happy to have him on our side now.”
Hart is Ready to Rebound
After a difficult 2020-21 campaign, No. 1 netminder Carter Hart believes he’s set to get back to his usual puck-stopping self this season.
“Just needed a break after last season,” he said. “Took some time off from the ice and had to recharge the batteries a little bit. Got into tennis this summer so that was fun. Golf is usually what I do over the summer. It was good to recharge and relax for a little bit. Had a good summer of training also.”
In a good headspace, Hart gives a thumbs-up to the new defense that will be deployed in front of him.
“I think the guys coming in are going to do a good job,” he said. “They’re veteran guys. Solid defenders. Looking forward to playing alongside them. Defensemen have got to be the goalie’s best friend.”
Scrimmages Start Sunday
The players will be back on the ice for two more days of drills and instruction on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday and Monday, they’ll also mix in a scrimmage each day ahead of their first preseason game of the year on Tuesday, when the Flyers host the New York Islanders.