Philadelphia Flyers-Washington Capitals Rookie Game: 5 Standout Flyers
There was no Claude Giroux or Alex Ovechkin; no Chris Pronger or Mike Green. The puck dropped shortly after 5 PM, in between games of a Phillies double-header across the street, and the Wells Fargo Center was about half full.
But Thursday night hockey was back in South Philly, and the 11,000 dedicated Flyers fans in attendance were given their first live look at several new faces, including Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
The surprisingly raucous crowd was treated to three fights and a 3-2 hometown victory, prompting fans to exclaim "We got our money's worth!" (Tickets were free).
Given this opportunity to take a look at some of the youngsters, these are the five standout performers as voted on by the group with whom I attended the game.
I apologize to the readers for such delay (almost 24 hours) but technology prevented earlier publication.
Without further excuses, here are the five most notable performances from last night's rookie game.
Who else? The 20-year old prospect was not a dominant force last night, but he sure did look good in orange and black.
It was clear from the outset Schenn is the go-to prospect expected to crack the lineup and play a pivotal role in the NHL this season.
Schenn donned the 'A' on his sweater and centered the starting line. It is clear that the coaching staff is throwing everything they can at Schenn to see what he can handle.
Schenn centered the first power play and penalty-kill units. He was brought in to take big defensive zone faceoffs in the third and looked strong overall. Schenn demonstrated great vision all night, finding open wingers in tight spaces for potential scoring chances. While he did seem to tire in the third period, Schenn recorded a ton of ice time, much more than he should see as the Flyers' third line center.
Playing the role of lead penalty-killing center vacated by his trade counterpart Mike Richards, Schenn made many subtle plays defensively, breaking up passes, blocking shots and forcing turnovers.
While the "best prospect not in the NHL" failed to record a point, the emphasis was on the role he will play with the Flyers, and he appeared capable of accomplishing it last night.
After signing with the Flyers Wednesday, the 22-year old defender wasted little time in validating the front office's decision by recording a goal and an assist only 24 hours after joining the team.
A former draft pick of the New York Islanders in 2007, Kessel looks like the type of puck-moving defenseman the Flyers covet, and at 6'2" and 210 pounds with a right-handed shot, he fits the exact type of depth Philadelphia is looking for behind the six NHLers.
While GM Paul Holmgren acknowledged Kessel needs to improve before being considered an NHL-ready defenseman, his progress in camp will be worth watching, and he should be given plenty of opportunity to show what he can do in the preseason, given the age and injury history of the defensive corps.
The goalie affectionately referred to as "Doogie" by the fans surrounding me was impressive after entering in relief of starter Brad Phillips midway through the second period.
Houser stopped 11 of 12 shots by the Capitals, and really shut the door in the final minutes, making several glove and diving saves to preserve the Flyers 3-2 victory after Washington pulled its goalie for a 6-on-5 advantage.
Houser, a Wexford, PA native, played for the London Knights of the Ontario League last season, posting a 30-19-5 record with a 3.32 GAA and .904 save percentage before going undrafted and signing with the Flyers.
While it seems the Flyers have just about all the goalies they can handle at the NHL level, we've all seen what can happen when the number one goes down and the depth behind him leaves much to be desired.
If nothing else, the 19-year old netminder provides promising depth for a team traditionally void of goaltenders.
Tyler Brown, who signed with the Flyers in March after recording 54 points in 59 games for the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, impressed last night, starting on Schenn's line and ultimately scoring the goal that was the highlight of the night.
The 21-year old rookie also saw time on the top power play unit with Schenn and Sean Couturier and matched the highly-touted prospects' energy playmaking shift-for-shift.
Brown's goal in the second period, a great through-the-legs move to beat a 1-on-1 tight to the net and backhand to finish brought the crowd to its feet while simultaneously prompting the question, "Who is this guy?"
At The Wells Fargo Center last night, the new 'Z' grabbed the 11,000 fans' attention with his speed and aggression.
My friends in the stands, dispersed throughout the stadium, sent me text message after text message reading something along the lines of "You better mention that number 29".
Their excitement was warranted, as Zolnierczyk hit everything in sight and flew around the ice for all three periods.
'Z' was awarded the 2011 Ivy League Player of the Year playing for Brown University before signing an entry-level contract with the Flyers in March.
The 24-year old winger has drawn comparisons to fellow tough guys Tom Sestito and Zac Rinaldo, but his energy and discipline, not to mention Ivy League background, were reminiscent of fan favorite Darroll Powe.
In 16 games with Adirondack last season Zolnierczyk put up 5 points (3G/2A) and 37 penalty minutes. While the Flyers are stacked at wing 'Z' could be the type of bottom-six energy call-up whose name fans remember.
I'd be remiss without mentioning Sean Couturier's performance last night (hence the picture on this slide). The eighth overall pick looked good last night, centering the second line and joining forces with Schenn and Brown on the power play.
Couturier's length and skating ability remind me of James van Riemsdyk. He's going to have to fill out his 6'4" frame. He plods a bit, but his vision and instincts were strong. Couturier won several early faceoffs (if any reader has come across any type of box score for this game, let me know) and made crisp passes in the offensive zone.
I doubt Couturier can make the big club out of camp, but at 18 years old he has plenty of time to develop.
That's it, ladies and gentleman, I'd love to hear from anybody else in attendance last night for their impressions and notes.