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With Drysdale Out, We Take a Look at How Flyers’ “Fab Four” Defensive Prospects Have Fared

(Zamula/Andrae/Attard: Heather Barry Images, LLC, Grans: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After appearing to re-injure his shoulder in Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the news that slowly filtered out of the Philadelphia Flyers’ camp wasn’t overly positive surrounding Jamie Drysdale’s prospects for the rest of the season. Their fears were raised even more when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Drysdale would be out week-to-week.

With Rasmus Ristolainen also out for the foreseeable future and the trade deadline just a week and a half away, the “Fab Four” defensive prospects might have a larger role to play as we enter the home stretch.

One of the most interesting topics heading into the summer of 2023 pertained to the defensive prospects that the Flyers possessed and which one of them would make the opening night roster. There was a lot of excitement surrounding Emil Andrae, Ronnie Attard, Egor Zamula, and then the soon-to-be-acquired Helge Grans. Due to the impending rebuild, many expected a lot of the inexperienced but youthful prospects to get a crack..

What unfolded was Daniel Brière signing Marc Staal and Victor Mete once the free agent window opened as depth options. For whatever reason, many believed that John Tortorella would favour the veterans because of his hard-nosed style and past with the New York Rangers in particular. However, at the end of the day, no roster spot was going to be guaranteed, and if you couldn’t beat out veterans like Staal then you probably needed more seasoning in the minors.

Grans was always going to have an very outside chance to make the lineup but for players like Andrae, Attard, and especially Zamula, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase their abilities and impress the coaching staff. Attard struggled a little bit and didn’t make his presence known like many had hoped, but Zamula and Andrae remained by the time the Flyers had to announce their official roster. Andrae was exceptional, he had Tortorella gushing, and the IR placement of Rasmus Ristolainen afforded him some extra time with the big club.

As we inch closer to the trade deadline, the 30-21-7 Flyers might not be needing their prospects to finish off the season like they did in years prior. Last year, we saw cameos from Adam Ginning, Attard, and Zamula as they looked to get them some meaningful games while Tony DeAngelo continued to ride the pine. This year, we have no idea whether or not they’re even going to move on from expiring contracts like Sean Walker and Nick Seeler.

As the Flyers battle for a postseason berth, they have reiterated that their motives are still about the future so it will be interesting to see what they do with their defensive corps as we approach the March 8th deadline – and beyond.

As for now, Zamula is the only one who has been a focal point on the NHL roster with Andrae having seen just four games in the early going before being sent down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It has honestly felt like Zamula has been apart of this organization for a decade with how much we’ve heard about him and talked about his prospects with the big club. The soon-to-be 24-year-old turned into an undrafted gem and has finally been given a real opportunity at the NHL level.

After switching over from the Regina Pats to the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, Zamula’s stock rose exponentially. He went from 7 assists in 38 games in 2017-18 with the Pats to 2 goals and 11 points in the final 31 games of the regular season with the Hitmen. He then improved to the tune of 10 goals and 56 points in 2018-19 before finishing off the interrupted 2019-20 season with 28 points in 28 games.

Over the next 3 seasons, Zamula ended up splitting his time with both the Phantoms and the Flyers – albeit short stints at the NHL level. In parts of 3 seasons in the NHL, Zamula tallied 4 assists in 26 games while scoring 5 goals and 54 points in 127 games for the Phantoms. Entering training camp this summer, Zamula had a fantastic opportunity to stake his claim as there were a few spots to vie for. He had a terrific camp, earned himself a spot, and so far has tallied 5 goals and 16 points in 47 games, while being a plus-7 and averaging 15;13 TOI.

The youngster has even surprisingly usurped Cam York on the second power play unit as the Flyers usually utilize Zamula, Jamie Drysdale, and Travis Sanheim instead. The Russian rearguard has seen 58.7 minutes with the extra man and has 2 power play goals and 4 power play assists to his name. Those numbers might not stand out initially, but there’s a 4-way tie for the team lead in power play goals at 3 and he’s also just 2 assists shy of Morgan Frost’s team-leading 6 – all while seeing just 1:16 TOI per game with the extra attacker, which is 12th-most on the club.

With the Flyers utilizing 7 defensemen on a consistent basis, it has allowed Zamula consistent game action but his overall ice-time has taken a hit over the last few weeks. To start the season, Zamula was averaging 15:45 TOI in his first 16 games but has seen that number drop to under 11 minutes over his last 6 games. A big reason for that is Staal has seen a spike in his ice-time as he’s hovering close to 13 minutes a game, while the Flyers were really balancing things out at the top between Sanheim, York, Drysdale, and Walker.

Staal doesn’t seem to be part of the future plans, Walker could be dealt at the deadline, Ristolainen remains sidelined indefinitely, and mum’s the word on Seeler. In other words, Zamula just needs to bide his time until the March 8th deadline before he can step up in a larger role if necessary. Otherwise, he will continue to hover around 11-14 minutes a night – depending on how well he’s playing – and get the partial power play time as the futile man advantage looks to get back on track.

As for the Phantoms’ trio, it’s been a bag of mixed tricks to say the least. Andrae has been an offensive weapon once again this season as he currently sits 4th in team scoring with 27 points through 40 games. His 23 assists are third on the club behind Cooper Marody’s 28 (in 49 games) and Samu Tuomaala’s 24 (in 49 games). Andrae also ranks 4th among rookie defensemen in points in the AHL behind Logan Mailloux’s 34 for Laval (52 games), Olen Zellweger’s 34 for San Diego (42 games), and Brandt Clarke’s 33 for Ontario (32 games).

The 22-year-old currently represents the Flyers’ best offensive defensemen within the pipeline and it’s only a matter of time before he finds his way back to the Flyers. He struggled a little bit upon being drafted in 2020 but has since put together a successful junior career that has now seen him pot 6 goals and 33 points in 49 games across parts of 2 seasons in the AHL. He’s a great power play quarterback, has a terrific shot, skates very well, and possesses a wily physical game for someone with a relatively small stature.

Attard is the elder statesman of the Flyers defensive prospects as the soon-to-be 25-year-old has taken great strides after going undrafted in consecutive years. Before Chuck Fletcher and company drafted Attard in the third round in 2019, the youngster was eligible for the previous two drafts but went unnoticed. He worked on his craft and scored 30 goals and 65 points in 48 games in his final season in the USHL before committing to Western Michigan University.

After three years with Western Michigan that saw him finish things off with 13 goals and 36 points in just 39 games in 2021-22, Attard made the leap to the NHL and played in the final 15 games of the season where he scored 2 goals and added 2 assists. He wound up playing a key role in the 2022-23 playoff push for the Phantoms last year with 12 goals and 32 points in 68 games – in his first season in the AHL – while playing in 2 games with the Flyers near the end of their downtrodden season.

This year, it’s been nothing out of the ordinary as he has once again scored double digit goals with 10 through 46 games while also adding 15 assists along the way. He currently sits 4th on the team in goals and trails just Olle Lycksell’s 18 goals and Marody and Tuomaala’s 13. His 15 assists and 25 points also has him 5th on the team in what has been another good showing for the youngster.

Similarly to Andrae, Attard should make for a nice addition to the Flyers roster should they make a few moves ahead of the trade deadline. Otherwise, look for Attard to make a statement at next year’s training camp.

Grans, on the other hand, has struggled a little this season after being acquired in the 3-team trade involving Ivan Provorov. After being drafted with the 35th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, Grans played one more season in the Swedish SHL before making the leap to the AHL.

In his first year with the Ontario Reign, Grans scored 7 goals and 24 points in 56 games but fell off in 2022-23 with just 2 goals and 9 points across 59 games. This year, it has been a similar song and dance with just 1 goal and 6 points through 34 games, but he did suffer from a broken hand in mid-December that kept him out of the lineup for about a month.

He stands in at 6’4” and 205 pounds, is a right-hand shot and has shown offensive prowess with his time in the Swedish junior circuits and in his rookie season with the Reign. The last few seasons have been rough for the 21-year-old, but he remains very young and raw. It may take a little while longer for Grans to get into NHL shape compared to his fellow 2020 draftee in Andrae, but the intangibles are there and he’s a great skater, he just needs to work on his hockey senses.

Losing back-to-back games over the weekend has only slightly complicated their plans moving forward. The Flyers are still taking calls, their plan remains to rebuild and grab as many assets as possible, and their asking prices are set. Two key injuries on the back-end have definitely brought about a lot of questions for how they plan on attacking this potential playoff push, but there are a few prospects ready and waiting in the wings for their chance to shine.

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