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With Roster Spots to Win, It’s Time to Shine for Andrae, Attard, Grans, and Zamula

(Heather Barry Images, LLC, Christian Petersen/Getty Images, Lehigh Valley Phantoms)

Before the Ivan Provorov trade, the Philadelphia Flyers were going to have room for at least one prospect ahead of training camp, but now with the minute-munching rear-guard being sent to Columbus there’s a very good opportunity for multiple spots to be competed for ahead of the 2023-24 season.

Then Tony DeAngelo and Travis Sanheim rumours became white hot with the former seemingly on his way back to Carolina, while the latter was set to join Kevin Hayes in St. Louis in a blockbuster trade that was to bring Torey Krug to Philadelphia alongside draft picks. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the Blues have a plethora of players with NTCs and Krug declined to waive his for the Flyers. They tried to work out a way to flip him to another team, however things became stagnant. As for DeAngelo the deal was held up because the league believed there was cap circumvention taking place between both sides.

Sanheim will remain on the team for the foreseeable future, however DeAngelo is expected to be traded early in July once it is acceptable for both teams to complete the deal without cap circumvention.

The Flyers defense will now be comprised of Rasmus Ristolainen, who carries an immovable contract for the time being, Cam York, who is going to become the de-facto number one at some point, and mum’s the word on Nick Seeler but worst-case scenario, he will be a coveted trade deadline target with a low cap hit of just $775,000 if he isn’t dealt in the summer. Add in the recent free agent signings of Marc Staal and Victor Mete, and the competition has intensified just a little bit more.

Emil Andrae, Ronnie Attard, Helge Grans, and Egor Zamula have now become the top NHL-ready defensive prospects in the organization with many of the other defensemen graduating to the NHL-level, while some are a little ways away from making an impact for the Flyers. Egor Zamula was an undrafted signee in 2018, Attard was drafted in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and Grans and Andrae were drafted in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft – Grans drafted by the Kings in the early stages of the second round.

The Flyers added to their depleted pool in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft with Oliver Bonk, Carter Sotheran, and Matteo Mann. Bonk was a very smart pick by the Flyers and should be seen as reliable, responsible, and a two-threat with top-2 upside. Sotheran dropped several spots in the draft after some had him pegged as 2nd-3rd round talent and Mann is a brutish bully who will make life miserable for the opposition with his physicality and size. They will need some time to marinate in their respective junior circuits but should be looked upon in a few years time.

As for the present-day Flyers, they would have loved to have had the opportunity to play their prospects more near the end of the season, however the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ playoff push became more of a priority. Andrae came over to the Phantoms on an amateur tryout before signing his 3-year ELC. Attard got into 2 NHL games, and Zamula figured into 14 games for the Flyers but missed the AHL playoffs due to a shoulder injury.

Tyson Foerster and Olle Lycksell played in 8 games, Elliot Desnoyers suited up for 4 games, Ronnie Attard was in the lineup for 2 games, and Ginning played in one game. Even though the Phantoms playoff push kept them from playing some NHL games, it kept them in the loop in the minors, getting experience and playing meaningful hockey.

John Tortorella made several comments near the end of the season on how he wants to shape the team. We always understood – at least from the head coach’s verbiage – that he wanted to see what the young kids had in store, and 2023-24 is going to be the season for experimentation, so to speak. With the Provorov trade done and dusted, we have received some clarity on how things will shake up for the foreseeable future, not just with the backend, but with the team as a whole.

No player is untouchable and that should always be the case. However, just because Briere is listening to trade offers, doesn’t mean anything is on the horizon. More likely than not, he needs to be blown away by a trade where it looks like the Flyers win by a landslide and that would be in reference to Carter Hart, Travis Konecny, and Scott Laughton. However, with players like Provorov, Kevin Hayes, and Tony DeAngelo, the story is a little different.

The Flyers have to move on from those players for one reason or the other. There was no need to keep Provorov during a rebuild, DeAngelo carries an expiring contract, and Hayes played himself out of Philadelphia after the healthy scratch that left a sour taste in his mouth. Seeler remains on the fence because he could be kept due to his cheap contract, intangibles that others don’t carry, and a solid bottom pair option. However, at some point he’s going to be a road block for a younger player.

Emil Andrae

Andrae might be the most skilled defensive prospect the Flyers have right now and has made a monumental ascent in the eyes of the front office. In his draft season, Andrae spent the season in the J18 Elit, the J20 SuperElit, and the SHL with HV71. He scored 4 points in 2 games in the J18 Elit, he then added 11 goals and 38 points in 40 games in the J20 SuperElit, and went pointless in 10 games for HV71 in the SHL.

The following season he spent more time in the SHL where he recorded 7 assists in 31 games but spent time in the second-tier league of the HockeyAllsvenskan for Vasterviks on loan where he added 3 goals and 6 points in 15 games. In 2021-22, he spent the entire season in the HockeyAllsvenskan where he tallied 9 goals and 33 points in just 41 games before adding 11 points in 10 qualification games. He added 8 points in 7 games at the World Juniors and 22 points in 21 games in all competitions for Sweden.

Showing that he had the confidence, motivation, and the wherewithal to play in the SHL with the big players, Andrae had a fantastic season where he scored 26 points in 51 games for HV71 as a 21-year-old. He made the leap over the pond and played in 10 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, where he recorded 2 goals and 6 points.

2020 was a big year for the Swedes that saw Lucas Raymond drafted 4th overall, Alexander Holtz 7th overall, William Wallinder 32nd overall, Helge Grans 35th overall, Daniel Torgersson 40th overall, Noel Gunler 41st overall, Emil Heineman 43th overall, Theodor Niederbach 51st overall, and then Andrae to round out the second draft at 54th.

At the time of his draft, Andrae was expected to be selected in the early parts of the second round:

Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects said: “Andrae is undersized but he plays a more physical style than his bigger counterparts out of Sweden. He doesn’t back down from any situation and he’s not afraid to play the body when it’s needed.”

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic added: “He’s strong on his feet, which he leverages effectively along the wall. He’s physical for his size. And he’s calculated enough with the puck to recognize when he needs to hang onto it and when he just needs to advance the play (though, like every young player with his talent, he can try to do too much).”

Tony Wolak from The Hockey Writers said: “Sure, Emil Andrae is small in stature, but that hasn’t been an issue for the blueliner. Andrae has intelligent vision and can create in all three zones. He also isn’t afraid to be physical”

Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects also mentioned: “Creative, shifty, and intelligent. Throw in strong edgework and deceptive speed and you’ve got the recipe for success for an undersized defender. Can dance out there.”

EliteProspects wrote: “Andrae plays with a high work-rate when the puck is close and does whatever he can once he has committed to winning a puck-battle. Andrae walks the line well to open shooting lanes from the point, using his edges and body in an evasive way. He’s got excellent vision from the point and can make great plays to set up his teammates with high-danger chances.”

Fast forward 3 years and it seems like Andrae has met his potential as a hard-hitting, intelligent, crafty, and offensively-minded defenseman who plays bigger than his diminutive size would suggest. He should never be overlooked for being 5’9 as he weighs in at a 180+ lbs and delivers body checks akin to Niklas Kronwall.

There’s a slight complication with his deal as the SIF and the NHL amended an agreement back in 2022 that would allow the Swedes to have first dibs on a prospect drafted outside of the first round. Andrae will be at their disposal if he doesn’t make the team out of training camp.

There are a few workarounds but the main one being that HV71 can release him from his contract or they could allow him to play in the AHL if Andrae can convince them otherwise. However they don’t have to do the Flyers any favours and could hold onto his playing rights for the season unless he makes the team outright, which might be a real possibility with so many open spots now available.

Ronnie Attard

Attard was passed over in 2 drafts but finally heard his name called upon when the Flyers selected him with 72nd overall pick in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Attard stands in at 24-years-old now, 6’3 and nearly 210lbs with a right-hand shot, can move extremely well for a player of his size, and has had the experience of college, AHL, and some at the NHL-level to finally make headway in his career.

In his draft-year he scored 3 goals and 5 points in 46 games for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. The following year he jumped to 8 goals and 15 points with 126 PIMs in 50 games, before absolutely tearing it up in 2018-19. Captaining the Tri-City Storm, Attard scored 30 goals and 64 points in 48 games, registered 66 PIMs, and was a gaudy +46 – in contrast to the previous 2 seasons where he was combined -24.

Even though he exploded with 64 points, it was not lost on many teams that he was draft-eligible for the third straight year. Nevertheless, the Flyers were intrigued and he has improved on a yearly basis ever since.

After committing to Western Michigan University, Attard went from 14 points in 30 games in 2019-20 to 22 points in 25 games the following year, to 36 points in 39 games in his final season. He signed his ELC at the end of his collegiate season and made the jump to the NHL and appeared in 15 games, scoring twice and adding 2 assists.

He played relatively well aside from 2 games where he finished a combined -9. The other 13 games, he was a plus-7, committed 4 minor penalties, and in totality he averaged 16:36 TOI. He played 68 games for the Phantoms this season and finished the year with 12 goals and 32 points. He appeared in 2 games for the Flyers but was sent back down for the playoff push.

Attard played in 4 games this spring for the United States at the World Championships, where he recorded a goal and 2 PIMs. Outside of Zamula, Attard is the top option to secure a spot ahead of the regular season but we all know that training camp is the true barometer for John Tortorella.

Helge Grans

Acquired in the Ivan Provorov deal, Helge Grans was one of the more important pieces of the trade considering how the Flyers want to move forward into the rebuild. Their defensive prospects are few and far in between and lack quantity and quality after the aforementioned quartet. Wyatte Wylie was expected to make in-roads in the minors but never seem to get the consistency the Flyers were hoping for in his 3-year stint. Wylie was not tendered a qualifying offer this summer and is expected to become an unrestricted free agent.

They drafted Hunter McDonald last year and Brian Zanetti, Ty Murchison, and Ethan Samson in 2021 but are a few years away from even being considered. Samson did have a fantastic season with the Prince George Cougars but regardless, they needed more quantity and quality and they got both in Helge Grans.

The 6’3/205 lbs defenseman was drafted with the 35th overall selection in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. At the time of his draft, EliteProspects wrote:

“He’ll walk the offensive blue line with the puck on his stick with relative ease; and he can mitigate risk while maintaining an aggressive, space-consuming posture when defending the defensive blue line. He skates well, has a long reach, an active stick, and good habits with his footwork.”

Alexander Desrochers Ayotte of The Hockey Writers said: “Grans’ positional intelligence, mobility and size will be important factors towards his development. He excels in transition and in bringing the puck to the net, important assets for taking the next step. He has the potential to make the jump to the NHL in a few seasons, after gaining more responsibility in the Swedish Elite League in 2020-21.”

Some had projected him to be a late first round selection so the skill and the tools were all present in the long, lanky defenseman – at the time he was 6’2 and 180 lbs. In his draft season he scored 27 points in 27 games for the Malmo Redhawks in the J20 SuperElit and another 3 points in 27 games for the Redhawks in the SHL. He would spend one more season in the SHL before making the jumping to the Ontario Reign of the AHL where he scored 7 goals and 24 points in 56 games as a rookie.

The sky was the limit after a strong rookie performance and a good outing at the World Junior Championships – with Andrae – where he tallied 4 assists in 7 games. Unfortunately this year he took a step backwards after only 2 goals and 9 points in 59 games.

After the trade was completed, Briere mentioned how he had never seen Grans play and that he relied on his scouts for the young the defenseman. Briere said that he had nearly every department of importance in on this trade and that they worked cohesively to get the deal done with the pieces they were looking for.

Before he was drafted Scott Wheeler of The Athletic wrote: “He’s long, he can skate, he handles the puck well for his size, he can make plays as a passer on outlets or through seams in the offensive zone, and there’s a confidence to his game that enables him to take risks and execute.”

Before the 2022 draft, Wheeler wrote about Grans in his prospect pool rankings:

“The appeal of Grans has, in the past, been anchored in the legitimacy of his individual tools more than the sum of his parts. This season, though, he has really begun to put the pieces together [both in the AHL, where I’ve been impressed in all of my viewings, and briefly with Team Sweden].

“… Both mobile and talented. He’s comfortable with the puck. He has great hands for his size. He’s a superb passer on outlets and through offensive-zone lanes.

“And he’s at his best when he’s playing an aggressive style and taking risks to make things happen. There’s still some rawness to his even-strength play and he can look a little stilted on his pivots, but his game has started to take form and despite having played parts of four seasons at two top pro levels, he’s just still [young].

“Grans has the potential to be a top-four defenseman with significant two-way value. There’s a balance to be struck with his mistakes and some of that just comes with continued reps. I hope they encourage him to play a highly involved game, because that’s where his tools really shine. I’d rather see him looking to make things happen than playing passively.”

He was not injured this past season, he just went through the atypical sophomore slump. He likes being aggressive in the offensive zone, he likes to make pinches at the blue line, and sometimes will overcomplicate a situation when the simpler play would’ve been the right call. He’s still very young, he’s grown into his frame, and he has several years of experience in the AHL as well as the SHL. Perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good and playing with his former Swedish teammate, Emil Andrae, will turn things around.

He has all the tools in place, he just needs to make better calculated decisions with the puck. All the analysts and draft-makers loved him during his draft year and still believe in his potential. He will need an extraordinary training camp to make the roster, however marinating in the minors for a little bit under Ian Lapperiere might not be the worst thing as he looks to acclimate to his new surroundings. He has the size, the skill, and the vision, and the IQ to be a very gifted offensive player on the backend for years to come.

Egor Zamula

Zamula has had a different route to the NHL but currently stands the at the top of the hierarchy of the Flyers defensemen prospects. He just turned 23-years-old but it feels like he’s been part of the organization for a long time, just based on how much we’ve heard about him and his prospects of making the team on a yearly basis.

He started his journey in his native-Russia with Traktor Chelyabinsk and Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the junior leagues. He made his way to the WHL with the Regina Pats but was placed on waivers after recording 7 assists in 38 games. He was claimed by the Calgary Hitmen and finished the season with 2 goals and 11 points in 31 games.

Zamula went undrafted and signed with the Flyers ahead of their training camp. He went back to Calgary and had a fantastic season where he scored 56 points in 61 games, he then added 28 points in 28 games the following year in 2019-20 before the season was cancelled due to COVID.

He made the leap professionally in 2020-21 and since then has played in parts of 3 seasons for both the Phantoms and Flyers. In the AHL he went from 6 points in 25 games to 29 points in 58 games to 19 points in 44 games this past season. In the NHL he went pointless in 2 games, went pointless in 10 games the following season, before recording 4 assists this past season in 14 games.

He has shown flashes of what he can bring to the table but hasn’t had the time and opportunity to showcase his skillset for a long period of time. The Flyers believe in his ability to be a mobile two-way defenseman but he does need to add a bit of size if he wants to be a permanent fixture in the NHL. He stands at 6’3 but only 175 lbs, however he doesn’t play an overly physical game.

2023-24 is his year to finally make the permanent jump and remain a fixture for the Flyers. He now has some stiff competition in Attard, Andrae, and Grans with Adam Ginning waiting  in the distance.

Training camp was always going to bring about a lot of competition but after the Daniel Briere masterclass that has seen Provorov, DeAngelo, and Sanheim walk out the door, there will be plenty of open spots to vie for. The Flyers added veteran and depth defensemen from the free agent pool in Marc Staal and Victor Mete just to add a little pepper to the mix, however it should be the year of the prospects and it’s their time to shine under the right management group and coaching staff. The veterans will be there every step of the way but in the off-chance they find themselves in the minors to start the season, people shouldn’t fret as they will find their way back to the NHL in no time.

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