Six Flyers rookie camp standouts to watch heading into training camp

After sweeping the New York Rangers in both games this weekend, the Flyers rookies wrapped up their camp on Sunday with one final practice. However, the real work is about to begin.

Training camp begins Wednesday, with on-ice sessions opening on Thursday. New head coach John Tortorella is known around the league for running a doozy of a training camp complete with arduous skating tests. All 26 rookie camp attendees will have an opportunity to participate in main camp in front of the Flyers front office, and a select few have a real chance to compete for a spot on the opening-night roster.

“I told them the same thing I told them when I first met them: Don’t try to be somebody you’re not,” Phantoms head coach Ian Laperrière said of his final message to the group on Sunday. “Especially with main camp. If you’re a physical player, be physical. If you’re a skill player, show them your skills.”

Here are six Flyers who stood out through four on-ice days of rookie camp and will be worth keeping an eye on to see how they stack up against their NHL-caliber teammates.

Tortorella has made it clear that he prioritizes instilling sound defensive habits within his players. He ought to be looking forward to meeting 23-year-old left winger Noah Cates, who was consistently one of the Flyers’ most responsible players on the ice during the rookie games. Cates may not be the most flashy, offensively-gifted player, but his diligent forechecking and sound decision-making with the puck helped the Flyers stay on the attack.

» READ MORE: Flyers complete sweep of the Rangers with a 5-1 win in final rookie game of the weekend

In addition to playing on the first line alongside older brother Jackson and right winger Tyson Foerster, Noah Cates was a fixture on the Flyers’ top penalty-killing unit in both games. He was rewarded for his detailed defense on Saturday when he outworked an opponent along the boards to gain possession of the puck in the Flyers’ zone while on the kill. Then, he was off to the races for a two-on-one with his brother. The sequence ended with the younger Cates scoring the Flyers’ third goal of the game in their 5-1 win over the Rangers.

Coming off of a solid 16-game stint with the Flyers last season (five goals, four assists) after wrapping up his senior season at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, Noah Cates arguably possesses the best chance at making the Flyers’ roster out of training camp in a bottom-six role.

“I don’t think I’ll see him [with the Phantoms], I’ll be honest with you,” Laperrière said. “He’s fun to watch. I told you guys earlier, I watched him on TV last year, but just to see … the questions he asks, his edges on the ice, they’re going to have a tough decision up here. But he’s going to be one of them, because he’s a hell of a player.”

Over the last two seasons, Foerster hasn’t played much hockey. He had a 24-game showing with the Phantoms during the abbreviated 2020-21 season, then dealt with a shoulder injury last season that limited him to nine games with the Phantoms and 19 with his junior team, the Barrie Colts, between the regular season and the playoffs. Finally healthy, Foerster is staring down his first full season of professional hockey, and he’s in a much better physical place now than he was last season.

Coming off of Canada’s gold-medal win at the World Juniors in August, Foerster looked strong and physically engaged throughout the rookie games. He often used his body to protect the puck or to force turnovers on the forecheck. Not only did Foerster flaunt his penchant for scoring by notching the Flyers’ overtime game-winner on Friday, but he also demonstrated a playmaking capacity. Foerster was the star on defenseman Egor Zamula’s first-period goal on Saturday, intercepting a stretch pass in the neutral zone and finding Zamula at the top of the left circle for a wrist shot that beat goalie Olof Lindbom. Even if Foerster doesn’t make the Flyers’ roster out of camp, he could hear his name called down the line this season if injuries pop up.

» READ MORE: Flyers winger Tyson Foerster looking to round out his pro game with a physical edge

“Sky’s the limit for that kid,” Laperrière said of Foerster after Game 1. “He can shoot. That’s great. … He’s showing everybody a little bit more with his physicality. He’s winning those battles. It’s impressive. He’s only [20].”

When the Flyers selected left winger Olle Lycksell in the sixth round of the 2017 draft, he measured in at 5-foot-10, 163 pounds. Since then, the 23-year-old Lycksell has filled out and is now listed at 6-1, 196. Lycksell put that added bulk to work in both games this weekend, outmuscling opponents to win puck battles and setting up teammates for scoring chances. The best example of his blend of strength and scoring came on Saturday when he outworked an opponent for the puck off the faceoff. Lycksell then walked the puck down low in the left faceoff circle, wiring a wrist shot past Lindbom from a difficult angle. Lycksell had two goals and two primary assists in the two games.

The 2022-23 season marks Lycksell’s first on North American soil after spending the last four seasons playing professional hockey in the Swedish Hockey League. His ceiling may not be as high as other prospects, but he flashed promise against the Rangers rookies and will be a welcome addition to Laperrière’s Phantoms to start the season.

Goalie Samuel Ersson firmly put his injury-plagued 2021-22 season behind him on Saturday, making 36 saves through 60 minutes and keeping the Flyers in the game early when they couldn’t get out of their own zone. Ersson, 22, didn’t make many show-stopping saves in his lone start of the weekend, but he didn’t need to. He was consistently calm, well-positioned, and efficient in his movements, not giving up many rebounds.

Ersson’s health is a boon for the Flyers organization, which will have some decisions to make regarding its goaltending tandem at the NHL level. The backup spot behind starting goalie Carter Hart is up for grabs among 33-year-old AHL journeyman Troy Grosenick, 25-year-old Felix Sandström, and Ersson. Although Ersson isn’t likely to come out on top in the goalie competition, he will be a valuable addition to the Phantoms as he continues to develop.

Both Zamula and defenseman Ronnie Attard went into this offseason with the goal of getting faster and stronger as they look to compete at the NHL level. Zamula was especially light when he signed with the Flyers as an undrafted free agent in 2018, measuring 6-foot-3 and weighing 160 pounds. Now, the 22-year-old Zamula said he is up to 192 pounds.

“He’s done a great job this summer to put on weight and good weight, muscles,” player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. “So he is stronger. He probably can still get a little bit stronger. But it’s going to take some time.”

Attard also got stronger this summer after getting a taste of the NHL last season, averaging 16 minutes, 36 seconds of ice time in 15 games (two goals, two assists).

While both defensemen have strong upsides, they are also prone to making mistakes early in their careers, which may make them candidates to work out the kinks at the AHL level. Additionally, the path to earning a Flyers roster spot is not clear-cut, thanks to the additions of Tony DeAngelo and Justin Braun.