5 questions as Flyers shape roster, prepare for start of Tortorella era


There's one more tune-up and a week of practice before the real thing begins for John Tortorella and company.

The Flyers' new head coach did not implement system work early on in training camp. His primary focus was conditioning, work ethic and familiarizing himself with 60-plus healthy players. The Flyers' roster is down to around the high-30s, excluding players with any type of injury that isn't considered a day-to-day issue. With a noteworthy big club group, the Flyers started to introduce system work on the ice last Friday.

"We put the groups up on the board and it's pretty simple as far as what the groups mean," Tortorella said Friday. "I think you can interchange some players as we go through here depending on what goes on as far as practice habits or what we see, but that's kind of what we started today.

"I still don't know who the 20-man or 23-man roster is going to be. I still think there are a lot of question marks as far as both on the back end and in the forward lines."

So this is an important week for the Flyers. They have injuries to deal with, roster decisions to make and a system to hammer down before trying to turn the page from a 25-46-11 season.

The Flyers' roster, which can be at a max of 23 players, must be submitted by 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 10. The club kicks off the regular season Oct. 13 against the Devils at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m. ET/ESPN+, Hulu).

More: 'Everyone received a headbutting' — deep dive into the birth of Tortorella time

Here are five questions to answer ahead of the Flyers' opener:

Healthy in net?

The Flyers are 1-4-0 in the preseason. Carter Hart has yet to suit up for an exhibition game. As the club's No. 1 goalie has nursed a lower-body injury, he has been practicing since last Tuesday and has looked fine.

Hart hopes to play Tuesday in the Flyers' preseason finale against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP+). His status for the regular-season opener is not in doubt.

"I'll be ready," Hart said Friday. "Just more so being cautious than anything, making sure that I'm 100 percent. It's a long year. I think that's kind of with everybody right now, making sure that everybody is fully healthy and fully ready to go on opening night."

Felix Sandstrom, who turned into the front-runner for Hart's backup job, suffered a lower-body injury in the Flyers' 4-0 loss Saturday to the Bruins. The Flyers did not have an update on him Sunday.

If Sandstrom isn't available to open the regular season, the Flyers will turn to either Samuel Ersson or Troy Grosenick. Ersson, only 22 and with no NHL experience, has a real shot at the No. 2 role. The Swedish prospect put up a 36-save performance in one of the rookie games, while sporting a 1.93 goals-against average and .929 save percentage through parts of three exhibition contests.

The Flyers may want to give him some more AHL time given he was limited to five games with the Phantoms last season because of injuries. However, he has looked healthy and sharp.

Grosenick is a 33-year-old with impressive career AHL numbers. He signed a one-year, one-way, $750,000 contract in the offseason.

Update: Flyers being careful with injuries, challenge their youngsters once more

Who wins jobs on the wing?

With Joel Farabee recovering from offseason neck surgery, the Flyers could have three lineup spots up for grabs along the wing.

Noah Cates seems poised to snag one of them. The organization has been high on him going back to his development at Minnesota Duluth. The 23-year-old is a smart player with positional versatility. He also had a strong 16-game audition at the end of last season (five goals, four assists).

"I don't think I'll see him, I'll be honest with you," AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley head coach Ian Laperriere said last month with a laugh. "He's fun to watch. I watched him on TV last year. But just to see him, the questions he asks, his edges on the ice — they're going to have tough decisions up here and he's going to be one of them because he's a hell of a player."

When healthy, Wade Allison looks like he belongs in the Flyers' lineup. The key will be staying healthy. But he has one of the better shots in the organization, runs on a bottom-six motor and has opened the eyes of the new coaching staff.

"Regarding the systems, I want him to understand how to play in certain situations without boxing him in to go chase things down," Tortorella said Friday. "I want him to be that guy, to go chase the puck and allow him to play. But also, and this is where we screw it up as coaches, give him a little bit of structure to the game. Not too much to where we have him thinking and he loses his main asset as far as someone who's going to go chase things down and create forechecking to the body.

"We're going to teach him the responsibility of his end zone, how our coverages are there, but I want him to be him. As I always say, I think we get in the way sometimes where we give people too much and they forget who they are. I want him to be who he is. We'll teach him some of the other things."

Somewhat surprisingly, Zack MacEwen could be in danger of losing his fourth-line spot to open the season. He was not with the big club group for Friday's practice. We'll see how things develop this week.

Other roster hopefuls at winger are Olle Lycksell, Hayden Hodgson, Max Willman and Tyson Foerster. Foerster feels like a long shot but the top prospect will be pushing throughout the season.

What about the 4C position?

Don't rule out the possibility of Cates helping at center. He projects more as a winger, but Tortorella wanted to watch him down the middle in the Flyers' 2-1 loss Sunday night to the Islanders.

"I think he's had a good camp, I think he's in really good shape," Tortorella said Sunday morning. "He's impressed me that way as far as his work habits are concerned.

"Look at our center ice, there's opportunities there. He wouldn't be in this group if we didn't think he had a good camp. ... Versatility is a key in the National Hockey League with so many injuries that you go through. He can play the left wing, I believe he can play right wing also — that helps his cause."

Cates' brother Jackson Cates has impressed, as well. He's more of a pure pivot and is right there in the competition for the fourth-line center job.

"I think both players are intelligent positionally," Tortorella said. "You can see that in both of them."

Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton and Morgan Frost are already penciled in down the middle. With the back injuries to Sean Couturier and Patrick Brown, the 4C job completely opened up for Tanner Laczynski. The 25-year-old hasn't stood out in the exhibition games but his camp has been solid and he's a sound two-way center.

"Look at our center-ice position. It's someone we're watching, he was with the group today," Tortorella said Friday. "We don't have to spell it out to the players. After today, it's right there. He's an interesting one to me."

Artem Anisimov, a 34-year-old veteran on a professional tryout, hasn't practiced since blocking a shot in the Flyers' preseason opener.

Will York be pushed?

For his roster spot? That doesn't seem likely, but Cam York will absolutely be pushed by Tortorella and assistant coach Brad Shaw.

The 21-year-old defenseman is a big piece to the organization's future. He was the first draft pick made by this regime, back in 2019.

"Cam York, to me, is a young man that's going to have a very bright future in this league, precisely because the attributes he brings are exactly what we need," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in May.

York is a skilled puck-moving defenseman. Orchestrating the attack up ice is his game.

The Flyers, though, want to get more out of him defensively.

Earlier in camp, Tortorella was seen talking to York for over three minutes following practice. Four days later, Shaw was seen chatting with him in warmups before practice.

What are they working on with York?

"Everything," Tortorella said Friday. "He puts himself into a jam because he has so much ability, he has so many good things going for him. He's going to go through a process with us, with this staff, in us asking for it now. That's sometimes what I don't get with some guys is why wait? I'm not being negative here, it's just what it is. I've got my eye on him. Because I think there could be so many good things that come out of him, but we kind of want it now. That's what we're going to try to push to."

York projects to open the season on the Flyers' third pair alongside Justin Braun.

"Cam's an interesting guy, he's a young guy that's got a lot of potential from the offensive blue line in," Shaw said last Wednesday. "There's extremely high levels of skill and vision and ability to create offense. I think his overall game is where his growth is going to be.

"He has to learn how to impact the game for 40 seconds if he's out there for 40 seconds; not just the 12 seconds in the offensive zone or the 20 seconds. All three zones carry equal importance for me. It's a great challenge there to get him maybe first to realize that, recognize it, and then start building that game to where he's not just lethal in the offensive zone, but also very competent anywhere you put him."

Nick Seeler, a reliable seventh defenseman, will compete for minutes. Egor Zamula and Ronnie Attard are a few prospects that could challenge York.

More: Flyers' new assistant coach sees — and is excited by — unfinished products on D

How are the injuries?

Couturier's back reinjury did not require surgery, but the first-line center is still week to week. 

Farabee has practiced all camp but in non-contact fashion as he recovers from his June neck procedure. The Flyers are going to be careful here.

"I can't confirm yet what my timeline looks like, but for right now, I feel really good," Farabee said on Sept. 22, the start of camp. "I've been lifting quite a bit and getting on the ice here for the last month, so definitely getting my body to where it needs to be."

On Sunday morning, he tested things out. Head athletic trainer Tommy Alva looked on.

Cam Atkinson (upper body) has not played in the preseason but has continued to practice. He should be good to go for the regular-season opener.

"We've got some bumps and bruises and nicks," Tortorella said Sunday morning regarding the Flyers' plan for the final preseason game. "So we're going to be cautious with that and prepare for the first regular-season game."

Brown is week to week after undergoing back surgery in the offseason.

Ryan Ellis is out indefinitely with a multilayered injury in his pelvic region.

• Cooper Marody (upper body) is week to week.

• Bobby Brink (hip) is rehabbing for a return around late December, early January.

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