Flyers analysis

After losing Walker, Seeler believes in potential with young Drysdale

Drysdale, a 22-year-old defenseman who has battled injuries, was acquired in the Gauthier trade

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If Nick Seeler popped on an Avalanche playoff game, he could probably predict most of Sean Walker's decisions.

That's how in sync the two players were with the Flyers, making up arguably the team's best defensive pair.

And in one day, the Flyers lost them both.

Walker was traded to Colorado in March on the same day Seeler hit injured reserve. The Flyers struggled without them, going 4-5-2 while allowing 4.00 goals per game and 10 power play goals.

"I don't think there was a first or second pair, especially when we saw the marriage between Walks and Seels, how that worked," head coach John Tortorella said in March. "They played some big minutes as a first pair would."

So when the calendar turned to April, with seven games left in the Flyers' playoff push, Seeler and Jamie Drysdale were just getting started together, forming a pair with a forward-looking feel to it. This season, Seeler signed a four-year contract extension and Drysdale was the talented young defenseman to come back in the Cutter Gauthier trade.

Clear-cut potential to be the Walker replacement.

"He's a heck of a player and he has the ability to skate up the ice and move the puck really well," Seeler said of Drysdale a month ago at his end-of-the-season press conference. "I think we'll mesh well here."

Seeler has become the Flyers' truest defender who plays with great pace and effort. He was an ideal complement to Walker, who thrived in Tortorella's aggressive, risk-taking scheme.

Drysdale, who turned only 22 years old in April, is a plus skater and puck mover. A valid question looms, though, about him staying healthy. He has fought injuries and the Flyers know there's "a lot of work to do" with his defensive game.

As a new pair late in the season, Seeler and Drysdale experienced some bumps. They were a combined minus-11 in the Flyers' season-worst 9-3 loss to the Canadiens, the team's eighth straight defeat. But they improved over the final three games as the Flyers won twice and allowed only two goals, excluding an empty-netter.

"Obviously we had that tough one in Montreal, but I thought we played well together the three games after that," Seeler said. "Just kind of started trusting each other a little bit more. As we play together more and more, I think the reads and staying connected is going to be better and better.

"I was with Walks for most of the year and you really didn't have to say much, we just kind of knew where each other was going to be. That's nice, that's what I'm hoping me and Jamie can get to is where we just know where we're going to be at on the ice."

Drysdale has been limited to 42 games over the last two seasons. He dealt with a lower-body issue this season and also missed close to five weeks because of a left shoulder injury. Fortunately for Drysdale, that injury wasn't nearly as severe as the one he had last season, when he played only eight games for the Ducks because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

At his end-of-the-season press conference a month ago, Drysdale didn't rule out an offseason surgery. General manager Danny Briere said if a surgery was needed, it would be for the injury to Drysdale's core area.

The 2020 sixth overall draft pick had two goals, three assists and a minus-18 rating in 24 games with the Flyers.

"Jamie was pretty banged up," Briere said. "It was impressive, the character that he showed, coming back from the surgery that he had, being traded, trying to adapt to a new team. He couldn't skate at 100 percent and that's kind of the key to his game. So I'm excited to see a Jamie Drysdale fully healthy next season. I think we're going to see a different player.

"The type of person he is, the work ethic, the character — those were all the things we kept hearing about him. That's what he showed us. Most players would not have been willing to fight through and play through the injuries that he was dealing with. They would have preferred just getting [a surgery] done and get out of the way. He fought through, he put in time for his rehab — not just the shoulder, the other issue with the core area."

Drysdale was excited about the opportunity to play alongside Seeler in April. He should have a chance to build on it next season. He's hoping a good offseason and more work with assistant coach Brad Shaw leads to a healthy and effective start in 2024-25, his first full season with the Flyers.

"It's definitely been a tough couple of years for me just to begin with, just being out a lot," Drysdale said. "But Shawsy's been unbelievable since the moment I got here. He's a pretty wild hockey mind and just the little details that he tells.

"He kind of tells you, whether it's in video or just during the game, little things to look out for that I've never heard in my life. Just little things here and there that I think can, over time, make a big difference in consistency and being a better player overall. I really hope I can work with him for a while."

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