VOORHEES, N.J. — For Sean Walker, there are worse things than trade rumors.
Not even two and a half years ago, he had to endure a trying recovery from a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. The injury cost him all but six games in the 2021-22 season and, ultimately, his role on the Kings' blue line.
"It was tough," the Flyers' defenseman said Friday after practice. "Before that, I was in a pretty good spot and then that injury kind of opened the door for some other guys to come in. Credit to them, they played really well and that kind of took away from my ice time.
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"That was kind of where I ended up in my last season there (2022-23). I was just coming back from that injury, trying to find my game again, probably wasn't 100 percent for most of the year. It was challenging, for sure, but then obviously felt really good coming into the year here. Got the opportunity I did and it worked out really well."
So, in a way, to now be considered one of the more popular trade candidates around the NHL is a testament to how far Walker has come from that awful October 2021 injury.
"It's probably one of the best problems to have, right?" he said. "At the end of the day, you're playing really well and teams want you. That is the situation when you come to a place on an expiring contract, the situation I'm in.
"I'll let my agent deal with all those kind of issues and I'll just take it day by day for now. ... We have kind of an open line of communication, especially right now with all the murmurs going on and stuff, he'll just fill me in. I take everything with a grain of salt."
Walker has surprised just about everyone in Philadelphia. He arrived last summer in the three-team Ivan Provorov trade, a move made by Los Angeles very much for the purpose of clearing cap space. Flyers head coach John Tortorella had to do his homework on Walker, reaching out to then-Kings coach Todd McLellan for a scouting report.
Coming to a rebuilding team, with the pressure of having just this season left on his contract (at a $2.65 million cap hit), the 29-year-old has played the best hockey of his NHL career. Forming the Flyers' second defensive pair with Nick Seeler, Walker has recorded five goals, 14 assists and a plus-9 rating in a career-high 19:31 minutes per game. The righty shot is on pace for career highs in games (82), goals (eight), assists (22) and plus-minus (plus-14).
Walker is tied with the Hurricanes' Jaccob Slavin for most shorthanded goals by a defenseman (two) and is second among Flyers blueliners in hits (68).
"I didn't know anything about him, talked to Mac when we got him," Tortorella said Friday. "Great competitor. When he's a safe player, he's a bad player. When he's a player that takes a chance, takes a chance on his gaps, takes a chance making plays, he's a really good player. He has been inconsistent a little bit around the way, but I just think he's that good. Undrafted, no one knows who he is until he plays. Him and Seeler have been put together and really kind of hung in there together and been a great pair for us this year. Right-handed defenseman. Very important guy for us."
Leading up to the March 8 NHL trade deadline, Flyers general manager Danny Briere will have suitors for Walker. Despite the team's rebuild looking expedited this season, the Flyers' vision hasn't changed.
"The eye is still on the future," the GM said a little over two weeks ago.
Walker is a clear-cut trade chip the club could use to supplement its future. The Flyers have three veteran defensemen on expiring contracts (Walker, Seeler and Marc Staal). With the addition of Jamie Drysdale, they have more depth on the back end, further incentivizing Briere to feel out defense-needy clubs trying to bolster their chances at a playoff run.
"When it comes to the deadline, we're going to listen," Tortorella said. "If we feel it's the right thing to do for the future of the organization, we'll do it. Those guys on expiring contracts, everybody's always kind of checking around, so we'll see where it goes. We're not out there shopping Sean Walker, but we'd be dopes if we didn't listen."
The Flyers have 30 games to go and hold a playoff spot, sitting in third place of the Metropolitan Division. They have nine wins over top-10 clubs. Walker has been a key part of a position group that has exceeded expectations.
He has appreciated the opportunity in Philadelphia.
"I think the overall message, and I think it wasn't just for myself, it was kind of for everybody, was that no ice time is guaranteed for anybody, no matter where you were last year in the lineup," Walker said. "So that was very nice to hear for me. It's kind of something I've always wanted throughout my career, was just an opportunity to show that I deserve it and I can play. I think I took that opportunity and kind of ran with it, and it has been working out really well.
"Obviously after what I went through with my injuries and stuff in L.A., I probably wasn't going to get that opportunity. So to come here and get that chance to prove that I can still play top-four minutes, produce and defend really well, too, has been really nice for me. I think it has been great for my confidence and it has been great for the team to see that, as well."
Walker is listed at No. 6 in a top-50 trade target piece by Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli, while Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that the Oilers and Lightning have been among the interested teams.
"Obviously it's there, there are lot of trade rumors and stuff," Walker said. "You think about it, but at the end of the day, you just kind of put it in the back of your mind and take it day by day. Just try to play my best and help the team win."
How much would he like to stay here?
"I'll let my agent deal with that," he said with a smile.