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The Right Wing is Too Crowded, and Training Camp Proved It

I originally intended to track the day-to-day roster battles better through training camp. Life intervened, and that was rendered unfeasible. Thus, this piece of writing was born.

Several rounds of cuts have occurred already. The camp roster continues to dwindle. Soon enough, all who remain will be those who have made the opening night roster. Not every cut was relevant. Not every player who came to camp had a realistic chance of making the roster. This is not a writing meant to chronicle those forgotten names.

This writing focused on the ones who either busted the door down or at least left a few resounding knocks that ensured their name would be remembered come next September. Specifically, we’re going to look at one of the most intense roster battles in camp.

The one born from the absolute glut at the right wing position. Here’s the story on the three most impactful roster battlers at the wing position in camp:

Samu Tuomaala

Samu Tuomaala was drafted in 2021. The only players who have left a mark on the NHL from that draft are the outliers. We’re still that early on in his post-draft process.

Despite that, Tuomaala entered camp with a reputation… but not a good one. His post-draft seasons in Finland have been a disaster followed by a calamity. They’ve been an unrelenting cacophony of poor production and a lack of ice time.

He was drafted for his high-end speed and his high-end shot. He has a strong base of skill, but it doesn’t define his game. The vision was an electric top-6 driver of a wing who torched opponents with dazzling long carries and special snipes.

His speed and shooting prowess were not enough to propel him to a skilled position in Finland, much less in America.

As it turns out, the most important part of filling a skill position on a professional hockey team is skill. Skating is a secondary concern for a role that is entirely defined by acumen and instincts.

But there are other ways that Tuomaala can impact the game. That was the revelation of this camp as it pertains to the Finnish speedster. His speed makes him a profound threat when he’s in pursuit of the puck. He can arrive in time to hound defensemen who are hoping to break the puck out when others would not.

A newly acquired level of strength makes him a threat in the ensuing puck battle. And he has just enough skill to ensure that the puck gets where it needs to go once he wins possession.

The Flyers currently lack the truly high-end playmakers to really compliment this player. But one is coming. Perhaps two, depending on how Cutter Gauthier’s development continues. All signs are positive thus far.

Could Tuomaala serve as a sharp shooting Michael Bunting to the potential Marner-Matthews connection of Gauthier and Michkov? Or with some other combination of more adept creators?

He used this camp to make that possibly seem thrice as realistic as it once did. Despite not winning a spot, his stock increased significantly.

Bobby Brink

In the summer, there was no significant hype for Brink. There used to be, once upon a time. A former darling of Draft Twitter in the year 2019 and the rightful winner of the Hobey Baker in 2022, Brink was thought of as a potential second-round steal.

Someone whose tenacity, skill, and smarts would propel him over the athletic barriers that his size and subpar skating presented.

He tore his hip labrum in the summer of the 2022-2023 season, and that was a blow to his reputation just as much as one to his body. His play with the Phantoms in the wake of the injury was strong, but he was so notably limited that their coach—Ian Laperriere—found himself repeating the sentiments ad nauseam.

It would be an exaggeration to say that everyone had given up on Brink, but it was becoming more and more common sentiment. And many of those who hadn’t given up were still becoming notably more skeptical.

For Brink, training camp was an opportunity to put all of that to rest. And he seized that opportunity with both hands. Brink has been better than Foerster throughout the pre-season. The gap has not been close.

For every play Foerster makes, Brink has already made two or three. His tenacity has helped him recover pucks and turn his line’s permanent residence into the offensive zone.

For every time Brink has faltered through development camp onto full training camp, Foerster has either been as bad or worse. And the highs have not been akin to those of Brink.

If merit is truly the primary consideration in this process, then Brink will be in the opening night lineup. If “standards” and “accountability” aren’t just words we say with no real meaning attached, he will be in the Flyers’ top-9 to begin the season. If not the top-6.

There are times when he’s genuinely taken over games, making plays at such an exorbitant rate that the opposing team is left to contend with an avalanche of scoring chances. Unfortunately for Brink, merit is not a primary consideration and never has been.

Veterans will make this roster who look nowhere near as good as Brink, based on feats they accomplished 6 years ago and contracts that can’t be moved because of how thoroughly useless they are.

Other prospects will make this roster who haven’t looked as good as Brink because they’re looked at more fondly by the organization.

As melancholy as this sounds, Brink’s chances of making the team are far from 0. At this point, I’d consider it more likely than not. But based on how he’s acquitted himself at camp, his chances should be 100%.

Tyson Foerster

Based on how I spoke of him in the section on Brink, you’d think that Foerster was stinking up the joint on a routine basis. I wouldn’t say that’s true. He hasn’t been the player you’d like or expect him to be. The difference that I see is one of execution.

He’s not executing plays that he can normally execute. He’s not as precise as he usually is. Foerster’s lack of true speed means that his execution must be precise. He constantly has to play in anticipation and he has to hit on his plays at a high rate, just to stay ahead of the NHL with his mind when his feet won’t get it done.

This is going to happen to Tyson throughout his career. I’m not fully convinced that Tyson should be punished for it happening when the games don’t count. Isn’t that what you’d like?

If he were to make the team over Brink, it would represent the death of “merit”, “standards” and “accountability” in Philadelphia hockey. That’s the cold reality. That decision would be made simply because Tortorella likes Foerster, and because Tortorella sold Foerster to fans as the guy who will make the team worth watching.

However, there is no law–in my book, anyway–that says they can’t both make the team. Why the hell not? He’s certainly worth a top-9 spot on his own merits. Even this training camp, which has been a far cry from his best hockey, has featured him making plays that other Flyers simply don’t make.

He’s hit passes across the middle of the ice more than any Flyer this pre-season not named Bobby Brink and generated dangerous looks in the process.

Brink has made more of such plays. But who cares? Why should that fact send Foerster to the Valley?

Now, will the Flyers have the stomach to sit one of the veterans in the top 9? I highly doubt it. Despite being in a rebuild, they seem immune to playing more than 2 young players at a time.

Tyson did not tell any great stories with his performance at camp. Rather, his performance at camp has called into question the validity of any of these stories we tell ourselves. Do camp battles actually exist? Or do coaches use camp “performances” as post-hoc rationalizations for decisions they made months ago?

Maybe it really is just the latter. And maybe Tyson will benefit from being on the good side of a vibes check. He would deserve a break like that, but he’d certainly be catching a break.

I make a similar argument for Tyson Foerster that I made for Cam York: why waste everyone’s time? We know damn well they’re NHLers, and we know it because of what we saw during games that actually count.

Sure, you can send them down and pretend that you’re making them earn it. But they won’t meaningfully advance down there. They’ll just come out and look awesome, because they’re really good and they would’ve done the same thing anyway.

York proved me right. He came up in December, and was the Flyers’ best defenseman as soon as he put on the orange sweater.

Do you really want to do this all over again with Foerster? Really?

Let’s skip it this time.

Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

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