1) Born Feb. 25, 1993, Phantoms center Mike Vecchione is roughly two months older than his former Union College teammate, Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. While Gostisbehere is now a well-established NHL player entering his fourth NHL season and fifth year as a pro, Vecchione is only entering his second full pro year.
However, Vecchione is getting past the age in which he could be deemed a prospect. The coming season is getting to be now-or-never time for him to become part of the Flyers' NHL lineup. It could be at center or a wing. It could be on the fourth line or maybe the third. It could be for opening night or as an in-season callup. Whatever the variables, though, it's got to be soon if he's to be part of the organization's long-term plan.
While no one has ever directly said this, when the Flyers won the NHL Draft Lottery last year to move up from the default 13th spot to the 2nd overall pick -- which enabled Philly to select the NHL-ready, higher upside Nolan Patrick -- it probably knocked Vecchione down an immediate peg on the depth chart.
After an up-and-down training camp and preseason with the Flyers and Phantoms, Vecchione had an excellent start to the regular season. The 5-foot-10, 203-pound forward found quick chemistry with Danick Martel and regular early-season linemate Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Vecchione was named the American Hockey League Rookie of the Month for October.
“I think Mike was thinking a little too much before the season; you could see the wheels turning [in his head] a little bit. Now, it's been like night and day. He knows where to go. The reads are much better, the support down low. The decisions he makes up-ice and getting back. Pretty much right across the board,” Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said on Oct. 24.
From an offensive standpoint, Vecchione started the season by posting 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 10 games. One other area that surprised Gordon has been the rookie's prowess in the faceoff circle, which is an area where most young centers (even older rookies such as the 24-year-old Union College graduate) tend to struggle. His play without the puck also improved rapidly, with only occasional hiccups.
However, Vecchione’s season was interrupted by an injury in a Dec. 9 game in Hershey that kept him out of the lineup until the Christmas break. Even after his return, it took some time for Vecchione to get back to where he was prior to the injury.
Although he scored a goal in his first game back in the lineup, Vecchione struggled for nearly a month. In his first nine games after his return, Vecchione posted just three points (1g, 2a) and was minus-10 at even strength. Thereafter, Vecchione had only four minus games the rest of the regular season.
Offensively, Vecchione finished the regular season with 17 goals (5 power play) and 40 points in 65 games for a deep Phantoms team that spreads the wealth across the lineup. The team had nine players who scored 14 or more goals, and 10 with double-digit goals.
Gordon said that spending a largely successful season in the AHL was more beneficial to Vecchione’s career than if he’d played in the NHL this season and struggled.
“It’s better to learn down here what you can and can’t do than go up there and fail,” Gordon said to the Morning Call. “A lot of first-year players, they come in and think ‘I made this play in college, I made this play in juniors. I can still make it.’ Sometimes you just can’t because you’re playing against men that have experience. They’re stronger, they skate better, better stick.”
In the playoffs, Vecchione posted seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games. Six points came in the team's first nine games but he was unable to get on the scoresheet in the Phantoms' Eastern Conference Final sweep at the hands of the eventual Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies.
2) James van Riemsdyk wore uniform number 21 during his first stint with the Flyers. This time around, he will opt for No. 25, the number he more recently wore with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Additionally, newly signed defenseman Christian Folin will wear No. 26.
3) A lifelong Flyers fan and season ticket holder, George Fill, has generously arranged for his firm, David and Fill Financial, Inc., to make a dollar-for-dollar matching contribution (up to a $10,000 maximum) of all funds raised by the Flyers Alumni-related teams at the 2018 Toyota Flyers Charity Classic: the Flyers Alumni Team, Brad Marsh's "Ides of Marsh", Brian Propp's "Team Guffaw" and Chris Therien's "Bundy's Chariot of Flyers." All Alumi team-raised proceeds will go to the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
4) On a related note, having already surpassed my original $400 fundraising goal as a member of Ides of Marsh, I have set a new goal of raising $1,000 by Sunday's cutoff. I'm currently just $236 away. To donate, click here.
I am very grateful to all who donated and I hope all of the Alumni-related teams can keep those contributions rolling in to maximize the David and Fill Financial match.
Online registration is now closed for the 2018 Toyota Flyers Charity Classic. However, day-of-event walk-up registrations on Sunday are permitted.
5) July 11: Flyers Hall of Fame left winger Bill Barber was born in Callendar, Ontario, on this day in 1952.