Time for Ben?
Ben Holmstrom is one of the few Philadelphia Flyers prospects that looked ready for a taste of the NHL based on his performance at development camp this week. Quite frankly, he may have looked that way because he’s already had a taste.
Because of his stellar versatility and blue collar work ethic, Holmstrom was one of the few Adirondack Phantoms that was afforded a call-up to Philadelphia last season. An excellent faceoff man and penalty-killer, Holmstrom has honed the skills necessary to receive a shot at a roster position come October. Furthermore, the reconfiguration that the franchise has seen in the offseason thus far may bode well for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell graduate.
The topsy-turvy, upside-down offseason has seen the addition of some youth and speed to compete in head coach Peter Laviolette’s aggressive fore-checking system. Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn all possess the ability to get their nose in the opposition’s face on each attempt to leave the offensive zone. Maxime Talbot is another addition that is willing to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of the puck.
Last season, it was the likes of Darroll Powe and Daniel Carcillo that held some of the weight of aggressive fore-checking. The two forwards are now in Minnesota and Chicago respectively, one the victim of a trade and the other a victim of no contract offer. For last year’s Flyers, their fourth line just simply wasn’t good enough down the stretch. And a franchise that’s willing to reinvent their roster by trading away longtime stalwarts is certainly open to improving their fourth line. The once-reliable Powe was no longer needed. The pesky Carcillo was immediately expendable.
The subtraction of players that possess the same type of game as Holmstrom could very easily make the 24-year old think that he was primed for a spot on the opening roster. Yet, the Colorado Springs, Colo. native maintains the humility that a player in his role must have on and off the ice.
“Obviously [making the team] is your goal every year when you go into training camp,” Holmstrom plainly stated. “I just have to come in and try to play my game the best I can and see how things shake out.”
“A lot of things happen in the summer that you can’t really control, guys come and go. At the end of the day, it’s really up to what you do out there and you have to try to make them make a decision.”
Philadelphia has made a few decisions with the fourth line in re-signing Andreas Nodl and acquiring Talbot. However, it’s unclear whether last year’s center of the unit can retain his role next season. Blair Betts struggled mightily down the stretch last season and the 31-year-old veteran isn’t growing any younger.
At points last season, his age was quite evident with the lack of speed that he brought to the ice. Yet, he’s the type of player that can be the ‘glue’ in a locker room. Talbot’s addition should help fill that role as well, as he’s another player that brings cohesiveness to the room. In fact, his leadership was lauded by Holmgren as a main reason for his acquisition. Whether or not Betts is needed in Philadelphia is certainly questionable, but whether or not Holmstrom is capable of taking his spot on the fourth line shouldn’t be.
During his first call to the NHL, the 6’1, 197-pound forward faced up against the Toronto Maple Leafs and left quite an impression. He led the team in hits for the game in just 8:06 of ice time. More impressively, 4:33 of that time came while the team was shorthanded. Laviolette’s trust in one of the Phantoms’ best players was evident, and that trust has served as a valuable motivation for Holmstrom.
“[Laviolette’s trust] is huge for a guy’s confidence.” Holmstrom explained. “I just try to take that and build on it every day, and you just try to keep those kinds of things in the back of my head when things aren’t going my way, that somebody around there has confidence in me and I play my game.”
In his introduction to the bright lights of Wells Fargo Center, Holmstrom showed a fiery demeanor that Flyers fans love to see in their beloved skaters. After a whistle, he exchanged words and shoves with Maple Leafs’ captain, Dion Phaneuf. Holmstrom was as unfazed then as he was at Thursday’s camp session.
“Playing hard is my game,” He stated with a grin. “Finishing checks, sometimes guys don’t like that. You’re going to get some stare-downs and guys that don’t like you out there but that’s something you just have to deal with.”
With his versatility, speed and determination, Holmstrom has made it seem possible that the opposition will have plenty to deal with this season. For Philadelphia, that may be exactly what a revamped roster needs on the fourth line.