Over the weekend, the Flyers announced that Andrew MacDonald will miss about six weeks with a lower body injury which opens up the door for a rookie defender to step up and potentially take a spot for at least a few games early in the season.
On Monday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall told the media that he had his eye on three names: TJ Brennan, Phil Myers, and Reece Wilcox to replace MacDonald on the roster early on the season.
Phil Myers is easily the biggest name on the list. As a player, he’s the youngest of the three and likely has the highest ceiling despite being signed as an undrafted UFA from the QMJHL. He’s a right shot, and given that the left handed MacDonald frequently played his off side when paired with Ivan Provorov, it’s easy to slot in Myers on a pair with Provorov on the left side and letting Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere take on the big minutes. It’s unlikely Dave Hakstol would put the rookie Myers with Travis Sanheim early in the season despite MacDonald finishing last season as Sanheim’s partner.
TJ Brennan is 28 years old and despite being a second round pick, has never truly stuck with an NHL team. He has 53 games of experience for four teams over parts of four seasons. At this stage of his career, he’s an AHL leader and, to borrow a baseball metaphor, a true Quad-A player. The plus size of Brennan is, he can sit in the pressbox with the Flyers and no one will bat an eyelash if he does so.
Reece Willcox is an unknown. He has a lot of size at 6’4 205lbs per HockeyDB. The book on Willcox has not changed since we last evaluated him. And not to knock on him, but Willcox’s ceiling is essentially being another Brandon Manning. He will play on the penalty kill, add size, and probably never really show any offensive skill. Willcox is 24, he’s not really a prospect at this point, but the fact that he’s earned a spot in the conversation means the organization sees value in him. The biggest concern given his size and style of play is that he becomes another Dave Hakstol Security Blanket type player. At the same time, despite the rookie designation, it’s unlikely that Willcox loses anything if he sits.
Training camp will likely determine who gets the early call to replace MacDonald. The best player may not even win this race, if the Flyers decide to use Christian Folin, then it’s possible that rather than sitting Phil Myers, they just carry Brennan or Willcox. Of course, while Ron Hextall has said he doesn’t believe in the tryout, getting Myers a few games now will mean that a mid-season injury or something more long term won’t force a midseason trade because the Flyers require experience in a playoff race.
My personal preference is the Flyers try to break camp with the following defense:
Radko Gudas actually had good results with Sanheim in limited time together last season, his results cratered when paired with Brandon Manning. While Gudas can’t carry his pair, Sanheim is the perfect partner for him.
Hagg is the the best compliment for Myers skill set, especially if the Flyers insist on keeping Provorov and Ghost together after their success last season.