Walker feeling right at home with Flyers' defense corps

Associated Press
Associated Press
Posted: September 21, 2010

Matt Walker is hard to miss.

Standing at 6-2, Walker is almost 4 inches shorter than Chris Pronger. But Walker's 235 pounds give him the "presence" that Flyers coach Peter Laviolette first noticed this summer at the Skate Zone, shortly after Walker was acquired from Tampa Bay with a fourth-round pick for Simon Gagne on July 19.

"He's a big presence," Laviolette said. "We really do have a big back end."

That's no joke. Walker is 6-2, Pronger is 6-6, Braydon Coburn is 6-5 and another newcomer, Sean O'Donnell, is a stately 6-2.

Walker uses his frame as a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman, clearing the crease of traffic and bumping opponents off pucks in the corners. He won't quarterback the power play, like Pronger, or lead a rush, like Coburn, but Walker will log tough minutes and block shots.

Call him the defensive version of Ian Laperriere. Needless to say, he will fit in with the Flyers.

"I've been watching them ever since I was a kid," Walker said. "[Tough hockey] has always been their reputation, so I've always had a little bit of a soft spot for them. I was pretty excited when I called home [to say I was traded].

"You're never expecting it, especially in the summer. But the surprise went away pretty quick; excitement was the first thing that came to mind. I was pretty pumped."

Even so, Walker knows he is grappling with O'Donnell and Oskars Bartulis for the final two defensive spots. Given the nature of the salary cap, he will need to be head and shoulders above Bartulis. Walker, 30, has 3 years remaining at $1.7 million per season. Bartulis has the same term at $600,000.

"Competition is good," Walker said. "[Defense] was obviously an area that they wanted to address from last season. They did it. To me, it's a long year. It's good to have a few extra guys and a few extra bodies."

Until 2007-08, Walker spent his first seven seasons as a pro bouncing between the AHL and NHL.

"It's the same thing no matter where I go," he said. "I'm not going to dazzle anyone with the puck. I don't try to take any unnecessary risks. I'm a stay-at-home defenseman, I just try and move the puck and get the puck into the forwards' hands. I try to play physical and have a big body in front of the net."

Just 3 days into training camp, Laviolette is excited to see how Walker will stack up.

"With guys getting into games, I'll get a lot better read of what they're capable of," Laviolette said.

Walker will get his first exhibition evaluation tonight at the Wells Fargo Center against New Jersey.

"It's not hard in hockey to feel comfortable in a locker room. That takes 5 minutes," Walker said. "On the ice, every coach has different things that he wants. Practice is one thing, but when you get a few games under your belt, that's a different story. That's the best way to get settled in."

Slap shots

Peter Laviolette said goalie Michael Leighton will start tonight's preseason game against the Devils and 22-year-old Russian prospect Sergei Bobrovsky likely will replace him midway through . . . Laviolette would not reveal tonight's roster, but forward Jody Shelley said he would be playing . . . Tonight's game is on The Comcast Network and NHL Network. All preseason games will be broadcast on 610-AM . . . The Flyers will play more exhibition games (eight) than any other team in the Atlantic Division: Devils (six), Rangers (six), Penguins (six) and Islanders (five).

Quotable

"There's a way to act when you wear a Flyers uniform. It's cut and dry. It's pretty clear, people know that. They know now who you can and can't go after."

- Newcomer Jody Shelley, on his role as heavyweight. *

For more news and analysis, read

Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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