Kessel grateful for face time with Flyers

Posted: September 14, 2011


He knew the question was coming - the same question that fellow prospect Eric Wellwood answered ad nauseam about his older brother, Jets forward Kyle Wellwood, last fall when he broke into the NHL with the Flyers.

If the name sounds familiar, Blake Kessel is the younger brother of Maple Leafs All-Star Phil Kessel. But his last name isn't what is going to win him a job in pro hockey.

Kessel, 22, knows that the deck is stacked against him. He is in this week's Flyers rookie camp - and full training camp, which begins on Saturday - on a tryout contract. Most years, on most teams, that wouldn't mean much.

With the Flyers, it has an entirely different meaning.

The Flyers are at the NHL's 50 contract limit, meaning they cannot sign or add any more players to their organization without first freeing up a spot. Sources said they are expected to reduce that number to 49 later this week when former draft pick Joonas Lehtivuori, who left the Phantoms midway through last year to return to Europe, is released from his contractual obligations.

But that would only make room for one player. And veteran Michael Nylander, who racked up more than 200 career points alongside new Flyer Jaromir Jagr, is also in town on a strictly tryout basis to see if the two can rekindle their magic.

It is the same reason why No. 8 overall pick Sean Couturier, who has yet to sign a deal, remains a long shot to make the team. Couturier likely will end up back in Quebec for a fourth season of junior hockey.

And the Flyers also have a tryout offer extended to former Devils forward Adam Mair, though he has not yet responded to let the team know he will attend.

"I do feel a little pressure, but it's a good thing," Kessel said yesterday. "I think you need to put a little pressure on yourself to get the best out of yourself. Whatever happens, it will be a good experience either way just getting playing time with these guys.

"I'm going to see guys that I've always watched on TV."

Unlike his brother, who is a gifted scorer, Blake Kessel is a defenseman. He was a sixth-round pick of the Islanders in 2007 and played with James van Riemsdyk at the University of New Hampshire before using a loophole to become a free agent on June 1 after finishing his junior season. Kessel never signed a contract with the Islanders because of his amateur status and allowed 4 years after his draft day to lapse.

Kessel has been consistently graded as a "B" prospect.

"It didn't quite work out with [the Islanders], but they've done a great job scouting over the last couple of years stocking up on defensemen," Kessel said. "So I thought it might be in my best interest to try and explore other options."

Kessel's agent, Wade Arnott, drummed up opportunities from four different NHL teams and they decided on the Flyers.

With two preseason games against Toronto, there is a good chance we could see Kessel and fellow Flyers prospect Brayden Schenn face off against their older brothers next week. It was Kessel's brother who provided the important pointers this summer.

"We worked out this summer and skated at home [in Wisconsin]," Kessel said. "He just said to make the most of the opportunity, told me to leave it all out on the ice. He said to expect mistakes and keep playing. I'm excited to make the most of the opportunity."

Kessel, who has skated in the top defensive pair in camp with Oliver Lauridsen, undoubtedly will get a shot to show his skills. With a strong performance, Kessel knows the Flyers would not let him walk based on numbers alone.

"I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "I guess you can always do something."

Progress for Pronger

Holmgren said yesterday that Chris Pronger, recovering from his fifth surgery in the last 14 months, could be ready to start the season on Oct. 6 despite not being cleared to lift weights until August.

Pronger has skated twice by himself in full equipment.

"I think he is doing better than even he thought he would," Holmgren said. "He's pushed the envelope a little bit over the last few days, going on the ice and shooting the puck. I think he's right on track for all he's been through. I'm excited for him being ready at the start of the season and I think he is, too."

No word on 'C'

Holmgren said he has had initial discussions with coach Peter Laviolette about the candidates to replace Mike Richards as the 18th Flyers captain. "I've had some talks with 'Lavi' about the direction," Holmgren said. "I wouldn't go any further than that. I don't think we're in any rush."

For more news and analysis,

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