Defense prospect Manning shows maturity at Flyers prospect camp

Posted: July 17, 2012

BRANDON MANNING was not the only player who was making a second go-round at the Flyers' annual summer prospect camp. In fact, a number of the camp's 43 participants were making a second or even third consecutive trip to the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.

All of the players had extensive playing experience, spanning from the American Hockey League to the top tiers of the NCAA and junior hockey in Canada. Some were former Flyers draft picks, some were undrafted free agents and some were just amateur college and junior hockey players invited to gain some experience. Everyone on skates was grinding to the whistle, trying to make themselves noticed as if their careers were in their hands.

But Manning was different. The urgency was there, as was the need to be recognized, but there was a certain aura about him, a calm when he stepped on the ice. This confidence could only be attributed to one thing — he had seen the promised land.

Manning was the only participant at this year's prospect camp, which ended Sunday, who has played in an NHL game. Appearing in 46 contests for the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms and tallying six goals and 13 assists in 2011-12, he received the call up to Philadelphia in March. He played four games for the Flyers as a part of a defensive corps that became somewhat of a revolving door at the end of the regular season.

Manning, 22, was signed by the Flyers as a free agent in November 2010. He said his stint in the NHL had an impact on his approach to this year's prospect camp.

"When you have a bunch of young guys around you, being older and a bit more experienced goes a long way. You look at things a little differently," Manning said. "Those four games were big for me. It's not something I expected last year but I felt like I fit in pretty well and it was definitely a boost of confidence."

Manning wasn't the only one who noticed his newfound swagger. To the Flyers' player development staff members, who served as coaches at prospect camp and have more than 5,000 games of combined NHL experience, Manning's increased confidence was clear.

"When you look at him in practice, you can tell that the guy played in the NHL," said Ian Laperriere, former Flyers winger and current director of player development. "I don't care if it's four or five games or a whole season. He's just stronger and more mature on the ice."

Manning hoped that his experience would not just allow him to soak in the lessons of his coaches and sharpen his skills, but demonstrate leadership. Along with his skills on the ice, Manning recognizes that his maturity and leadership abilities could get him back to the NHL this season, and hopefully enable him to stick around.

In a 16-year NHL career that lasted 1,083 games, Laperriere learned to understand the importance of a good leader. Despite topping 20 goals just once in his career, the gritty winger found a place in five NHL organizations, serving as the assistant captain during a 4-year tenure with the Colorado Avalanche.

"He's one of the oldest guys here, and veterans need to be leaders even in a camp like this," Laperriere said. "He's been great since day one and lots of the younger guys look up to him. It shows a lot to me and it shows a lot to this organization."

Manning's road back to the NHL will not be an easy one. With a bevy of young defensemen in the organization, including Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon, veteran Andreas Lilja and free-agent signees Danny Syvret and Bruno Gervais, Manning knows that he is assured nothing. In fact, he may have to jump over other defensemen in the organization just to be one of the first few called up from the Phantoms. Despite these uncertainties, Manning is assured of one thing—he will only return to the NHL if he continues to play the right way, regardless of who happens to be watching.

"I want to make sure I'm not cutting corners and can do what I can so people see what it takes to make it to that next level," Manning said. "It's no different than when I come in the gym and see guys like Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux."

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