Vande Velde not just a long shot for Flyers

CHUCK MYERS/ MCT Flyers' Brayden Schenn and Capitals' Tom Wilson duke it out in the first period of last night's preseason finale.
CHUCK MYERS/ MCT Flyers' Brayden Schenn and Capitals' Tom Wilson duke it out in the first period of last night's preseason finale.
Posted: September 30, 2013

WASHINGTON - When Chris Vande Velde entered the Wells Fargo Center for training camp on Sept. 12, the only person he knew was Phantoms goaltender Yann Danis, whom he played with in Edmonton.

He'd heard of Matt Read before - but that's because he played against Read in college.

It's very likely, actually, that most of the Flyers' brass didn't know who Vande Velde was either. Months after playing 11 NHL games, Vande Velde only earned an invitation to training camp because he played hockey at the University of North Dakota with assistant general manager Ron Hextall's son.

There was no press release sent out when VandeVelde signed an AHL contract after camp started.

There still hasn't been press release distributed about Vande Velde. That's because he is still with the Flyers, lingering among their final 14 forwards. The Flyers dispatched highly touted winger Michael Raffl and defenseman Oliver Lauridsen to the AHL yesterday, trimming their roster to 25 players.

It's safe to say, though, that a few more people know about Vande Velde now.

"Just being on an AHL contract, to make it this far is something in and of itself," Vande Velde said yesterday prior to the Flyers' 6-3 loss to the Capitals. "I'm not satisfied yet. There's still cuts to be made.

"Not a lot of guys knew about me coming into camp. I just came into camp with a positive attitude and worked hard every day and tried to open some eyes. I think I've done that thus far."

Vande Velde and rookie Scott Laughton remain, although the Flyers could decide to keep both players on the 23-man roster to start the season. Both players saw limited minutes against Washington last night.

Defenseman Bruno Gervais was scratched for the third preseason game in a row, which could mean the Flyers are leaning toward 14 forwards and seven defensemen.

General manager Paul Holmgren said he was expecting to make the final two cuts today. The Flyers wrapped up the preseason last night with an unimpressive 1-5-1 record.

If few people had Vande Velde penciled into a roster spot, fewer had the Flyers sending Raffl back to Adirondack so soon. Raffl, 24, was high on the team's depth chart coming into camp after being signed as a free agent this summer.

Raffl was going against long odds, trying to make the jump from Sweden's second-tier league (Allsvenskan) to the NHL without a stop in between. He was a hot commodity and chose the Flyers over an offer from Nashville after scoring two goals for his native Austria in the World Championships last May.

"Michael played in four of our games and I thought he did something good in each of those games," Holmgren said. "But I think we just want him to get a little more experience on that smaller ice, where he can play a lot more minutes and learn the North American game.

"The difference [with Vande Velde] is that he is a North American player, he's been a 3-year pro and played NHL games."

Reading the tea leaves with Holmgren, it sounds as if Laughton, 19, will stay with the Flyers simply because they'd be passing up an (almost) free look at him in the NHL. He can play in the first nine games of the season before they must make a decision to send him back to his junior team in Oshawa, Ontario. Players cannot be sent to the AHL until their 20-year-old season.

All it would cost the Flyers is Laughton's hotel stay and per diem.

"I think any time young players can spend with NHL players, it's beneficial to a point," Holmgren said. "[Dominating in junior] is kind of a benefit, too. That's kind of what we're weighing in our decision-making process: What's best for us, and a little bit of what's best for him, too."

End of the road?

Veteran defenseman Hal Gill may have played his final NHL game after a solid, 15-year career. Gill, 38, came into training camp on a tryout with the Flyers and has a meeting scheduled with Holmgren today.

"I find it hard to believe we can make a spot for him, but I guess you never say never," Holmgren said. "Having him at camp has been a pleasure. He's just full of life. For an older guy that's played as many games as he's played, he's provided enthusiasm in camp."

Gill was scratched last night against the Capitals. He has been steady in his own end, but it looks as if his 6-7 frame can't keep up at NHL pace. Gill has played 1,212 games (including playoffs) and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009.

"He's a smart, stay-at-home defensive defenseman. He doesn't get beat," Holmgren said. "You could argue that he's slow, but he's been the same player for the last 10 years."

Holmgren did leave open the possibility of signing Gill to a minor-league deal if he was interested, to keep around as insurance against injury.

Slap shots

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin left for Greece after the game. With owner Ted Leonsis' blessing, Ovechkin will be the first Russian torch bearer ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Sochi. Ovechkin will then fly back to D.C. and travel with the team to Chicago for Tuesday's opener . . . Jake Voracek (upper-body) sat out last night's game but is expected to be ready for Wednesday . . . Zac Rinaldo was ejected in the first period after a 5-minute major and game misconduct for elbowing. The play will be reviewed by the NHL for any possible supplementary discipline.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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