The Philadelphia Flyers kick off their 2021 NHL regular season schedule on Friday against the Vancouver Canucks, but will be without one of their offseason acquisitions through injury.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has been ruled out to Friday’s season opener at the Wells Fargo Center due to an upper-body injury. Ristolainen, who was acquired this offseason from the Buffalo Sabres, has not practiced in seven days, and will not play a part in Alain Vigneault’s lineup on Friday.
The 26-year-old is expected to bring physicality and aggressiveness to the Flyers blue line this season, but for now will wait to make his team debut. A Finland National Team player, Ristolainen has recorded 245 points in 542 games during his NHL career.
His absence has seen Nick Seeler brought into the roster, a veteran player who appeared throughout the Flyers preseason camp. The 28-year-old has 105 games under his belt as a professional player and has garnered praise from goaltender Carter Hart for his work this preseason.
“Seels has been great,” Hart said. “He competes hard, he plays hard in his own end, he makes the simple plays and he battles. In the preseason games, he was a warrior, he made some huge hits, made some good plays in the D-zone. He’s definitely a competitor.”
Ryan Ellis ready to go following Thursday practice
After being questionable to play earlier this week, fellow Flyers defenseman Ryan Ellis will play on Friday on the top defensive line with Ivan Provorov.
Ellis, another offseason acquisition this summer, did not feature in six days due to a lower-body injury suffered in the Flyers preseason finale. The 30-year-old had spent his entire NHL career to date in Nashville prior to be acquired by Philadelphia in a deal for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick.
With Ristolainen out, Ellis’ involvement will be huge as the Flyers aim to kick off the new season with a win.
“Whether it be rest, recovery, team bonding, whatever it is, it was all a good week there that we got,” Ellis said about the six-day break in action. “I think we’re fortunate for it.”
Flyers prospect Willman to make NHL debut on Friday
Patrick Brown’s landing on the COVID-19 list will now see 26-year-old Max Willman make his NHL debut on Friday for the Flyers.
Willman, a former fifth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2014, played collegiately with Joel Farabee at Boston University in 2018-19 and since has worked his way up the Flyers farm system. Willman registered 25 points in 20 games with the Flyers’ ECHL affiliate Reading Royals in 2019-20 before also playing in 24 games for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
In 30 minor league appearances last season, Willman scored nine goals and added seven assists for 16 points.
“We love his speed, we love his energy,” Vigneault said about Willman. “It’s the start of a new season, there’s great opportunities out here for a lot of people right now considering our situation. Guys have got to go out, play well and help us win games.”
The Flyers also snagged Zack MacEwen off waivers on Wednesday, but the former Canuck is unavailable Friday as he awaits the approval of his U.S. visa. MacEwen is another player who will fight for minutes on the lower offensive lines this season.
“I was looking at my board of not available players and there are quite a few,” Vigneault said. “That’s just part of an NHL season. It’s an organization’s responsibility to have the depth they need to go through that. Give credit to Chuck and his staff again, we were short on depth players and short on players that could help us, and they pick up two guys on waivers that I’ve heard real solid things about. They’ll get an opportunity to play for us and show what they can do.”