Eric Chouinard (Left Wing)
Birthdate: July 8, 1980
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Weight: 207 lbs
Acquired: From Montreal for 2003 2nd round pick (1/29/03)
2002-03 teams: Utah Grizzlies (AHL), Flyers (NHL)
Philadelphia (NHL) GP: 28, G: 4, A: 4, Pts: 8, PIM: 8, +/-: 2, PPG: 1, SHG: 0, GWG: 0, GTG: 0
Utah (AHL) GP: 32, G: 12, A: 12, Pts: 24, PIM: 16, +/-: 2, PPG: 4, SHG: 0, GWG: 1, GTG: 2
Playoffs: Did not play
A player who could factor into the Flyers future plans in a big way, Chouinard had his ups and downs with the team since he was acquired from Montreal in late January. The former first round pick (15th overall by the Habs in 1998) debuted with the Flyers on January 30th, scoring the team’s lone goal in a 5-1 loss at New Jersey. At that time, Philadelphia was ravaged with injuries at forward, so Chouinard would stay with the big team, rather than be sent down to the Phantoms. As Canadiens’ property, he had spent the first half of the 2002-03 season on loan to the AHL’s Utah Grizzlies.
All told, Chouinard appeared in 28 of the Flyers final 32 regular season games. His performance consisted of equal parts promise and inconsistency. To be fair, the big left winger was saddled mostly with
third/fourth line duty, was often paired with defensive-minded linemates and received minimal powerplay time. Though these are not ideal conditions for a goal-scoring forward, Chouinard did display a great nose for the net, good offensive awareness, and solid finishing ability at times. On the flip side, he was also virtually invisible in a number of contests and often failed to cash in on prime scoring chances.
Chouinard did not dress for any of the Flyers 13 playoff games, mainly because of head coach Ken Hitchcock’s
preference to use veteran players in big games. However, when you look at the larger picture, his late-season stint with the team was a promising one. The 22-year-old forward (a player with only 13 previous games of NHL experience) performed admirably at both ends of the ice while breaking into Ken Hitchcock’s complicated, detail-oriented system, and did indeed show flashes of offensive brilliance. It will be interesting to see if he can take his game to the next level in 2003-04.
Virtually written off by the Canadiens as an NHL prospect, Chouinard has found a second chance with the Flyers. His new team will undoubtably give him every opportunity to succeed, considering what it gave up to acquire his rights (a second round pick in the supposedly-deep 2003 draft). For Chouinard, a strong 2003-04 training camp will be an absolute must, as a sub-par performance there could land him back in the AHL. The talented forward has all the tools to succeed, but must find a way to “put it all together” and maintain a healthy level of consistency. If he can do so, a long, successful NHL career may lie ahead of him. At this point, however, he remains very much a work in progress.
Dennis Seidenberg (Defenseman)
Birthdate: July 18, 1981
Hometown: Villingen, Germany
Weight: 181 lbs
Acquired: 2001 Entry Draft (6th round, #172 overall)
2002-03 teams: Flyers (NHL), Phantoms (AHL)
Philadelphia (NHL) GP: 58, G: 4, A: 9, Pts: 13, PIM: 20, +/-: 8, PPG: 1 SHG: 0, GWG: 0, GTG: 0
Philadelphia (AHL) GP: 19, G: 5, A: 6, Pts: 11, PIM: 17, +/-: -7, PPG: 1, SHG: 0, GWG: 1 GTG: 0
Playoffs: Did not play
Before training camp began, Seidenberg was considered a virtual lock to play for the Phantoms this season. As a 21-year-old set to begin his professional career in North America, little was expected of him right away. Sure, he had obvious talent, along with two full seasons of pro hockey in the Deutsche Elite League and strong performances for Team Germany at the 2002 Olympics/World Championships on his resume. Still, it came as quite a surprise when Seidenberg easily outclassed Bruno St. Jacques in camp for the final spot on the Flyers defensive unit.
In short order, Seidenberg went from being a virtual unknown in Philadelphia to an everyday NHLer. He began the season as Dan McGillis’ defensive partner and, though he did make his fair share of mistakes, he also received praise from the coaching staff for his solid positional play, emerging offensive instincts (his booming, accurate slapshot even earned him some powerplay time) and efficiency in picking up Hitchcock’s system. As the season wore on, however, Seidenberg began to struggle. Travel and workload seemed to be affecting his game, as he started to make poor decisions and turn the puck over with regularity. By mid-January, he also seemed less “elusive,” and was much more likely to be muscled out of a play.
At around the same time, Jim Vandermeer emerged as a steady force on the Flyers blueline. Seidenberg was losing ground, and even sat out a couple of games as a healthy scratch. He was also pressed into duty as an emergency left winger on a few occasions, while the Flyers’ forward lines were depleted with injuries. Eventually, on March 5, Seidenberg’s season came full-circle when he was assigned to the Phantoms (along with Vandermeer). After a brief adjustment period, he played very well in the AHL. However, the Phantoms missed the playoffs and, eventually, Seidenberg was passed over in favor of Vandermeer for inclusion on the Flyers postseason roster.
Seidenberg’s immediate future remains unclear. While he looks to be a player with a good NHL future in front of him, one has to wonder exactly where he’ll wind up next season. He was bumped off the Flyers roster this season, and things won’t get any easier next year with the likes of Jeff Woywitka and possibly a few others (unsigned Joni Pitkanen) joining the fray. Given this, along with the strong play of Vandermeer in 2002-03, Seidenberg may wind up being an “odd man out,” and stands as a prime candidate to be traded. Then again, the Flyers could opt to hang on to the German defender, and possibly give him more developmental time with the Phantoms should he fail to make the NHL team’s roster out of training camp.
Radovan Somik (Right Wing)
Birthdate: May 5, 1977
Hometown: Martin, Slovakia
Weight: 196 Lbs.
Acquired: 1995 Entry Draft (4th round, #100 overall)
2002-03 teams: Flyers (NHL)
Philadelphia (NHL) GP: 60, G: 8, A: 10, Pts: 18, PIM: 10, +/-: 9, PPG: 0, SHG: 1, GWG: 2, GTG: 0
Philadelphia (NHL) GP: 5, G: 1, A: 1, Pts: 2, PIM: 6, +/-: 0, PPG: 0, SHG: 0, GWG: 0, GTG: 0
Like Seidenberg, Somik was listed as a Phantom in the Flyers 2002-03 media guide. Unlike his defensive counterpart, however, Somik did not spend a day in the minors this season. Quite simply, he didn’t need it. At age 25 (he turned 26 on May 5th), the late-blooming Slovakian forward proved to be a polished commodity. His offensive output for the season may seem a little disappointing, but you have to consider the role Somik played in Hitchcock’s system, his period of adjustment to North American hockey after years in Europe, and injures as factors that played into his debut campaign with the Flyers.
Somik did a fine job as a defensive forward under Hitchcock this season. While taking a regular shift on the third line (primarily with fellow countryman and translator Michal Handzus at center), he rarely missed a coverage assignment or turned the puck over in a costly manner. In fact, shortly after the New Year, Hitchcock praised Somik’s play, calling him “the best checking winger on our team right now” and “one of our best penalty killers.” The coach also compared Somik’s entrance into the NHL to that of Dallas Stars forward Jere Lehtinen, stressing how different the game is in Europe and how difficult adjusting to a new style of play can be.
The biggest detriment to Somik’s game and overall performance this season was injuries. Still, considering the severity of his ailments (a re-occurring strained groin early in the season and a strained back late in the campaign), it is a tribute to his perseverance and dedication that he managed to appear in 60 games this season. That, in a nutshell, sums up Somik’s season. If you weren’t paying attention, you probably didn’t notice the little things and the intangibles that he brought to the lineup when he played. Like his personality, Somik’s overall performance was quiet, yet effective.
Somik has already proven himself to be an effective defensive forward in the NHL. He should be able to deliver in that regard again in 2003-04, but increased offensive production will also be expected of him. Given Somik’s age and the maturity of his game, there is little reason to believe that he will take a step back next season. Of course, whether or not he can avoid injury will also be a major factor in his future development. Barring some unforeseen transaction, Somik should again see plenty of time to the left of Handzus on the Flyers second/third line. He is also likely to see increased special teams icetime, primarily in shorthanded situations.
Jim Vandermeer (Defenseman)
Birthdate: February 21, 1980
Hometown: Caroline, Alberta
Weight: 208 Lbs.
Acquired: Signed as a rookie free agent (12/21/2000)
2002-03 teams: Phantoms (AHL), Flyers (NHL)
Philadelphia (NHL) GP: 24, G: 2, A: 1, Pts: 3, PIM: 27, +/-: 9, PPG: 0, SHG: 0, GWG: 0, GTG: 0
Philadelphia (AHL) GP: 48, G: 4, A: 8, Pts: 12, PIM: 122, +/-: -9, PPG: 2, SHG: 0, GWG: 1, GTG: 0
Philadelphia (NHL) GP: 8, G: 0, A: 1, Pts: 1, PIM: 9, +/-: 1, PPG: 0, SHG: 0, GWG: 0, GTG: 0
So often, injuries create opportunities for young players. When veteran Marcus Ragnarsson went down with a bad back in early January, Vandermeer was given a chance to show what he could do on the Flyers blueline. Average at best over his first season and a half of professional hockey with the Phantoms, Vandermeer stepped in and provided the Flyers with instant toughness, grit and defensive stability. The young defender benefitted from being initially paired with Eric Desjardins, a veteran in the midst of his best overall season in years. This provided Vandermeer with a stable partner, a good teacher, and a player who could adequately cover for some of his inevitable mistakes.
Vandermeer surprised everyone by keeping his mistakes to a minimum. At a time when the team as a whole was hit hard by injuries and inconstancy, the former Red Deer Rebel more than held his own. Vandermeer’s game showed a great deal of maturity, and he always managed to retain his composure (even after a bad shift). At one point, Chris Therien appeared ready to return to the lineup after an abdominal problem, but Hitchcock kept him out for a few games in favor of Vandermeer. Eventually, Vandermeer was returned to the Phantoms, but he was recalled from the AHL on a couple of occasions before the end of the regular season.
When the Phantoms failed to qualify for the playoffs, Vandermeer was chosen over Dennis Seidenberg for a spot on the Flyers postseason roster. Though Vandermeer does not have the offensive capabilities and multi-dimensional talents that Seidenberg possesses, he did prove over the course of the 2002-03 season to be the more steady, reliable defender. Vandermeer jumped into postseason play after Desjardins was injured in Game 5 of the Flyers first round series against Toronto. He played commendably in eight games (averaging about 13 minutes per contest), but was at times very shaky with the unstable Therien as his defensive partner.
Vandermeer was the Flyers most pleasant surprise over the second half of the 2002-03 season, but he can’t afford to rest on his laurels. Though he leapfrogged Dennis Seidenberg on the Flyers organizational depth chart, the change in rankings could prove to be a temporary one. Also, as previously discussed, there look to be a number of players vying for just a few spots on the team’s blueline next season. Thus, as with any prospect, Vandermeer’s training camp performance will be crucial. Given the team’s organizational depth on the blueline, a return trip to the AHL (or even a trade) is certainly not out of the question at this point. Either way, as long as Vandermeer does not take a step back in his development, he seems to have the inside track to an eventual full-time NHL career.