Competition Revs Up for Flyers' Defense in 2016-17

Ron Hextall is all for healthy competition.

It's what he wants for the 2016-17 training camp.

"I don't know exactly who we'll have in place, but obviously a lot of the guys that are here now will be back," the Flyers' general manager said last week. "So I think it will be a very competitive camp and guys need to be ready for it."

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Especially the blueliners.

Next season, once again, it looks like the Flyers will have a plethora of defensemen vying for roster spots and playing time.

"I mean, it's been the same thing for me the last five years," Brandon Manning said. "You just play as hard as you can. It's been like that for me all along. It doesn't matter who's making the most money or which prospects are coming, you just worry about yourself and come in and play the best and it usually works out for yourself."

Manning, who made $625,000 this past season on a one-year deal, is set to be a restricted free agent in the offseason and would like to return to the Flyers.

Hextall was pleased with signs of progress shown by his team's youth, including Manning, who will turn 26 years old on June 4.

"There are very few players that we have that are on the downside, so we get these kids coming who are better and that are going to make our team better, the younger guys on our team are going to get better, and quite frankly, the middle-aged guys are going to maintain," Hextall said. "So if those guys maintain and the younger guys like Brayden [Schenn] showed growth this year, [Sean Couturier] showed growth this year, Manning, [Scott] Laughton at times. Obviously [Nick] Cousins, so we showed a lot of growth, but we need to continue to grow in that group."

The defensive group should be at full capacity come September.

Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz and Andrew MacDonald are all under contract next season. Barring a summer trade, they'll be in the mix.

Shayne Gostisbehere is Shayne Gostisbehere.

Radko Gudas will be a restricted free agent the Flyers hope to retain.

Manning sits in the same boat with a viable chance to return.

"When you start playing every night, you get comfortable and you start getting that confidence," Manning said. "It kind of took off from there."

Both he and Gudas became the Flyers' third defensive pairing as the team made its playoff push.

"I thought we both played simple hockey," Gudas said. "For us, we wanted to get the puck to a forward as soon as we can and we did our good defensive game straight. We tried to play as simple as we can and talk to each other so we were in better defensive position all the time. It clicked."

Throw in blue-line prospects Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim - all of whom hope to make the NHL jump in the not-so-distant future - and the Flyers' defense should be brimming with competition in less than five months.

"What we're building towards remains the same," Hextall said. "I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago - our vision is the same and we're on a path.

"And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."

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