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Drysdale settling in with Flyers after shock trade from Ducks

Jamie Drysdale Philadelphia Flyers Jamie Drysdale - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Jamie Drysdale was in a daze as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line.

California dreaming with a franchise he thought would be home for a long time, the defenceman — an offensive talent taken No. 6 at the 2020 NHL draft, but hampered by injury early in his career — had just been shipped across the continent by the Anaheim Ducks in a high-profile trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I didn't see it coming at all," said the 21-year-old. "My name wasn't tossed around (in rumours). It was a pretty big shock when I got the call.

"There's really no other way to put it."

The stunning swap that saw Drysdale head east along with a 2025 second-round pick for disgruntled forward Cutter Gauthier — the fifth overall selection in 2022 unwilling to sign with the Flyers — on Jan. 8 made waves around hockey.

There was plenty of gossip and innuendo about why Gauthier, who had just helped the United States win gold at the world junior hockey championship, wanted out of Philadelphia.

Drysdale, meanwhile, just wanted to get to his new team — once his head stopped spinning.

"Definitely nervous," he said. "Everything just turned around so quick, but I saw from Day 1 how good an organization and group that they have there."

Flyers centre Scott Laughton, who's from Oakville, Ont., trains with Drysdale in the summer.

"Pretty big trade that went down, and all the stuff that came with it," said the 29-year-old. "When you're a young guy in this league, change is probably pretty hard."

Philadelphia head coach John Tortorella sees a potentially bright future for the five-foot-11, 185-pound blueliner. The fiery bench boss also doesn't expect that to happen overnight.

"He has a chance to be a star," said Tortorella, whose team supposedly in the middle of a rebuild sits third in the Metropolitan Division at 29-19-7. "But there is a ton of work we need to do with him in understanding how we play — just everything with that position. Goaltending's the most important, defence is the toughest to play.

"There's a process for him to go through, but the upside on a 21-year-old kid, right-shot defenceman is really important for our organization."

Drysdale appreciates his new coach's straight-forward outlook.

"Definitely honest, definitely holds you accountable," he said. "Also knows how to get the most out of the group. That's something I picked up on real quick."

Philadelphia assistant Brad Shaw, who has been in professional hockey as a defenceman or coach since the mid-1980s, is working with Drysdale on his game.

The pair were out for an optional morning skate at Scotiabank Arena this week doing drills before Philadelphia battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to earn a point in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Real big hockey brain," Drysdale said of Shaw. "The big thing he puts emphasis on is to play. He's like, 'I'd rather you be aggressive, make a play — even if it's the wrong play — than be hesitant and unsure.'

"Fun team to play for with that mindset."

Viewed as a key part of Anaheim's young core until the trade, Drysdale has been limited to just 136 games through parts of four NHL seasons.

The 10 goals and 49 points he's amassed is well below what was expected of a player in the conversation to be a 2020 top-5 pick after helping Canada win world junior gold.

Drysdale suited up just eight times with the Ducks in 2022-23 after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery, while a lower-body ailment resulted in a 29-game absence earlier this season.

"You lose your rhythm, you lose your flow," he said. "It can take a hit on your confidence and play, but I'm just looking to pile as many games as I can, stay healthy and go from there."

One of the first things Drysdale circled when he arrived in Philadelphia was Saturday's outdoor game at MetLife Stadium against the New Jersey Devils.

"That'll be awesome," he said. "The last memory of playing outdoors is probably my parents' backyard. Never been in an atmosphere like that.

"That many people, just a completely different ball game."

There's been a lot of change in Drysdale's world over the last six weeks. The sting of the trade having now receded like a Pacific Ocean wave, he's starting to feel settled.

"Pretty wild time," Drysdale said. "A big shock, but I'm real happy."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2024.


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