Flyers’ Rasmus Ristolainen and Owen Tippett will play against the Florida Panthers

Flyers’ Rasmus Ristolainen and Owen Tippett will play against the Florida Panthers

For Flyers defenseman Justin Braun, it’s easy to tell when defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is on the ice for practice. Even in drills, Ristolainen brings his “heavy game,” challenging his teammates with physical puck battles and hard shots.

“You can make him go,” Braun said. “I think when he and [Nick Seeler] they go head-to-head with each other in one-on-ones, sometimes it gets a little aggressive, but that’s good. He’s not going to lose those battles, which is good.”

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But Ristolainen’s physical presence on the Flyers’ blue line has been lacking, as he’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury since training camp. He joined the team for its first practice Friday while in Sunrise, Fla., and participated in practices Tuesday and Wednesday in Voorhees. Now, according to coach John Tortorella, he will make his season debut Thursday at home against the Florida Panthers.

Especially after suffering two upper-body injuries last season, one to start the season and another in early February, Ristolainen wanted to be careful as he got back to work.

“It happened for the first time in training camp, and then I got better after a few days, and then I felt it again,” Ristolainen said of his injury. “But for the last week or so, I’ve been feeling pretty good.”

Winger Owen Tippett will also return to the lineup after suffering an “upper body” injury in the Oct. 13 home opener against the New Jersey Devils. Tortorella hinted that Tippett is working through a concussion when he said the 23-year-old winger is still protocols need to be clarified on Tuesday.

While Tippett will slot into the second line alongside winger Noah Cates and center Scott Laughton, Ristolainen’s usage will be more fluid. The Flyers will play seven defensemen and 11 forwards against the Panthers with center Tanner Laczynski out with a family matter. But regardless of who Ristolainen is paired with in any given situation, Tortorella is eager to see him simplify his game and play to his strengths.

“We need a big man back,” Tortorella said. “It’s a very good team that we’re playing against, and I think one of the weaknesses of our team right now is, as I’ve told you many times, is stopping games offensively. I hope he can do it with his big body.”

Tortorella pointed out that one of the problems in tackling the Flyers is guarding the opposing team in the defensive zone rather than stopping the game quickly. The Flyers play a layered defense, but initial contact with the puck is crucial to getting it back and helping the team get out of the zone.

Ristolainen has the potential to help with that initial contact when the Flyers play a skilled team Thursday at the Panthers, according to Tortorella.

“Talented people find people,” Tortorella said. “And the more time they have the puck, and it’s non-stop, the better the other guys without the puck get away from their check. It gives them more opportunity. That’s why we want to stop it as soon as possible.”

General manager Chuck Fletcher announced Wednesday that the Flyers acquired forward Evan Barratt from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defender Cooper Zech. Barratt, 23, spent the past two seasons and the start of this year playing for their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will be reported.

Barratt hails from Bristol and played at Penn State for three seasons from 2017-20. In 98 career games with the Nittany Lions, Barratt had 95 points (39 goals and 56 assists) and recorded 117 penalty minutes. He also set a record by recording a point in 11 consecutive games (October 12, 2018 to November 23, 2018). Barratt played AAA hockey for Pennsauken-based Comcast.

In 92 career games in the AHL, Barratt has accumulated 42 points (19 goals and 23 assists) and accumulated 95 penalty minutes. The Blackhawks selected Barratt in the third round (No. 90 overall) of the 2017 draft.

Zech, also 23, played last season with the Phantoms after spending the previous three seasons in the Boston Bruins organization. The diminutive defenseman (5-foot-9, 161 pounds) had one goal, 11 points and 12 penalty minutes last season in 53 games with the Phantoms.

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With winger James van Riemsdyk out of the lineup (fractured finger), Tortorella reconfigured the Flyers’ power play units. In Wednesday’s practice, Tippett, Laughton, wing Travis Konecny, center Kevin Hayes and defenseman Tony DeAngelo skated in the first unit. Defenseman Ivan Provorov, winger Joel Farabee, center Morgan Frost, winger Wade Allison and Cates made up the second unit.

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