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July 05, 2024

Flyers prospect Oliver Bonk is working to become a much more complete defenseman

His offensive breakout on the power play stole the show in juniors this past season, but it's the other areas of Bonk's game that have gotten a lot smarter, which have caught the Flyers' eyes.

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Oliver-Bonk-Flyers-Dev-Camp-July-2024.jpg Nick Tricome/PhillyVoice

Flyers defensive prospect Oliver Bonk during drills at the team's development camp in Voorhees.

From when he got drafted by the Flyers this time last year to now, Oliver Bonk is a much more confident skater.

He feels like a smarter, more developed player after this past season in juniors with the London Knights, the 19-year old said Tuesday during the Flyers' Development camp in Voorhees, especially since the campaign came with a huge jump in offensive output. 

Moreover, the Flyers' staff can see the change. 

"He looks like he's played pro hockey already," Riley Armstrong, the Flyers' director of player development said Tuesday on camp's first day. "The way he just handles himself in the locker room and out on the ice...

"He knows who he is as a player," Armstrong continued. "He's so smart, covers for teammates well, breaks pucks out well, and he's rewarded with the offensive opportunity at the end of the day. So, you know, definitely looking for things from him, big, big things from him coming into training camp this year."

Even if he won't be knocking on the door of the NHL quite yet.

The likelihood for Bonk, who the Flyers took at 22nd overall in the draft last summer as a promising two-way defenseman, is that he'll go back to London for another year and continue to refine his skill set at both ends of the ice. 

He knows that's where things are headed, too. But at the same time, it won't keep him from trying to strive for more now either.

"You gotta come in and believe you're gonna make the team," Bonk said. "It's probable that I go back. It's not – they didn't tell me like for sure going back, they didn't tell me that 'You're staying here.' But I think you just gotta put in your head that if you wanna stay here, you gotta not lose any battles, you gotta out-battle every single guy, do your best, because if you already think you're going back, you're probably gonna end up back there."

And he has himself set up pretty well to make an impact. 

There's only so much that can be derived out of development camp's first couple days' worth of drills, but from the jump, Bonk looked like a very well-controlled and methodical skater. 

On odd-man rush drills, he held to tight gaps and got his stick and his body in the way of lanes to force the puck carrier into a predictable decision for the goalie to handle. He seemed hyperaware of where the puck was and where it was about to go, how to use his feet and 6'2" frame to take it away – or at the very least steer it out of trouble – and then where to send it upon retrieval to get it moving the other way. 

When the puck's coming down his team's way, Bonk has a game plan for it. The next steps now will be in processing that plan quicker so it can survive at the pro level. 

"Watching him play this year, I think just his ability to go back and bring pucks out, he's a big strong kid," Nick Schultz, the former Flyers defenseman turned assistant director of player development, said. "He reads the forecheck well, and breaks pucks out well. He's confident with players on his back, moving pucks, getting up ice. Obviously, we'll continue to work – the biggest thing for players to transition to the next level is the speed at any level you transition to, so that'll be the biggest thing is just continue to work on his on his speed – his foot speed – and getting up ice the way the Flyers play here."

And then maybe finding a way to bring his recently-discovered power-play prowess over, too.

Oliver-Bonk-Flyers-Dev-Camp-July-2024.jpgNick Tricome/PhillyVoice

Oliver Bonk's offense took off on the London Knight's power play last season in juniors.

One of the biggest revelations in Bonk's play this season was the Knights' unorthodox move to throw him, as a defenseman, down into the bumper spot right in front of the net on the power play. 

It was definitely out-of-the-box, but effective, because his offensive production took off for a Knight's team that just steamrolled through the rest of the OHL. 

Bonk scored 24 goals and 67 points in total this past season, and of those 24 goals, 15 of them came on the power play – plus another six goals on the man advantage in the playoffs out of his seven in total for the run.

"Bumper Bonk" quickly became a sensation in London, and between seeing that and how the Flyers' power play was flailing for any kind of answer up in the NHL this year, how can that eventually be brought over to Philadelphia?

"We'll talk to Rocky about that when that time comes," Armstrong cracked, referring to Flyers' assistant coach Rocky Thompson, who oversees the team's power play.

"But I definitely think once he takes strides to come up here...that's where he knows 'I'm just gonna break pucks out. I know how to play my game. I'm going to shut down the other team's top players and kind of let the forwards do their thing,'" Amrstong said. "I think the one thing he is really good at though is jumping up into the play. He understands when to go, so I think he's going to be able to create his own opportunities once the five-on-five game starts [on Saturday night]."

Which Bonk plans to work and make set up for more later down the line starting with training camp in September, even if it all will likely take more time in juniors first – a path that his father, Radek, a former NHL pro of 14 years, has been reinforcing will turn out all right.

"Yeah, he just said kinda the same thing: 'You're probably gonna go back. That's fine. London's a great place,'" Bonk recalled. "But you gotta put in your head that you don't want to be back. You want to be here with the big guys."

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