Flyers’ Del Zotto sidelined at least a month with lower-body injury

Michael Del Zotto missed the final 27 games of the 2015-16 regular season and now he’ll be forced to miss a handful of games to start the 2016-17 campaign.

If Ivan Provorov wasn’t already a lock to make the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening night roster, he is now.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall announced Friday that blueliner Michael Del Zotto will be sidelined for the next 4-5 weeks with a lower-body injury, and the ailment seems to have come during Philadelphia’s 4-2 pre-season win over the New York Rangers Thursday. During the pre-season, Del Zotto has logged 20-plus minutes in each appearance, but only skated 16:34 against New York.

Del Zotto, 26, has had to deal with his share of injuries over the course of his career, and he hasn’t played more than 67 games in any of the past three seasons. During the past season, Del Zotto was forced to miss the final 33 games of the season — 27 regular season and six playoff contests — due to a wrist injury.

The loss is a significant one for the Flyers blueline, as he averaged more than 23 minutes per game in 2015-16 and has been a consistent contributor to the top four in Philadelphia.

With Del Zotto on the shelf, a definite hole has opened on the back end, and there’s little doubt that Provorov will be the one to fill Del Zotto’s spot in the top four. The 19-year-old defenseman, the seventh-overall pick in 2015, scored 21 goals and 73 points for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings during the 2015-16 campaign, and he realistically could have been a bottom-pairing guy for the Flyers as early as last season.

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Even if Del Zotto’s injury didn’t make Provorov a lock, the fact that the Flyers are also without Brandon Manning means Philadelphia needs an injury replacement. Provorov more than fits that need.

Who Provorov plays beside come the regular season hasn’t been decided, but he did skate beside Mark Streit in practice as recently as Friday. That could mean the Flyers are looking to pair the rookie with the veteran to give Provorov some cushion, which is a smart way to help the youngster get acclimated to the league.

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