At the start of the 2022-23 season, Garnet Hathaway was entering his eighth NHL season and fourth with the Washington Capitals. His previous four seasons, including all three with Washington, had ended with playoff appearances. 

When that streak was threatened, the Capitals became deadline sellers. One of the moves was sending Hathaway to the Boston Bruins, the eventual President’s Trophy winners.

The Bruins, who the Flyers face on Friday night in the preseason, were stunningly ousted in the first round by the Florida Panthers. Hathaway entered the free agent market. 

On the first day of free agency, Hathaway signed with the Flyers on a two-year deal. For a player who had been to the playoffs for five straight seasons, joining an actively rebuilding team was going to be a different sort of process for the veteran forward. 

In this process, Hathaway emerges as one of the veterans. While he’s still going to play on the team’s fourth line, he’s not simply a role player. He’s jumping in head-first to a leadership role.

In Washington, Hathaway had Alex Ovechkin as a captain. In his brief time in Boston, he had Patrice Bergeron. There were countless other leaders along the way. Hathaway has tried to absorb as much as possible about the role and how he can apply it to a growing team like the Flyers.

“In the past eight months, since right before I was traded to the night I was traded, two unbelievable captains in Ovi and Bergy. Guys with letters on that team who have played a lot, who have learned a lot. Guys without letters,” Hathaway said. “I’ve learned a lot and that’s something I’m still working on. I’m trying to learn how those guys do it so well, how they carry themselves so well on the ice and off it at the same time. 

“I’m going to be asking questions too. I’ll probably be reaching out to a lot of those guys to see who helped them along the way, what’d they say, in addition to what I’ve tried to pick up.”

Finding that area of growth, even as a veteran, can be helpful within the process. In a rebuild, there are plenty of young players looking to take the next step in their careers. 

Hathaway said that this was the exciting element of joining the Flyers. It is in the stepping stones to reaching full potential, and building a culture that helps you reach the final destination with continued progress.

“What I get really excited about with this organization is bringing a group together that’s focused on the process throughout the season,” Hathaway said. “It’s a group of guys that knows how much hard work it’s going to take to get there. They’ve chosen the guys that they want to have in that room together, to push each other, to compete, and to do the hard work to get there. 

“I’ve learned a lot throughout my career. I’ve been lucky enough to play with a lot of unbelievable leaders, and I’ve learned it’s a process. You can’t play your best game on Day 1 and let the other games – you can’t get worse. You have to continue to get better. You can look at it from both sides. Right now, I think they’re focusing on helping guys develop into players to hit their potential. Then you get a group of people that is committed to doing the hard work together to get to that point. 

“Will it create the results? I hope so. I’m competitive. I want to win. What I’m really excited about is that group getting to the next step through the hard work, through commitment. They know everyone in that room is going to have that mindset.”

Hathaway has already made an impression in camp. While he’s not known for piling up points, he has continued to take steps forward in production. In the 2021-22 season, he set career-high marks with 14 goals and 26 points. Last season, between Washington and Boston, he scored 13 goals and had 22 points.

But it is the energy that he brings to the lineup. He adds physicality. He contributes to the intensity. He’s exactly the type of player to set and example for how to play, particularly in his new coach’s eyes.

“Hathaway’s impressed me right from the get-go,” John Tortorella said. “He knows how to do it one way, and that is hard all the time. It’s a big reason why we really zeroed in on him. It’ll be a great example for some of our kids.”

Hathaway has played for several coaches that can be demanding and enjoy the elements he adds to a lineup. In Calgary, Hathaway played for Bob Hartley in his rookie season. In his last three seasons in Washington, he played for Peter Laviolette. Tortorella is the latest of old-school coaches that establishes the intensity of camp from the jump. 

“It’s been a lot of work, but we’re doing it together,” Hathaway said. “You’ve got to find a way to work through it. You take everything that you’ve trained for in the summer, and you just continue to work knowing the guy next to you is doing the same thing.”

In some of those early camps, Hathaway was in the position that many young players in Flyers camp are in now: trying to earn a spot and establish themselves as NHL players. Progression and growth is a key part of the process to take the next steps in a rebuild. 

It’s also key to development, whether you are a rookie or a now nine-year veteran like Hathaway. It makes the transition to being part of leadership a key change. 

“It’s not an easy one to take on,” Hathaway said. “I think it goes back to that part of being in that group that wants to be here to do that work. If that’s part of it, I can’t wait.”

Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on social media @Kevin_Durso.

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