Yesterday was the first day of signings for AHL free agents and there was much movement within the league. There are still free agents out there and signings to be made. The Phantoms are going to need another goalie. And maybe a forward. Heck, they’re going to need a coach! But, here’s what we’ve got so far:
Before we get into the depth chart specifically, a couple notes: injuries, promotion to the Flyers, and additional signings will certainly impact the lists below. We’ll try to update things or post additional going forward. Some of the big news yesterday was the departure of Phantoms favorites Zack Stortini and Jason Akeson. Many of us remember the two appearing on the “Break the Ice” show on the same night, during a Phan Club meeting. It’s sad to see them go, in many ways.
Stortini was a fan favorite in the first year of the Lehigh Valley franchise. The tough guy made many friends among the fans and volunteered time in the community. Rumor had it, he and his wife even bought a house in town with plans to remain with the franchise if possible. Alas, is wasn’t to be. The big-body forward did score more goals than expected this past season, but was among the league leaders in penalty minutes and wasn’t the fastest skater. Many of the penalties were of the “sloppy” variety rather than the fighting variety as the season wore on, because most other players were smart enough not to mess with him. In that way, he was also good for the team in the form of protection for some of the smaller “skill” players on the ice. One of the teams he fought with the most was Binghamton–which is where he’ll likely end up after signing with the Senators yesterday. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, eh Senators? Bimmington isn’t in our division anymore (somehow), and with the schedule delayed until August, it’s not known when, if, or how many times we’ll see them this season. Something to watch, though. Still, he’ll always be one of our favorites in these parts. In the words of the jersey auctioneer, “You got any more jerseys back there?” 😉
Akeson had broken camp with the Flyers, but eventually found his way to the Phantoms. Little used with the Fly guys, he needed a bit to get his skates under him, and then became one of our leading scorers. However, criticism among the hockey cognoscenti was that he often held the puck too long, rather than looking to pass. This would result in some center ice or blue line turnovers which were difficult for the team. He ended with a -11 for the Phantoms last season. He’ll join the Sabres organization with the possibility of playing for the AHL Rochester Americans–who may appear on our schedule as an out of division, but within conference opponent this season.
1. Anthony Stolarz
Discussion: Young Stolarz should be back to continue his development; I’d like to see him get a little more ice time and improve his consistency. However, he may not be ready to fill the “#3” spot for the Flyers, so the organization will look to add a veteran net minder. We all want Rob Zepp, of course, but sources tell me re-signing him is doubtful at this point. This correspondent is holding out hope…
1. Brandon Manning
2. Mark Alt
3. Shayne Gostisbehere
4. Samuel Morin
5. Robert Hagg
6. Christian Marti
7. Jesper Pettersson
8. Davis Drewski
9. Nick Luukko
Discussion: They’ll likely carry around seven of these. We know Manning, Alt, Hagg and Pettersson pretty well. Some talk late last year that Pettersson may return to the European game, but nothing official on that front lately–you know I’m a fan of the diminutive defenseman! Gostisbehere we know, too. His season was cut way short by injury, but he should be at full strength to start this season. Luukko re-signed an AHL deal, but may find himself in Reading until there’s room in Allentown. Morin was the first round pick of the Flyers in 2013. The giant defenseman who averages almost a point per game last season in juniors should be fun to watch develop. Marti is another big, young, blue liner who signed with the Flyers organization out of the Swiss league. He’s more of a “stay at home” type, but is said to possess good mobility and a huge slap shot. Drewski is an AHL and NHL veteran who was signed yesterday as a free agent. He’ll be charged with leading the young crew. He was with Hamilton last season where he racked up 22 points in 62 games and wore the ‘A’ on his sweater.
1. Scott Laughton
2. Taylor Leier
3. Petr Straka
4. Nick Cousins
5. Brandon Alderson
6. Cole Bardreau
7. Derek Mathers
8. Tyrell Goulbourne
9. Danick Martel
10. Aaron Palushaj
11. Tim Brent
12. Chris Conner
13. Pavel Padakin
Discussion: There may be some to be added here, but this is what we have at this point–as far as I know. Let’s break them up into groups:
The Guys We Know: Laughton and Cousins may challenge for a spot in Philly. Otherwise, we’ll welcome them back to score goals on the top two lines at the PPL Center. Straka and Leier continue to develop, and we’ll look for each to take a step forward in consistency and point scoring this season. Alderson and Mathers kind of jumped back and forth to Reading at times, and may be available to fulfill “bottom six” duties in Allentown as needed this season.
Guys We Kind Of Know: Bardreau and Martel got a taste of the AHL game late last season. It’s difficult to say what role they may fulfill this season, but I’m under the impression the gritty centerman Bardreau may be back to center the third or fourth line.
Young New Guys: Palushaj will be 26 when the season begins. He does have AHL experience with Peoria, Hamilton, and Charlotte. He’s seen NHL time with Montreal, Carolina, and Colorado. He spent last season in the KHL, but contributed 58 points in 68 games in 2013-2014 in the AHL. He’s most often a right winger. Young Tyrell Goulbourne will turn 22 during the season, and was a third round pick by the Flyers in 2013. He’s been in juniors where he’s often played on the left. He had 45 points in 62 games last season and was +20. Pakakin, a native of the Ukraine, played in the WHL last season and generated plenty of points and penalty minutes. The 21-year old is signed to an AHL contract.
Old New Guys: Tim Brent has been over in the KHL for a couple years as well. He returns to the states with both AHL and NHL experience. He had 32 points in 42 games last season. Chris Conner may be a familiar name having played against the Phantoms the past two seasons with Hershey and Wilkes-Barre. These two guys should provide some veteran leadership for the group, and don’t usually generate a ton of penalty minutes.
So that’s what I see right now. Most of the new draftees will play in juniors, college or overseas this season and be candidates to join the Phantoms next year or thereafter as age and other commitment apply. As always, I feel optimistic, but the quality of our other goaltender and a couple more guys who can put the puck in the net would make me more comfortable. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hershey, Portland, and others were more active in free agency yesterday and may have stocked with better talent via that route–hopefully our young players will be enough to compete. We await news on a new head coach, and will listen for player information out of “development camp” which starts next week in Voorhees.
Resources and credits:
I just wanted to mention a couple of resources and credit a couple of contributors. First, I’ve been trying to keep up with the player movement over at “Chirps From Center Ice” run by Jason Iacona. With help from other bloggers, he has a “big board” ranking all of the free agents and noting when they’ve signed. Check it out here. Tony Androckitis over at “Highland Park Hockey” always has his thumb on the pulse of hockey in Pennsylvania–both the Phantoms and the Pens, as well as the Bears. Click here.
I’d like to credit frequent comment-er “Loose Cannon” for contributing to the depth charts above. Look for him in the comment sections, always. Thanks to Cheryl and Jack for the photos above–they are all from last season and were in the “Horn and Bell” files.
Finally, join up with the “Phan Nation” Phan Club to get more involved with Phantoms hockey. Get in touch via their Facebook page here or their web site here. The photos on the web site feature Stortini and Akeson from the evening I mentioned above.
See you at the arena–before we know it!