Phantoms Roster Projection: Defensemen

GUEST POST:  der Eishockeyzuschauer, ALLENTOWN, Pa

Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg (# 4) is said to be a solid two-way performer whose reputation probably suffers because he does not have any dominant traits to distinguish his game ... (photo courtesy "Hockey's Future" website)

Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg (# 4) is said to be a solid two-way performer whose reputation probably suffers because he does not have any dominant traits to distinguish his game … (photo courtesy “Hockey’s Future” website)

Again, as previously written in the Phantoms Pre-Season Primer piece posted at this blog, developments in the Philadelphia Flyers’ NHL training camp – in particular, those revolving around highly touted Russian teenager Ivan Provorov – are going to strongly influence exactly which defensemen wind up on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roster for the American Hockey League opener against the visiting Springfield Thunderbirds at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown on October 15th.

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Aside from whether or not Provorov, who has already earned two silver medals for Russia at the annual IIHF World Junior Championship and is eligible to participate for a third time this winter, is ready to command an NHL roster spot with Philadelphia this season, the two biggest questions for the Flyers defense in training camp that will directly affect the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are focused on the health of veteran Czech import Radko Gudas and the number of blueliners that Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol plans on keeping around. Certainly, individual performance over the next few weeks will carry weight. And the NHL’s salary cap could become a major factor in deciding who sticks, as well.
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Personally, I just do not see Provorov returning to the Canadian junior ranks by the start of the 2016/17 NHL season so if the injured wrist that will allow Gudas to stick handle but not shoot the puck at present has healed sufficiently and if the Flyers coaching staff decide to retain the services of seven defensemen, then the opening night roster of the Broad Street Bullies might very well look like this :
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Philadelphia Flyers defense — Streit, Del Zotto, Gudas, Schultz, Manning, Gostisbehere, Provorov
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Such a scenario unfolding would mean that, for the second consecutive year in a row, veteran Andrew MacDonald would actually be earning his $4,750,000 annual salary for this season by skating for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the second tier American Hockey League.  But MacDonald did lead all Philadelphia Flyers defensemen by registering a plus/minus rating of + 10 despite appearing in only 28 NHL games last season and, on top of his shot-blocking abilities, the now 30-year-old rearguard does seem to form an effective partnership with the offensive-minded Shayne Gostisbehere.  So, then, perhaps it would be Brandon Manning who finds himself left off the Flyers’ opening night NHL roster in a seven-man defensive scheme — again, individual performance in training camp will certainly be a most important development.
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No matter what the Philadelphia Flyers ultimately decide to do with respect to either Provorov or the seven or eight-man defensive corps question, it definitely appears as if the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are going to have two top shelf offensive defensemen in addition to a pair of blueliners who were both recent 1st round NHL Draft picks on its opening night AHL roster in any case and so that has to be viewed as newsworthy.
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T.J. Brennan, the 27-year-old native of New Jersey who went north to play Canadian junior hockey before turning professional, has a legitimate Howitzer of a slapshot and has scored no less than 62 goals in the American Hockey League these last three seasons – a most impressive figure that would leave many a forward in any league more than a little envious.  The former 2nd round pick (# 31 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2007 NHL Draft was named a First Team AHL All-Star representing the Toronto Marlies in both 2013/14 and 2015/16 after netting 25 goals during each of those two campaigns. Brennan (6’2″ 215 lbs), who also counts 130 assists and 192 points in the AHL these past three seasons, was also named the winner of the Eddie Shore Award as the American Hockey League’s best defenseman (as chosen by the players, coaches and professional media) in both 2014 and 2016.
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Will O’Neill, the 28-year-old veteran from the University of Maine who is an excellent passer and a power play specialist, was a Second Team AHL All-Star for the intra-state rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season but was enticed to sign as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers this summer after being offered a lucrative two-year deal, the first year of which guarantees an NHL salary.  The native of Salem, Massachusetts, first established himself as a legitimate offensive weapon after leading all AHL playoff participants in assists as the St. John’s IceCaps advanced all the way to the 2014 Calder Cup Finals.  Since that time, the play-making O’Neill (6’2″ 205 lbs) has racked up 18 goals and 80 assists for 98 points over the course of his last two AHL seasons.
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The acquisition of both Brennan and O’Neill raises interesting questions about what kind of strategies and tactics the Lehigh Valley Phantoms will be using on the power play this upcoming season, but that is another blog post to be published another day.
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Samuel Morin (6’7″ 227 lbs), the eleventh overall player chosen in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, should be, at a minimum, looking to establish himself as a more dominant player at the AHL level in his second season as a professional.  28 of the 30 players chosen in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft have already skated in at least one National Hockey League game but the 21-year-old native of Quebec who appeared in all 76 American Hockey League games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season still has not.  In particular, Morin needs to take advantage of his massive size and assert himself much more physically so that is something for spectators at the PPL Center to watch out for.
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Travis Sanheim (6’4″ 202 lbs), the seventeenth overall player chosen in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, got his feet wet with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the American Hockey League at the tail end of last season and demonstrated some of his talents while notching one goal and two assists in only four contests.  The 20-year-old native of Manitoba has clearly stated, “Offense is my game and something I want to continue to develop going forward and bring to the next level.”  Given his lofty draft status, Sanheim is one who can be expected to be receiving lots of ice time at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown this season.
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Aside from the two first rounders, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms will also have two former 2nd round NHL Draft picks on hand, one of whom can no longer really be considered a “prospect” and the other of whom just might be on his last tour of duty in the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
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Mark Alt (6’4″ 201 lbs) recorded what was easily a career best defensive rating of + 11 after appearing in 72 AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last term. The 24-year-old from the University of Minnesota has really only skated in one NHL game for the Philadelphia Flyers since turning pro at the end of the 2012/13 season but has been evolving into a reliable defender at the AHL level. And that is why the Flyers organization re-signed Alt this summer to a new one-year, two-way contract which pays a salary of $ 100,000 for AHL service.
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Robert Hagg (6’2″ 201 lbs) seemed to regress in his second full season as a professional here in North America but does still have two years left on his current contract with the Philadelphia Flyers organization so there is still time to get things turned around.  The 21-year-old defenseman saw his points total drop by nearly fifty percent (from 20 to 11) last term and now has a combined plus/minus defensive rating of – 23 after skating in 134 AHL games for Lehigh Valley over the course of the last two seasons.  Nevertheless, there is a reason why Hagg represented Sweden at the annual IIHF World Junior Championship on three separate occasions and has two silver medals to show from those experiences so the Flyers (and Phantoms) can still hope for the proverbial late bloomer.
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So that is half a dozen defensemen for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms right there — Brennan, O’Neill, Morin, Sanheim, Alt, Hagg — and if the Philadelphia Flyers demote a veteran like MacDonald or Manning then that would make seven rearguards for Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon to work with.  It is important to remember that there are no restrictions on how many players any given American Hockey League team may carry on its roster although there are rules regarding the use of players classified as having either “Veteran” or “Veteran Exempt” status.  To review, Lehigh Valley started its inaugural season in 2014/15 with seven defensemen listed on its official AHL roster and the second-year Phantoms opened up with eight blue-liners on board last term.
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Based on these projections, there would appear to be no room on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roster for a trio of players whom frequent visitors to the PPL Center have become at least somewhat familiar.
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Jesper Pettersson (5’9″ 189 lbs) has skated in a total of 75 AHL games for the Lehigh Valley over the course of the past two seasons but the diminutive 22-year-old Swedish defenseman is not physically equipped to win as many battles along the boards as he needs to be able to in order to effectively compete.  Reece Wilcox (6’4″ 205 lbs), the fifth round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2012 NHL Draft, made half a dozen AHL appearances for the Phantoms last spring after concluding his collegiate career at Cornell University but, like Pettersson, figures to be assigned to the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League if only to get substantially more ice time than he most likely would otherwise.  Both Pettersson and Wilcox have two-way NHL contracts with the Philadelphia Flyers organization although the former is in the final term of his three-year entry deal.
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Maxim Lamarche (6’3″ 217 lbs) was signed to a brand new AHL contract by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this summer after appearing in a combined 48 AHL games over the course of the past three campaigns.  The undrafted 24-year-old native of Quebec skated in a career high 29 AHL games for the Phantoms last term but is, for all intents and purposes, a spare part.  The greater overall purpose of Lamarche is probably to once again wear the “C” on Reading’s sweater.
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There always the possibility that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms would keep eight defensemen on their AHL roster and that would create a spot for someone, most likely either Pettersson or Wilcox.  Whatever the case actually turns out to be, one can confidently bet the next mortgage payment that the Phantoms will be experiencing a certain number of injuries, suspensions and the loss of players on NHL recall to the Philadelphia Flyers as the 2016/17 season plays itself out, and so qualified personnel coming up from the ECHL’s Royals would always be appreciated by the loyal patronage at the PPL Center.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

5 replies

  1. Excellent summary, and I concur. I don’t think there’s anything left to do in Juniors for Provorov. Even if he spends a certain amount of time in the press box, he’ll likely develop just as much or more by being with the Flyers. Barring catastrophic injury or crisis, that leaves the rest of the blue-liners exactly as you’ve described. I’ll miss Petey if he’s with Reading, but I can always drive down there–I never feel his ineffectiveness has anything to do with effort–just tools.

    And oh, yeah, I think we’ll see more of the “Umbrella” Power Play–but as you say, we’ll discuss that at another time and in more depth once things shake out a bit.

    One more thing: As you head into the “Forwards” section of this preview, which attackers do you think will benefit the most from the overall quality of defensemen rising–assuming you agree this is an improvement? I look forward to that post.

  2. The Philadelphia Flyers want Ivan Provorov to take a regular shift and not be some kind of sixth defenseman who only gets spot shifts or somebody sitting in the penalty box. And the Flyers are going to give the Russian teenager every opportunity and then some. Expect Provorov to get tons of ice time when the Philadelphia Flyers take on the New Jersey Devils at the PPL Center on September 28th … As for Jesper Pettersson, the little Swede is just not built for the smaller rinks in North America and really belongs on the bigger ice surfaces in Europe … I’m not quite sure the Phantoms will want to continue using the Umbrella power play formation for a a couple of different reasons but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Trackbacks

  1. Phantoms Roster Projection: Forwards
  2. Phantoms Defensemen Re-Examined

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