Phantoms Roster Projection: Forwards

This is the third guest post in the series, by frequent contributor der Eishockeyzuschauer.  The previous two were GOALTENDERS and DEFENSEMEN.

.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms winger Petr Straka (# 24) was signed to a new one-year, two-way contract paying $ 90,000 for American Hockey League service by the Philadelphia Flyers organization this past summer but must rebound from a season-ending slump which saw the former 2nd round NHL Draft choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets score just two goals in his last twenty-six AHL games ... (photo courtesy "Our Sports Central" website)

Lehigh Valley Phantoms winger Petr Straka (# 24) was signed to a new one-year, two-way contract paying $ 90,000 for American Hockey League service by the Philadelphia Flyers organization this past summer but must rebound from a season-ending slump which saw the former 2nd round NHL Draft choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets score just two goals in his last twenty-six AHL games … (photo courtesy “Our Sports Central” website)

Having already had a look at which goaltenders and defensemen will most likely be assigned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the American Hockey League opener versus the incoming Springfield Thunderbirds at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown on October 15th, it is now time to analyze whom supporters of the Hamilton Street Heroes might expect to see operating at forward to start this new 2016/17 season.

.
From the Phantoms’ perspective, perhaps the biggest question to be answered in the Philadelphia Flyers’ training camp this fall is the one regarding the NHL readiness of the newly-arrived Russian winger Roman Lyubimov. Whether former Eisbaeren Berlin star Claude Giroux skates on the wing or at center could also strongly influence which players are ultimately placed with the AHL farm club. Needless to say, the actual number of forwards the Flyers decide to keep will influence which forwards get sent to Lehigh Valley enormously.
.
The two forwards whose NHL roster spots with the Philadelphia Flyers could be in the most jeopardy this fall are checking line winger Chris VandeVelde, the 29-year-old veteran from the University of North Dakota who scored two goals in the very first AHL regular season game the Lehigh Valley Phantoms ever played, and seldom-used center Jordan Weal. The defensively reliable VandeVelde was one of the Flyers’ two top penalty killers in terms of minutes per game but was only able to score a grand total of two goals last season.  Weal, the 24-year-old who was named the Most Valuable Player of the AHL’s post-season playoffs when the Manchester Monarchs lifted the Calder Cup in 2015, skated in a grand total of just four NHL games for the Flyers after arriving last January in the blockbuster trade that saw Vinny Lecavalier and his massive contract moved to the Los Angeles Kings.
.
Because of salary cap concerns and / or a perceived need to carry eight defensemen on the NHL roster to start the season, the Philadelphia Flyers may only choose to retain a baker’s dozen forwards to begin with. After all, replacements are only roughly forty-five minutes away up in Allentown. Then again, the Flyers open up with a three-game road trip that includes stops in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago so perhaps Philadelphia takes along fourteen forwards as insurance against injury.
.
Assuming that Lyubimov, who really came out of nowhere to win a spot on the Russian national team that settled for a bronze medal at the annual IIHF World Championship last spring, is ready for prime time, I envision the Flyers keeping the following fourteen forwards to begin with :
.
Giroux, Schenn, Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier, Raffl, Weise, Cousins, Read, Bellemare, Gordon, VandeVelde, Laughton, Lyubimov
.
Such a scenario unfolding would give Weal the opportunity to center one of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ two top scoring lines. The former 3rd round pick (# 70 overall) of the Los Angeles Kings at the 2010 National Hockey League Draft had back-to-back seasons of twenty goals plus for the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League before making the grade in the City of Angels coming out of training camp last fall but appeared in a combined total of only 14 NHL games (no goals, no points) for the Kings and Flyers all of last season. It should be noted that Weal, who just signed a new one-year, two-way contract with Philadelphia that pays $ 200,000 for AHL service in the summer, is not “waivers exempt”.
.
No matter who winds up on the Philadelphia Flyers’ NHL roster to start the 2016/17 campaign, it still seems virtually certain that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are going to have a number of skillful forwards on hand – perhaps even enough, in fact, for the Hamilton Street Heroes to be able to ice three full scoring lines of genuine quality.
.
Andy Miele (5’7″ 170 lbs) is a proven performer at the AHL level and should be centering one of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ top two lines this season.  The rather skillful 27-year-old veteran won the annual Hobey Baker Memorial Award that is given to the nation’s top collegiate hockey player as a senior at the University of Miami in Ohio in 2011.  He was actually signed to a one-way contract which will pay $ 600,000 this season by the Philadelphia Flyers organization, despite the fact that he has really only appeared in a total of 15 NHL games over the course of his five-year professional career. In exchange for such a lucrative salary at the AHL level, Miele will be expected to contribute 20+ goals and 60+ points to the Phantoms’ cause.
.
Greg Carey (5’11” 204 lbs) fired home 26 goals on behalf of the Springfield Falcons last season — a total only surpassed by ten players in the entire 30-team American Hockey League — and finally delivered upon the promise he had shown at St. Lawrence University in his second full term as a professional player.  The 26-year-old left wing had been a fairly sought free agent coming out of college, but skated in more ECHL games for the Gwinnett Gladiators than AHL games for the Portland Pirates as a rookie during the 2013/14 campaign.  Carey, who has a two-way contract that pays a fairly generous minor league salary of $ 190,000 this season, will surely be looking to confirm his status as a 20-goal scorer for Lehigh Valley this term.
.
And Mark Zengerle (5’10” 185 lbs) dished out 38 assists while skating for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season, an impressive figure which easily placed the 27-year-old right wing from the University of Wisconsin among the AHL’s top twenty players in that particular statistical category.
.
These veteran minor league free agent signings with considerable offensive production in the recent past should blend well with the experienced AHL scorers who are returning to Lehigh Valley this season such as Chris Conner (5’7″ 181 lbs), the 32-year-old right wing from Michigan Tech University who led the Phantoms last term with 39 assists and 55 points despite only skating in 59 games, as well as the legitimate “NHL prospects” such as Taylor Leier, the 22-year-old native of Saskatchewan who tallied twenty goals and 49 points in the American Hockey League last time around.
.
Danick Martel (5’8″ 166 lbs), the undrafted 21-year-old left wing from Quebec who paced the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with 22 goals in 67 AHL games last season, and Petr Straka (6’0″ 185 lbs), the extremely inconsistent 24-year-old winger from the Czech Republic who lit the lamp 19 times in 64 AHL contests last term, are two returning players who just might have a hard time finding a spot on one of the Phantoms’ top two lines this year — if that turns out to be the case for either player, however, it will probably only serve to highlight how much Lehigh Valley have improved their depth up front.
.
Corban Knight (6’2″ 200 lbs) is another veteran free agent acquisition who, like Zengerle, was signed to an AHL contract by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this summer.  The 26-year-old center from the University of North Dakota appeared in 20 NHL games (2 go, 7 pts, + 4 def) for the Florida Panthers last season and is thought be an extremely good skater who can be an effective checking line player at the elite level — two qualities which could suit the Hamilton Street Heroes quite nicely in the second tier.  Knight, who also logged 33 AHL games (4 go, 11 pts, – 11 def) for the Portland Pirates last term, has also been characterized as that “pest” type who is difficult to play against.
.
Colin McDonald (6’2″ 220 lbs) is a seasoned professional with plenty of NHL experience who will be paid a handsome minor league salary to throw his weight around and put a few pucks in the net at the AHL level.  The well-traveled 31-year-old right wing from Providence College had 14 goals and 32 points in 51 games while wearing the “C” for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season.  McDonald, instigator of “The Great Hat Trick Controversy” at the PPL Center last January, missed a considerable number of games due to injury last term so durability is something to keep a sharp eye on.
.
On the subject of defensively responsible players, there is little question that Cole Bardreau (5’10” 193), the undrafted 23-year-old from Cornell University who generated 13 goals and 30 points despite only skating in 54 AHL games last season, is a lock to be a regular for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms again this term … Bardreau is currently sidelined with an abdominal injury but is expected to return in short order, if not in time for the season-opener versus Springfield.
.
On the subject of legitimate prospects who are virtually guaranteed of an AHL roster spot coming out of training camp, it should be interesting to see which line rookie Nicolas Aube-Kubel (5’10” 196 lbs) winds up skating on. The 20-year-old right wing who was the 48th overall player chosen in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.  He has already appeared in half a dozen AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, scoring two goals while adding an assist in the process last spring.  The speedy Aube-Kubel has good hands and has been classified as a ‘natural scorer’ coming out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
.
Radel Fazleev (6’1″ 192 lbs) is another incoming rookie who was able to rack up points in Canadian junior hockey and is thought to have a measure of NHL potential.  The versatile 20-year-old can play either at center or on the wing and brings a lot of energy into the forecheck as well as a good deal of responsibility into the backcheck, too.  Fazleev was an integral part of the Russia squad which accepted the silver medal after losing in overtime to Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki last winter.
.
So that would be a baker’s dozen of forwards for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms right there — Conner, Miele, Carey, Zengerle, Weal, Leier, Straka, Knight, Martel, McDonald, Bardreau, Kubel, Fazleev
.
And that is the exact number of forwards – thirteen – that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms listed on their official AHL roster at the start of last season.  Now, many in the Mecca Of Minor League Sports might be wont to say, “But wait, where is good ole’ ‘One-Punch’ Goulbourne?!”  But spectators at the PPL Center who enjoy pugilistic should not panic just yet.
.
It is important to remember that there are no rules regarding the total number of players on the roster or any “salary cap” considerations to be found in the American Hockey League, although there are restrictions regarding the use of “Veteran” and “Veteran Exempt” players.  There will be several players who will be battling tooth and nail to claim an AHL roster spot with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this fall.  And that is partly why it will be important to attend both of the Phantoms’ exhibition games against the Charlotte Checkers next weekend.
.
Tyrell Goulbourne (6’0″ 200 lbs) skated in 73 AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and demonstrated an ability to do more than absolutely demolish former Phantoms enforcer and PPL Center fan favorite Zack Sortini but the 22-year-old left wing who was the 3rd round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2013 NHL Draft might need to improve his offensive proficiency immediately during training camp or be sent to the ECHL’s Reading Royals.
.
Chris McCarthy (6’1″ 195 lbs) appeared in 54 AHL games for the Hartford Wolf Pack last season and established himself as a solid checking line player in his second full season as a professional coming out of the University of Vermont.  But, the 25-year-old native of Collegesville, Pennsylvania, might also need to make some kind of statement during the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ pre-season games at the PPL Center.
.
Kevin Sundher (6’0″ 177 lbs) impressed last November during an all too short ten-game AHL stint (3 go, 5 pts, – 2 def) for the Lehigh Valley last season but then suffered a lower body injury and missed the Phantoms’ next 41 games. The speedy 24-year-old native of British Columbia with 139 career AHL appearances (14 go, 29 as, 43 pts) will most likely start this 2016/17 campaign with Reading in the ECHL.  But Sundher, who ended the ten-round shootout versus the intra-state rival Hershey Bears on his AHL debut for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last year, certainly adds to organizational depth.
.
Steven Swavely (6’1″ 190 lbs), the 24-year-old rookie right wing who scored three goals in 15 AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last spring after leaving the University of Maine, will probably be skating for his hometown Royals if only to gain more ice time as well as experience.

 



Categories: Phantoms Hockey

Tags:

4 replies

  1. Excellent stuff, d.E.

    With not only the road trip to think of, but also the 3-game suspension of F Brayden Schenn to start the season, I do think you’ll see 14 forwards or more? Clicking back to defense, with the availability of Radko Gudas in question, and now with the injury to Mark Alt (reported: separated shoulder. He was injured when falling awkwardly in the fight at the PPL Center Flyers’ exhibition Wednesday night.) the depth will be tested immediately.

    As I’ve said before, though, you certainly can’t fault the Flyers organization for being cheap: They’ve spent some serious coin on this Phantoms roster the past couple seasons–even if we do have zero playoff appearances to show for it. Depth was our critique–but they’ve done a good job trying to ameliorate that as well. “We need guys who can put the puck in the net” –yeah, looks like we got that too.

    So there’s legitimate reason to be optimistic this season that we could qualify for the Calder tournament as one of 4-out-of-7 from our division. But what can we do with it? –One thing at a time, I suppose.

    The latest thing to worry about, if you’re up to that kind of thing, is waivers. As d.E. mentioned above, the center Weal is a candidate to get snatched–just as we lost Porter last season. There may be a couple others as well–VandeVelde if he gets sent down. There are some who are wringing their hands on Twitter about that risk–as well as some who point out that such claims are rare. It’s something to watch, anyway, and the way to do it is probably to send all of them through waivers at the same time every other team is doing the same–not waiting to do it after the road trip. But, we’ll see I guess.

    One other roster point: since d.E. started this series, not only is top-prospect d-man Provorov making a push for an NHL roster spot (he’s too young for AHL), so is forward Konecny and fellow young blue-liner Myers. Should either of them make the big club, it will push someone else down. The only downside for Phantoms fans would be that we wouldn’t have the possibility of a late-season ‘ATO’ to help with the playoff push, once their Major Juniors commitments have concluded. I know Hextall doesn’t like that 9-game trial deal, but that might be a way: Keep Konecny through that trip to extend his try-out and maintain depth for the Flyers, then make the decision afterwards.

  2. Kleg15@yahoo.com 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  3. Totally forgot about Schenn’s three-game suspension for charging Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshee in the playoffs last season. But that still does not change my thinking in terms of the Flyers keeping the same fourteen players. I think the Flyers will just go into the first three games with the attitude of “Fine, we have thirteen not fourteen forwards on the roster to choose the line-up from but it’s a very short-term thing.”

    I’ll have a piece discussing the “waivers” process and point out the reasons why a team would NOT want to claim a player like Weal – or any other player – soon enough but I will say right now that the people who say waiver claims are rare would be correct.

    Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that Konecny could potentially play in the AHL later this season if the circumstances are right … As an 18-year-old during the 2012/13 season, Scott Laughton skated in five NHL games for the Philadelphia Flyers before being sent back to juniors. After the Oshawa Generals were eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs, Laughton then joined the Adirondack Phantoms and skated in six AHL games … An underage player in Canadian junior hockey can skate in the AHL once their junior team’s season including playoffs is complete – this is the rule, again, I’m fairly certain.

Trackbacks

  1. Phantoms Forwards: Weal Clears Waivers, Not On Way To Lehigh Valley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: