Phantoms: A Difference In Organizational Depth & Player Development

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins winger Jean Sebastian Dea (# 9), the undrafted 23-year-old forward who spent a little time with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers during his rookie professional campaign a couple of seasons ago, transforms into a legitimate AHL All-Star when skating opposite the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Dea has scored nine goals while adding six assists for 15 points in 23 career AHL contests for the Baby Pens against the Hamilton Street Heroes. The good news for Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon this week, though, is that Dea usually does most of his damage on his travels to Allentown, as is evidenced by the fact that seven of his career lamp-lighters versus the Phantoms have come at the perhaps too accommodating PPL Center ..... (photo courtesy Tom Venesky / Times Leader)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins winger Jean Sebastian Dea (# 9), the undrafted 23-year-old forward who spent a little time with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers during his rookie professional campaign a couple of seasons ago, transforms into a legitimate AHL All-Star when skating opposite the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Dea has scored nine goals while adding six assists for 15 points in 23 career AHL contests for the Baby Pens against the Hamilton Street Heroes. The good news for Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon this week, though, is that Dea usually does most of his damage on his travels to Allentown, as is evidenced by the fact that seven of his career lamp-lighters versus the Phantoms have come at the perhaps too accommodating PPL Center ….. (photo courtesy Tom Venesky / Times Leader)

der Eishockeyzuschauer

Hockey Analyst

ALLENTOWN, Pa

Although the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have made great strides towards improving their own particular situation this season, the simple fact is that the intra-state rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have always enjoyed much greater “organizational depth” as compared to that of their fellow Commonwealth of Pennsylvania counterparts located roughly one hour to the south, as was once again on full parade for all to see during always exciting American Hockey League action this past Saturday night.

The Hamilton Street Heroes, who were without leading scorer Jordan Weal (just recalled to the NHL by the Philadelphia Flyers) as well as the influential pair of Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier (both injured), had the ‘benefit’ of two players recently summoned from the ECHL’s Reading Royals ready and in uniform at the PPL Center in Allentown on Saturday evening.  But neither Chris McCarthy nor Steven Swavely could muster a point during the Phantoms’ immensely disappointing 4-3 loss to a clearly inferior St. John’s Canadiens outift.  Meanwhile, some sixty miles away to the north, the machine-like Baby Pens were busy beating the pedestrian Binghamton Senators 4-2, thanks in part to a pair of goals from winger Sahir Gill, the fourth-year pro from Boston University who spent most or all of the last three seasons with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers before finally making the AHL grade for good this season, as well as an assist from center Jarrett Burton, the third-year pro from Clarkson University who was only just recalled from Wheeling earlier in the day.
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Anyone looking for reasons why powerhouse WBS are the strongest club in the entire 30-team American Hockey League would do well to start by analyzing the organizational depth of their National Hockey League parent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, immediately.
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That WBS would receive offensive production from players either graduated or promoted from their de facto academy in Wheeling is certainly nothing that would qualify as “breaking news” around here.  After being promoted from the Nailers last season, Gill contributed five goals and 14 points to the Baby Pens’ offensive attack despite skating in only 21 AHL games before getting injured.  Now compare and contrast those very respectable totals with the one goal and three points that Joe Rehkamp delivered to Lehigh Valley in 41 AHL games last term after his recall from Reading.
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Now, truth be told, Burton still only has a grand total of one goal and two points in 14 AHL games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season … but Swavely, the 25-year-old rookie from the University of Maine who scored three goals in fifteen AHL contests for Lehigh Valley last spring, still shows zeroes across the board after his 11 AHL appearances for Lehigh Valley on this 2016/17 campaign.
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It is very interesting to compare and contrast the rosters of the NHL’s two Pennsylvanian teams in terms of homegrown player development. Just focusing on the two groups of forwards, veteran observers can easily see that this season the Pittsburgh Penguins now feature no fewer than four regulars — Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson and defensive specialist Tom Kuehnhackl — who all began last season skating for the Baby Pens and collectively have a career total of 397 AHL games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton between them.  After gaining promotion at separate points during the 2015/16 campaign, the WBS trio of Sheary, Rust and Kuehnhackl all established themselves as night in and night out performers for the Pittsburgh team that claimed the Stanley Cup title last spring.
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This term, the former Baby Pens foursome of Sheary, Rust, Wilson and Kuehnhackl have collectively contributed 37 goals and 79 points to the Penguins’ prolific NHL attack. Particularly worthy of individual praise has to be Sheary, the undersized 24-year-old free agent signing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has totaled 17 goals and 35 points in 42 NHL games for Pittsburgh this season. It should also be noted that Kuehnhackl, who scored a late game-winning goal against Latvia that qualified Germany for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games earlier this season, is a guy who was skating for the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL’s Kelly Cup playoffs only three years ago.
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Incidentally, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Carter Rowney is the latest to make the mountainous climb all the way up from the third tier ECHL to the vaunted NHL. The undrafted 27-year-old center from the University of North Dakota spent the majority of his rookie 2013/14 campaign with Wheeling but was promoted to WBS well before the Calder Cup playoffs that season and has never really looked back. Rowney only has one one assist in his first six NHL games for Pittsburgh and will likely be sent back to the Baby Pens as soon as others recover from injury but the question still remains begging to be asked : exactly how many useful players have the Philadelphia Flyers organization graduated from the ECHL’s Reading Royals in very recent seasons?
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In fact, as far as the Flyers are concerned, there really is only one forward on the NHL roster this season whom the Philadelphia front office can truly say was ‘developed’ with the Phantoms farm club in the American Hockey League as of late.  And rookie winger/center Nick Cousins’ numbers of five goals, thirteen points and a – 5 defensive rating in 47 NHL games this term just are not all that fabulous to be quite frank.  It does remain to be seen what the recently recalled Weal will bring to the Flyers’ offensive table … but the overall point regarding quality coming up from the lower levels is still the same.
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As the recently inconsistent Lehigh Valley Phantoms prepare to clash with the mighty Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins up north at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Tuesday in what some here in the Mecca Of Minor League Sports are already calling the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, it is important to remember that no one in the “Results Don’t Really Matter” crowd was physically harmed during the production of this analytical piece.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

2 replies

  1. These are excellent points, and something we’ve been talking about since the Phantoms moved to the “mecca” and became our AHL home team.

    As a Flyers observer and not as a fan, I’ve been watching the development plan of the Hextall regime closely. While I do not think Hextall is perfect–you can have the right plan but make mistakes in execution–I do think he’s on the right track. I also think that organization did a fine job finding and paying free agent players to come play for us at the world’s most expensive minor league hockey arena. That, coupled with the prospects we now have, and we are one of the better teams this season. It hasn’t worked its way up to the Flyers, though–not yet. What’s the phrase they keep using, “trust the process?”

    But some of this is going to take some time. Players drafted at a young age will need to fulfill their Juniors requirements or decide whether to make the jump from overseas. As those players fill in at the AHL level, then some will have to wait in the wings in Reading. They’re putting a decent product on the ice down there–competitive in the ECHL–but perhaps not quite ready to send contributing players to the AHL just yet. McCarthy, Swavely, Goulbourne, Pettersson, Luukko–these guys have played a little in the American League and hopefully will contribute something if called upon. In addition to the draft, they’ve got to keep scouring the college ranks for free agents, as well (see also: Lyon, Alex.)

    We’re still new to this whole “depth” thing after years of mismanagement and neglect from the parent organization. As long as we have a competitive product and a plan, I’ll be patient. I’m also not just ready to concede tonight’s game just yet. I’ve seen this show before, as well. A patch-work roster after a somewhat bad loss faces adversity on the road and comes through on a night other than Saturday. I can see it happening. I mean, I’m not driving up there on a Tuesday, but I can see it.

    Or, we could get beat 7-1 again. Either way.

  2. Like everything else associated with the Broad Street Bullies, general manager Ron Hextall is way overhyped and overvalued. His cult of personality and “trust the process” mantra doesn’t fool me one bit though. Hextall’s transfer policy at the NHL level this season has been a massive failure on the whole, even if I’m the only person with the guts to say it out loud. Goubourne is going backwards, Pettersson has proved he can’t hold down a regular place at the AHL level and the nepotism draft pick Luukko is well on his way to showing that he is worthless in the AHL, as well … Lyon is good and all — but he is not the dominant player at the AHL level that Sheary was and might never be, either.

    Oh yeah, let’s see how hard the Philadelphia Flyers organ-i-zation try to recruit “high end minor league free agents” this coming summer. It has been suggested the ONLY reason that the organ-i-zation got the Hamilton Street Heroes quality players for this current season was because of the 2017 AHL All-Star Game coming to the PPL Center. Truth be told, I’m not sure how far-fetched that concept really is, if at all.

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