“You’re going to miss a lot of baseball.”
Welcome To Year Six
The other day, someone in my office asked me what I thought of the Phantoms chances this season. I replied diplomatically. I mean, who knows for sure, right? First I said, “Don’t ever underestimate the ability of the Flyers to just mess everything up for us.”
“BUT!” I added. “There is the chance–however big or small–that we are an absolute juggernaut this season. It’s just not out of the question that we’re the best team in the league. I can’t guarantee it–and it could all go wrong 100 ways, but it’s at least not impossible.”
I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check. It was a professional setting. I’ve been overly-optimistic about rosters before (you can check some of those old IronPigs preseason posts for proof.) And, this was a couple weeks before the Phantoms roster was really taking shape. I mean, who knows about injuries and trades and all of that. Even last season, I thought we were in pretty good shape, but just the loss of Danick Martel to waivers seemed to cast an uneasiness on the whole situation–and that was way before the roster shuffling, coach stealing and other adversity that Philadelphia thrust upon us.
But then, I met a friend at one of the preseason games. His opening was the quote above, knowing how much I look forward to baseball every Spring. He told me not to make any plans for April or May–and maybe June. I wasn’t the only one. He has had many more seasons of AHL hockey observation under his belt, than I have. And, yet, he was seeing the same things I was. The talent level and roster construction this season are top notch. Who knows if it will all come together, but let me show you:
LW #10 Greg Carey (V)
LHD #43 TJ Brennan (V)
G #34 Alex Lyon
Discussion: Returning veterans are an important part of AHL team construction. These are the guys who know the coach, know the systems, know the organization, and also know the best place to get a burger and a beer after the game. Perhaps they’ve had time with the big club and perhaps not, but they’re back here because they want to be.
The “Hamilton Howitzer” Greg Carey returns to snipe power play goals, while TJ Brennan returns to move pucks out of the defensive zone. Alex Lyon is the #3 goalie for the Flyers and should lead the way for the Phantoms while he’s here. Perhaps you’d like a bigger group in this category–and there were a couple guys who partly fit here–but sometimes this is the way it goes. These are our guys and we’re happy to have them back.
RW #16 Nic Aube-Kubel
F/C #17 German Rubtsov
F/C #24 Misha Vorobyev
F #38 David Kaše
F/RW #49 Pascal Laberge
LHD #2 James de Haas
RHD #14 Mark Friedman
RHD #44 Reece Willcox
Discussion: These are experienced AHL players who are still trying to improve, and make it to the next level. They’re not ready yet–or there isn’t space–but the professional game won’t be too big for them. The size of this group is a good indication of the talent and depth of this roster. None of them are generational talents, or they would have made the Flyers. But they all have that thing: Potential.
NAK narrowly missed an NHL spot, and with the promise of “roster flow” from Philadelphia, he could be back up there very soon. He did pass through waivers, so we’ll need to monitor his status if/when he does go up. He just needs consistency and to stay healthy.
Ruby, Misha and Kaše all had uneven seasons for a variety of reasons last year. Injuries played a big part, and moving between rosters was a possible issue for Misha. They were all impressive, at times, and are looking to take the next step this season as far as consistency, strength on the puck, and contribution on the score sheet.
de Haas and Willcox could have perhaps been thrown into the “veteran” or “organizational” baskets. However, they have both flashed at times, and with some continued growth could contribute on the next level. I’m not ready to write them off just yet as prospects, and they’ll play an important part in experienced blue line depth this season.
Mark Friedman has the talent to be a puck-moving blue-liner on the next level, but also still needs that consistency and strength–not to mention opportunity–to move up. He knows what the AHL game is about, and I’m looking for big things from him this season. Perhaps he’ll kick down the door.
LHD #5 Tyler Wotherspoon (V)
LHD #27 Chris Bigras
RHD #39 Nate Prosser “C” (V)
G #35 Jean-François “JF” Bérubé
C #9 Cal O’Reilly “C” (V)
LW #12 Andy Andreoff “C” (V)
F #21 Gerry Fitzgerald
RW #29 Kurtis Gabriel (T)
C #51 Kyle Criscuolo
Discussion: These are the hired guns, brought in to form the structure of your team, where the returning veterans aren’t there. With some turnover this season, the Flyers have stocked our roster with some really interesting, top-level dudes who know what it’s like to play the AHL game, as well as some depth pieces. Sure, these guys want to get (back) to the NHL, but they’re also here to try to win some hardware if possible. Let’s get to know them:
Wotherspoon: A second round pick of Calgary back in 2011, Tyler spent last season with San Antonio. He’s a veteran, and has 30 games of NHL experience and 5 games of Calder Playoffs experience. He profiles as a strong, stay-at-home defender.
Bigras: A 2013 second round pick of the Avalanche, he has 46 games of NHL experience in Colorado, and spent the last two seasons with Hartford. He’s not a shooter, but he is a sharp passer in the offensive zone. His penalty minutes ticked up last season.
Prosser: Nate Prosser is a veteran of 354 NHL games, mostly with the Minnesota Wild. He comes over in the connection with the Flyers new management. He’s been named a captain, and should be a rock-solid stay-at-home defender and co-captain for the Phantoms this season.
Bérubé: The 28-year-old net-minder was a 4th round pick of the LA Kings, and has 34 games of NHL experience, most recently with Chicago. He was with Cleveland all of last season as one of their main puck tamers, compiling a 3.01 GAA.
O’Reilly: Cal was one of the top available forwards on the AHL free agent market this past off-season. He’s been a pretty consistent point-per-game scorer on the AHL level since 2006, with 145 games of NHL experience and season in the KHL along the way. He also has 88 games of Calder Cup Playoffs experience, including 11 games last season with the Iowa Wild. He was an automatic to be a Captain this season and should be a top-line center all year.
Andreoff: A former 3rd round pick of the Kings, Andreoff has 159 games of NHL experience. He spent all of last season with Syracuse where he tallied 26 goals and 29 assists (55 pts) in 75 games. He’s a veteran, and has also been named a captain. His penalty minutes suggest that he can be a little feisty.
Fitzgerald: The 5’8″ forward spent the last two seasons with the Iowa Wild in a supporting role. He’ll look to perhaps get more involved this season. He’s 26 out of Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
Gabriel: I said to somebody at one of the preseason games, that I thought Gabriel has a little “Stortini” in him. And, indeed, earlier in his career he could really rack up the PIMs. But he’s had 38 games of NHL time over the last four years and seems to have toned things down a bit. He profiles as a physical presence as a 6’4″ RW. He’s the “tweener” when it comes to veteran status.
Criscuolo: The Harvard product logged time with Grand Rapids and Rochester the past four years. He’s a 5’8″ center-man who can put the puck in the net on occasion. He got his feet wet in the NHL two years ago in Buffalo.
#8 LW Matthew Strome
#15 RW Maksim Sushko
#19 LW Isaac Ratcliffe
#23 C Morgan Frost
#32 G Felix Sandström
Discussion: This is where things get fun. A couple of these guys have been around for a game or two before, but this time it’s for real. Frost is a first-round pick and a two-points per game player in Junior. Ratcliffe is a big-body winger who was a second-round pick and can do it all. Sandstrom may end up in Reading for a bit to get more ice time, but has impressed in his brief debut opportunities in the AHL. Sushko and Strome will have every chance to contribute, just like Twarynksi and Bunnaman did last season.
Discussion: There are certainly players among the returning prospects, prospects and newly-signed veterans who could qualify here. Guys who have little chance of ever playing in the NHL but are here to support our AHL side. I’m not ready to put any names on this list at this juncture. I’m also not going to list Reading players, but they have some of our AHL contracts on their roster, as well as goalie prospect Kirill Ustimenko. More on Reading in an upcoming post.
Those not listed
D Phil Meyers
F Joel Farabee
D Andy Welinski
F Carsen Twarynski
F Connor Bunnaman
Discussion: While there are players listed in the previous groups who will be in Philadelphia–some perhaps sooner than later–we should also have some talented returns. Welinski is additional veteran depth on the blue line. He split last season between Anaheim and San Diego, and will contribute on the score sheet in the AHL. He has a right-hand shot. He’ll need to pass through waivers once healthy–until then he’s on the Flyers. We’re told it could be soon.
Our old friends Twarynski and Bunnaman played their way onto the Flyers opening squad which won versus Chicago yesterday in Prague. I haven’t watched a bunch of Flyers practices or preseason, but it’s good to hear that they’ve been playing well enough to make the big team. Should they return to the AHL at some point, they should be able to contribute even more than last season.
Meyers is an NHL defenceman in my opinion. He’s probably better than Hagg and Morin right now. He’s on his way back here because he was the only one who didn’t need waivers, and the Flyers are cap-strapped waiting for Welinski to get healthy. He’ll make mistakes, but he’ll also make special plays. If he keeps his head on straight and plays like he can, he’ll be back in the National League very soon.
Farabee is another top-prospect, first round pick. He’s 19, coming to us from the NCAA. He’s a blue-chip talent and along with potential line-mates Frost and Ratcliffe, might not be here long. We should enjoy watching him while we can!
Charlotte had 51 wins and 110 points last season. The Phantoms best season in Lehigh Valley was 2017-18 when we won the division and had 47 wins and 105 points. This team has the talent to surpass both of those. Can Coach Gordon orchestrate it? Will the Flyers leave us alone long enough to stitch winning streaks together? Will guys stay healthy and perform? Will we get off to a good enough start to get on that pace, or will guys still be learning the “system?” Who knows, but I’m not the only one who’s excited about this roster–others who’ve watched way more hockey than I have, have come to the same conclusion. Perhaps I’m the only one to write it?
Who knows? The future is unwritten. But the potential is there, and it should be fun to watch either way. Enjoy the ride.
Put me down for 111 points and a first-place finish if you want to nail me down.
HOCKEY NIGHT 6.0
It’s a 7:05PM event time and 6:00PM doors. Leave a little extra time for traffic and parking changes downtown, if you haven’t been to the preseason games. This game hasn’t gone SRO yet, but it might–grab tickets now if you need them. There will be a rally towel giveaway at the gates.
Providence has a good roster but will be missing a couple players due to injury tonight.
Check out the Allentown Market on the Arts Walk as a new place to grab a bite before the game. Wherever you go, go a little early because we’ve all been craving our favorite downtown haunts all off-season.
Referee Michael Markovic (#47)
Referee Brandon Schrader (#46)
Linesman Tom George (#61)
Linesman Jud Ritter (#34)
Five (or more) Things To Watch
- I’m always watching the goalie first. Lyon is on the trip to Prague as the third goalie and likely will not be back in time for tonight, so I expect Bérubé.
- Frost Warning! I’m hoping Frost is healthy enough to play tonight. Will he be on the same line with Ratcliffe? I know Farabee and Myers were travelling with the Flyers, so I don’t expect to see them tonight.
- Kaše. I wrote that he was “nicked up” prior to one of the home preseason games, because I didn’t know anything better. When asked by the media, Coach Gordon wouldn’t specify his injury status or his timetable for return other than to say he’s “nicked up.” Does this mean the coach reads my blog? 😉 Will Kaše return tonight?
- Veterans. Without Welinski we don’t have a “veteran problem” right now, I don’t think. However, watch to see if any of the vets get the night off–guys marked with (V) above.
- Ops. I think the game-ops staff do a wonderful job with hype-videos and intros and the like. I’ll be watching for new videos, meLVin antics, Ben, and all that stuff tonight. I know, I’m there for the hockey as much as you are. But the show is fun the first time, and it usually gets me pumped up. I appreciate the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into putting on the “show.”
The Phantoms will be off until next weekend when we get two more home games: Friday versus Wilkes-Barre and Saturday versus Hershey. In fact, the Phantoms will play their first five games at home before leaving for Charlotte the last weekend in October.
See you at the arena,
Let’s Go Phantoms!
Featured image by Jack Mitroka.