It’s no secret by now that the Flyers have one of, if not the deepest pools of prospects in the league. Whether that can translate to the NHL level remains to be seen.
Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has been adamant about taking his time in developing these young potential stars, but fans are growing more impatient by the day. With prospects like Morgan Frost dominating the Ontario Hockey League, and Carter Hart saving more than Jesus in the Western Hockey League, fans believe it’s time for Hextall to pull the trigger on an all-out youth movement for the Flyers.
With Carter Hart on his way to the pros, and Morgan Frost likely to spend another year down in the OHL, Hextall still isn’t limited with options on who to bring up to the big leagues. The Phantoms are ripe for the picking, so to say, with plenty of athletes looking more and more ready as time goes by. Let’s take a look at some of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms who could potentially find themselves in a Flyers sweater at some point next season, and the scenarios in which it could come to fruition.
Last year, there were a plethora of call ups who, more than likely, will find themselves plugging into the Flyers lineup on a more regular basis next season. With the announcement that the team will not re-sign defenseman Brandon Manning, that opens the door for Travis Sanheim to become a more permanent fixture on the Flyers’ blue line. Sanheim struggled a bit in his first stint with the Flyers, and ended up being sent back down to the Phantoms. After spending roughly a month and a half with the Flyers minor league club, and refining his game to the tune of almost a point-per-game pace, Hextall decided to give him another shot in the bigs, and he hit the ice skating. Next season, Sanheim figures to factor into the defense in a more permanent role.
Oskar Lindblom was a late season call up this past season as well, and showed his worth right off the bat. Lindblom was winning battles along the boards, skating with a purpose every game. His reward finally came in the form of his first NHL goal March 22nd against the New York Rangers, his eighth professional hockey game. He scored two games later against the Washington Capitals, and was held goalless for the rest of the season. With the taste of NHL action still fresh on his lips, expect Lindblom to plug in next season on a more permanent basis as well.
The Conditional Call-Ups
Hextall will no doubt make a few moves before the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. One of those moves could send Michael Neuvirth packing, and would result in the call-up of playoff stud Alex Lyon. During his run to the AHL eastern conference finals, Lyon posted stellar numbers (.944 save %, 1.98 GAA). Lyon got his taste of the NHL after Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth went down with injuries, and split time with Petr Mrazek, who figures to be the odd man out this offseason. Lyon’s play during his stint with the Flyers wasn’t mind-blowing by any sense of the term, but he did what he needed to do, and ended up with a 4-2-1 record at the pro level. If Michael Neuvirth finds himself being moved this offseason, Alex Lyon figures to slot in his place as Brian Elliott’s backup.
A hot topic currently in Flyers land is the thought of a trade, sending Wayne Simmonds packing for either a high draft pick, prospects, or both. If Wayne Simmonds does get called up, cue Nic Aube-Kubel. Sure, Aube-Kubel has had a few run-ins with the player safety department this year, but he fits the bill as a skilled winger who can bring to the table a style of play that the Flyers would welcome. Aube-Kubel is quick, right-handed winger who could add some scoring depth to a putrid bottom 6. With 46 points in 72 games, Aube-Kubel would be a welcome addition, if he can keep his edge in check.
Another trade candidate popular with many fans is Radko Gudas, although unlikely due to the thin nature of the current blue line, Gudas’ replacement could be an immediate upgrade. Samuel Morin was as close to a sure-thing the Flyers had to an AHL player ready to make the jump, but now that he is sidelined until mid to late winter, the timing could be right to bring up another hulking defenseman. Philippe Myers is the guy for the job. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches, and possessing the coveted right-handed shot that the Flyers have longed for on the blue line, Myers could pay dividends right out of the gate. His ability to kill penalties and clear the crease would be an absolute asset to the orange and black, and something they have needed since the days of Chris Pronger. Morin was supposed to be that guy, but with injuries hanging over him like a dark cloud, this could be Myers’ time to shine.
One last scenario sees Ron Hextall buying out the contract of former St. Louis Blues forward Jori Lehtera. Once again, many fans have been clamoring about getting rid of the perennial fourth liner, and if that comes to fruition, expect the Flyers to call up the reigning AHL most valuable player, Phil Varone. After signing with the Flyers last offseason, Varone posted a professional career high with 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists). He’s the type of guy that can come in and plug the hole the Flyers have on the fourth line, or even center the third line between the likes of Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, even Oskar Lindblom. Coming off of his first season with the Phantoms, and arguably the best of his career, Varone, much like Aube-Kubel, would be a welcome addition to a bottom six that just hasn’t been able to carry their weight.
The Injury Call-Ups, One Forward, One Defenseman, and One Goalie
Injuries are going to happen. That’s just how sports work. When a player goes down, another one steps up. If a forward were to go down early in the season, expect the Flyers to call up Danick Martel, much like they did this past season. Martel was on an absolute tear to start the year with Lehigh Valley. His first game with Phantoms this past season, he potted a hat trick against the Hershey Bears. From October 15th to November 8th, he scored 14 points in 10 games, with 10 goals and 4 assists. During the first two months of the season, Martel skated in 18 games, scoring 19 points with 14 of them being goals and 5 of those points being assists. That’s the kind of scoring punch the Flyers could use on their bottom two lines.
As for defense, if the Flyers don’t make a move in free agency or the draft, they could be a little thin moving forward towards the regular season. However, regardless of how thick or thin they are on the blue line, one name stands out as the prime option to call up if the injury bug strikes, already accounting for Philippe Myers being on the Flyers’ roster, and that’s TJ Brennan. Brennan returned home, and in his first season, he totaled 60 points for the Phantoms. This past season, that point total declined, but he proved that he is worth his weight in gold when it comes to veteran leadership. He’s the kind of guy that can hold the locker room together, the glue guy if you will (Sorry Brandon Manning). He’s the offensive forward that the Flyers brass drools over, and could be a great veteran addition to a young blue line. Brennan is the ideal candidate for a callup due to injury.
Goaltender is a bit trickier. On one hand, you have a potentially healthy Anthony Stolarz, who has proven he can more than hang at the NHL level. On the other hand, you have the netminding Messiah Carter Hart coming up from the Everett Silvertips, who promises to be one of the best goaltenders this team has ever seen. Hart is unproven when it comes to the pros, and Stolarz’ sample size isn’t big enough to warrant Hextall putting full trust in him going forward. Chances are that if one of the goalies goes down, it could be Hart’s time to shine. If Carter Hart comes in and blows the roof off of the Wells Fargo Center, don’t expect him to relinquish his starting duties. Hart has the opportunity to come into the NHL and win that starting job, even if he doesn’t immediately make the squad out of training camp. He will be given every opportunity to succeed, and that will more than likely include a stint or two up with the Flyers.
The Flyers have no shortage of in-house options when it comes to filling the holes on their current roster. With the departure of Brandon Manning, Valtteri Filppula (maybe), and the potential of a few more moves being made, the Phantoms have plenty of guys who are ripe for the picking, and could help the Flyers go from a fringe team, to the cream of the crop.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports