In hockey, it is common for casual fans to focus on flash and pizazz when assessing a player’s effectiveness. Goals and assists tend to be the only aspects of the game that demonstrate value. However, this is not true. Hockey, like many other sports, is a game of roles. Yes, you have the point-getters, increasing a team’s stat sheet and frequenting the highlight reel. At the same time, there are other members of a franchise whose contributions can rarely be pointed out on HockeyDB or NHL.com. Those athletes continuously hit the ice with unlimited amounts of heart, determined to earn their keep on the NHL roster. They get to the dirty areas, put their bodies on the line, and provide the organization’s top-tier players some extra seconds of rest. Those individuals typically occupy the fourth. That bottom forward line of the Philadelphia Flyers is becoming a perfect place for Phil Varone to contribute at the NHL level.
Phil Varone’s Journey
During his junior hockey days, Varone demonstrated signs of a point-producer. He registered 230 points in 228 games with various clubs. He put together his best season in 2010-11 with 34 goals and 48 assists.
The San Jose Sharks drafted Varone in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Unfortunately, the Sharks never gave the young forward an opportunity, deciding not to sign him to an entry-level contract. Eventually, Varone wound up settling for an American Hockey League contract with the Buffalo Sabres affiliate, the Rochester Americans. It did not take for the hockey world to start viewing the Vaughan, Ontario native as a career AHLer.
Of course, it is every player’s goal to lace their skates in the NHL. However, Varone made the most of his opportunities in the minors, becoming a valuable AHL player. The NHL opportunities appeared but were shortlived. Varone played the most NHL games in 2014-15, taking the ice in 28 contests for Buffalo.
Last season, playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Varone set the AHL on fire. He posted 23 goals and 47 assists and was awarded the Les Cunningham Award for the AHL’s Most Valuable Player. This season, Varone was up to his same tricks, recording 28 points in 22 games with Lehigh Valley.
Happy with Varone’s play, the Flyers called him up on December 7th. Once again, Varone received an opportunity to prove his worth in the NHL.
Career AHLer No More
In what has been a tumultuous year for the Flyers, Phil Varone has been a bright spot in Philadelphia. Unlike his role in Lehigh Valley, he is not relied upon to post up a large number of points. Instead, he is centering the fourth line and making them more reliable. Varone plays between six and ten minutes a night a gives it his all every second.
In regards to forward lines, the top-six is a team’s bread and butter. Those are the players you expect to put up the big numbers and drive the team to victory. With the third-line, the expectation is for a drop in offensive production. However, the members of that line still need to be counted on to contribute their fair share of offense. When discussing line-four, a lot of points aren’t necessary as long as you play aggressive yet smart hockey. You need to wear down the opposition while giving your best players rest.
Phil Varone fits perfectly in the role and can do so for the foreseeable future. It is great to see his experiencing success after working endlessly to stick in the NHL.
Mandatory Credit: Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports