With three of the highest anticipated prospects starting the 2019-20 season in the AHL, fans thought for sure that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms had a stamped one-way ticket to the Calder Cup Finals. Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Philippe Myers are three guys that would lend a huge hand in pushing the team deep into the playoffs, but their time in the American league was short lived as Chuck Fletcher thought they were ready for the next step.
One of my favorite parts of shooting the AHL is you never know the team that will be there the next time you come back. You can try to guess, but the Flyers always zig when you think they’re going to zag. This season began with what seemed to be a rotating door connecting the Wells Fargo Center to the PPL Center. We saw plenty of new faces; while some were unexpected, we also got a good preview of the guys making up the Phantom’s roster. With three big names missing, who will take lead this team to the final?
No, you don’t have to re-read that. You read it correctly the first time. Captain(s). The Phantoms carry three captains who rotate the “C” every few games: Andy Andreoff, Cal O’Reilly, and Nate Prosser. All three players are new to the Flyers’ organization, but have NHL experience and were voted by their fellow teammates to lead the team. Andy Andreoff even played in six NHL games this season filling in for an injured Scott Laughton.
While the three captains may be strong leaders off the ice, Cal O’Reilly has been doing a fine job setting an example for his teammates in the game. The 33-year-old Center currently has 15 points (2G, 13A) in 21 games played. While O’Reilly is the leading scorer amongst captains, Andy Andreoff remains on similar pace with 7 points (3G, 4A) in 11 games. Both are big bodied veteran centremen that any winger should feel comfortable playing alongside in this league.
The Phantoms have seven players who have seen NHL time with the Flyers. These players are:
- Andy Andreoff (LW) – Six games
- Nicolas Aube-Kubel (RW) – Nine games (2018-19)
- Connor Bunnaman (F) – Four games
- Mark Friedman (D) – One game (2018-19)
- German Rubstov (F) – Three games
- Carsen Twarynski (F) – Fourteen games
- Mikhail Vorobyev (F) – Twenty-one games
For most of these players, the NHL time greatly impacted their confidence and made them better AHL assets. As the Phantoms make a push for the playoffs, this much NHL experience will prove to be crucial when the finish line is near.
There are a few different players that will not see NHL time this season, but still prove to be valuable members of the team. Not all of them contribute in terms of points, but all play an important role in every game.
Kurtis Gabriel is the player with a lot of heart and a lot of grit that everyone wants to have on their roster. He delivers big hits, supports his teammates, and never lets anyone feel like they’re out there alone. If I’m a Phantom, Kurtis Gabriel is the kind of guy I want playing next to me because a player that has your back the way he would should make anyone feel that much more comfortable on the ice.
What’s the nicest way possible to call Greg Carey “Ol’ Reliable?” Carey is one of my personal favorite players who leaves his heart out on the ice and plays each shift like it is his last. He’s a workhorse that is now plowing through his fourth season in Lehigh Valley. With 15 points (8G, 7A) in 20 games, Carey leads the team in goals and is tied with Cal O’Reilly as the overall points leader. Scoring over fifty points in each of his seasons with the Phantoms, Carey is on pace to meet that benchmark again and he proves to be an important player to this team.
Isaac Ratcliffe and Maxim Sushko are players that capture similar characteristics to Gabriel and Carey; they’re skilled and assertive. They help to find balance between point producing plays and momentum shifting plays. They’re important players to have when it comes to building a strong roster as they run with instinct, push the momentum, and apply good pressure. Both are intimidating to play against.
Everyone loves a veteran defenseman that makes his job look easy – that’s exactly what you get from TJ Brennan. Also in his fourth season with the team, fan favorite TJ Brennan is a guy that the team can depend on. He also averages fifty points a season and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon with 7 points (1G, 6A) on the season. He’s guilty of a sloppy turnover here and there, but he also makes those plays that leave spectators saying, “Thank god for TJ Brennan.”
A dark horse sitting on the Phantoms roster is another powerful defenseman, Andy Welinski. With 12 points (4G, 8A) in 14 games played, Welinski leads the game in point per game average and has proven himself to be one of the Phantoms’ more valuable pieces.
Any hockey fan will tell you, good goaltending wins championships. While he wasn’t the most popular at the NHL level, Alex Lyon has quite the following in Allentown and for good reason. He tracks the puck well. He’s a brick wall between the pipes. He keeps a confident presence behind the team playing before him. The fans roar when he leads his team onto the ice and that isn’t even a corny lion joke.
Speed Bump in the Road
The AHL is a developmental league. However, with the number of little boys that dream of playing hockey compared to the number of roster spots available in the NHL, not everyone gets called up for the big league. This creates AHL veterans.
The AHL has a rule that in each game, twelve skaters must have played in less than 260 professional games. This includes games played in the NHL, the AHL, or a European league. Therefore, only six players that are considered veterans may dress for each game which caused the Phantoms to implement a rotation amongst their older players.
This rotation affects players such as Andreoff, O’Reilly, Prosser, Carey, Brennan, Welinski, and several other players. Some of these players having to sit a game every now and then definitely throws a wrench in things.
Can they do it?
If it was easy, every team would win the championship every year. However, the Phantoms are in a good position where they can lose three top tier prospects and still be a threat to the Atlantic Division. A rocky start has them currently sitting in fifth place, but close standings have them only four points behind the second place spot. As the season continues, the Phantoms will prove to be a force to be reckoned with.
Confidence is key with a team like this. They will need to remain confident in each other to power through the remainder of the season. With plenty of players to be confident in, there’s no reason that this team doesn’t make a push for the cup.
The Phantoms are on the road against the Springfield Thunderbirds on Wednesday, December 4th before returning back to PPL Center to face a familiar foe, the Hershey Bears, on Friday, December 6th. Both puck drops are at 7:05pm.