Pandemic Hockey Is Exposing the Flyers Prospect Pool

Flyers' Morgan Frost
Flyers’ Morgan Frost skates during warm-ups. (Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)

Sports are weird. Each year, some teams overachieve and underachieve. Under normal circumstances, there is a constant quirk where any team can win on any given night. The spirit of competition means opponents unleash their best available lineup to win.

Injuries are a part of sports. The context here omits injuries. Those are different than an asymptomatic player who must quarantine because of a positive test result. Of the Philadelphia Flyers in COVID protocol, all mentioned they felt fine. Carter Hart was the most outspoken:

“Guys are testing positive with no symptoms or mild symptoms. I mean, the league’s got to find a way to change that. We’re either going to keep playing shorthanded all season long or games are going to keep getting postponed. It’s a joke. It’s got to change.”

Carter Hart; 1/5/2022

Last season, the Flyers had a miserable March. At Lake Tahoe, positive tests ravaged the team. Currently, it feels like Philadelphia is in a state of deja vu.

Pandemic hockey has provided AHL players an opportunity. Recalled players are relied on at a higher frequency than ever to contribute.

This era highlights and exposes the depth of each team, segregating the actual best prospect pools from the ones treading water in the deep end.

Positive Flyers

In less than a month, fourteen Philadelphia Flyers players tested positive.

At least three of the players were open about their stint with COVID. Overall, symptoms were non-existent or mild:

“To be honest, I thought I was actually gonna’ feel worse in the practice there, but I felt pretty good. Just tried to stay in shape as much as I could. Obviously, it’s a weird time to have that long-off. But I feel good.”

Morgan Frost; 12/28/2021

“My COVID battle wasn’t too bad. I know it’s a serious thing, obviously, but I had no symptoms at all.”

Kevin Hayes; 12/28/21

Fortunately for the Flyers, these players only have to miss five days when they test positive. According to the newest guidelines agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA, fully vaccinated players, staff, and coaches who meet required conditions are eligible for a return after that period. Players are rightfully frustrated still, sacrificing ice-time (and sometimes a consecutive game streak) due to a non-hockey-related circumstance.

These guidelines are in place for the overall protection of the public, players, staff, etc. No one is losing sight of the level of danger the pandemic presents. In any case, these are athletes who have their livelihood interrupted, most of whom take necessary precautions. Mike Yeo acknowledged that no one who tested positive on the west-coast road trip showed symptoms. As franchises work within CDC guidelines to mitigate the spreading, the lines blur for players in NHL limbo from the AHL.

A Generously Ranked Prospect Pool

Heading into 2021-2022, the Philadelphia Flyers had the 17th ranked prospect pool, according to Corey Pronman of The Athletic. Pandemic hockey is more like a war of attrition. Everyone is getting a long look at the prospects and the trajectory of their development across the league.

Prospects have responded to Mike Yeo. Most recently, Cam York received critical acclaim from the Flyers head coach:

“If there’s one thing for me as a coach, or fans to feel good about, it was the play of Cam York. I thought he was outstanding tonight. We didn’t try to shelter him, let’s put it that way.”

Mike Yeo; 1/5/2022

He joins Morgan Frost, Jackson Cates, Max Willman, and Felix Sandstrom, who all made an impression this season.

Tonight, Connor Bunnaman makes his debut for Yeo. Yegor Zamula inserts into the lineup. No one is starting with training wheels. These are the realities of a distorted state of sports.

Currently, Philadelphia is the 21st ranked team in the NHL. This season has observed a higher turnover rate of recalled AHL players than last. Pronman, regardless of Ron Hextall or Fletcher, identified the Flyers with a top-ten prospect pool previously (with the exception of 2018-2019.) Each year, that ranking falls, depreciating the preseason hopes. A more accurate assumption of the prospect pool, based on the contribution from the AHL recalls this season, places Philadelphia towards the bottom third of the NHL.

(Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)