Philadelphia Flyers

Future Flyers Report: How will NHL trade deadline affect Phantoms?

Future Flyers Report: How will NHL trade deadline affect Phantoms?

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we take a look at what impact Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline could have on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and their push toward a run at the 2017 Calder Cup.

State of the Phantoms
With Flyers general manager Ron Hextall declaring last Friday that he will not be a buyer Wednesday, it is safe to say the orange and black will be open to selling off pieces, which could have a direct impact on the Phantoms’ push toward a run at the Calder Cup.

Lehigh Valley (34-17-3) sits in third place in the Atlantic Division and East with 71 points. If the playoffs began today, the Phantoms would be the 3-seed in the Atlantic Division bracket and face the Providence Bruins, who would be the 2-seed, in the division semifinals round.

The Phantoms have 22 games left and barring a complete meltdown down the stretch, they appear set to make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 when they were still in Philadelphia. It would be their first postseason appearance in Lehigh Valley in their third season in there. They never made the playoffs in five years in Adirondack, New York.

Behind the turnaround
There is no shortage of kids that have played a factor in Lehigh Valley already reaching its win total from last season, but Hextall made it a point last summer to make the Phantoms competitive again. He wants the Flyers’ AHL affiliate to win because building a winning culture on the farm helps prospects develop in a positive environment. So far, so good.

The addition of AHL veterans T.J. Brennan, Greg Carey, Will O’Neil and Andy Miele have bolstered the Phantoms turn into one of the league’s top teams. Then there is Chris Conner and Colin McDonald, two vets who were there last season, fitting well into the equation.

Brennan leads AHL defensemen with 17 goals and 45 points and is eighth among all AHL players, while O'Neil has added 29 points to the blue line. Carey leads the Phantoms with 25 goals, Miele leads the way in the assist department with 34, while Conner (44) and McDonald (34) have combined for 78 points. Veterans are key in the turnaround.

The kids are all right … too
Make no mistake: veterans are not the only reasons behind the Phantoms' turnaround. Lehigh Valley is also benefitting from prospects growing and an influx of first-year pros. Sam Morin is coming along nicely. Robert Hagg has taken perhaps the biggest leap in his development in the organization. Anthony Stolarz is knocking on the NHL's door. Adding 22-year-old Scott Laughton -- and his 109 NHL games -- into the mix also doesn't hurt. Jordan Weal, who is currently with the Flyers, had a major impact, too, with the Phantoms.

The Phantoms also are receiving contributions from five AHL rookies, too. Forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Radel Fazleev have performed well in bottom-six roles. Defensemen Travis Sanheim and Reece Willcox, too, are contributing. And then there is goalie Alex Lyon, whose 21 wins is tied for third among qualified AHL goaltenders.

Sanheim has become more comfortable and more consistent in both the offensive and defensive zones with each game. He's third among Phantoms defensemen with 26 points, and second behind Brennan with eight goals. It wasn't a great week for him last week -- pointless in two games with a minus-4 rating -- but his addition to the blue line has helped.

Head coach Scott Gordon has done an excellent job splitting up the net with Stolarz and Lyon, though the latter has started more games because the former had a brief stint in the NHL. Lyon bet on himself with a one-year contract and the Yale product has proved he's a legitimate prospect with the potential of being a future NHL goalie.

Lyon has a .909 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average -- nothing spectacular, but respectable numbers for a first-year professional carrying the load, at times, in the AHL. He has struggled a bit over his last four games, with a 3.77 goals-against average and .858 save percentage during the span, but the overall product has been promising.

A combination of strong, young goaltending, prospects developing and adding five first-year pros have factored into the jump in Lehigh Valley, too. Next season, some of the kids are expected to make the jump to the NHL, but more youngblood will be added.

Deadline impact on Phantoms
Which brings us to what impact Wednesday's NHL trade deadline will have on the Phantoms' playoff push. It all depends on the route Hextall decides to go with the Flyers. The Flyers have four expiring contracts that could be attractive to contending teams. As we discussed Sunday, defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto and goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth all are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

Because of the expansion draft this summer, there is a belief in the hockey world that rentals will be in high demand at the trade deadline. Streit and Del Zotto don't figure much into the Flyers' future plans and just one of Mason or Neuvirth will return next season, if at all. There is both immediate and long-term incentive to trading at least two of the four.

For one, moving an expiring contract that doesn't factor into the Flyers' future plans makes sense in all realms of thought. While this year's draft class is not expected to be deep, getting a draft pick -- or multiple draft picks -- for a free-agent-to-be is just smart. The Flyers already have nine draft picks this year and potentially 10 depending on the conditions of the Petr Straka trade with the New Jersey Devils. More can only help.

Secondly, subtracting a body on the blue line or in net could open up a spot for a kid that's expected to be here next season to gain valuable NHL experience the rest of this season. Two Phantoms defensemen come to immediate mind: Hagg and Morin. With Stolarz's cup of coffee when Neuvirth was injured, there is no reason to believe he could not serve as a legitimate backup to either Mason or Neuvirth and get more NHL game experience, too.

We don't know what Hextall will do Wednesday, but there are a few scenarios that could impact the Phantoms and their playoff push. Because of AHL playoff eligibility rules, don't expect the Flyers to call up any Phantoms before the 3 p.m. deadline Wednesday. That doesn't mean, however, that what the Flyers do at the deadline will not have an impact on the Phantoms. Let's take a quick glimpse at some scenarios that could affect Lehigh Valley.

• Flyers trade either Streit or Del Zotto

• Flyers trade both Streit or Del Zotto

• Flyers trade one of Mason and Neuvirth without getting a goalie back

• Combination of trading Mason/Neuvirth and Streit and/or Del Zotto

Since the Flyers have eight defensemen, trading one blueliner does not necessarily mean Hextall will call up a prospect from Lehigh Valley. If the Flyers unload both Streit and Del Zotto without getting a D-man back, Hextall would likely bring up either Hagg or Morin because the Flyers like to carry at least one extra defenseman and would have an opening.

Trading Mason or Neuvirth without seeing a goalie under contract for next season back would have a direct impact on the Phantoms because it would mean Stolarz would be called up to the Flyers to serve as the backup. The Flyers currently do not have a goalie to expose for the expansion draft with both Mason and Neuvirth not under contract beyond this season, which makes trading one of them a little more complicated. If Hextall were to trade one, it would be a safe bet to see a goalie come back whom they could expose.

With all that in mind, there is a realistic chance the Phantoms could see one of their defensemen make the jump to the NHL. If that were to happen, Willcox would be the big winner in Lehigh Valley. Willcox is often the odd man out with the Phantoms, so he would receive more playing time if the Flyers were to call up a defenseman. If a goalie goes and the Flyers call up Stolarz, it would mean the Phantoms' net belongs solely to Lyon. Whatever happens Wednesday in the NHL also will have an effect in the AHL, too.

Quick hits
• The Phantoms are going outdoors next season for the second time. Lehigh Valley will face the Hershey Bears at Hersheypark Stadium on Jan. 20, 2018, in the 2018 Outdoor Classic.

German Rubtsov returned to Chicoutimi's lineup after missing a few games injured. He picked up an assist in two games last week. He now has 19 points in 13 QMJHL games.

Pascal Laberge added a goal and an assist last week for Victoriaville. He has four points in his last three games, and seven points in his last seven games.

• Everett's Carter Hart stopped 86 of 91 shots he saw last week in two starts for the Silvertips. On Sunday, he was pulled after letting in three goals on 12 shots in a 6-1 loss to Seattle.

Anthony Salinitri added two goals and an assist in four games last week for Sarnia.

• A goal and two assists for Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa last week.

Felix Sandstrom had a bounce-back week for Brynäs IF, starting two games and appearing in three. Sandstrom allowed three goals on 45 shots.

• Two more goals and two more assists for Brynäs' Oskar Lindblom last week.

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — The last time Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott started a game, things ended quickly and didn’t end well.

Starting for the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round series last April against the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott gave up one soft goal on three shots and was pulled 5:38 into a 3-1 series-ending loss.

It was only preseason, but Elliott made a Flyers debut that helped him forget that lackluster performance and get off to a fresh start with his new team Thursday.

Elliott stopped all 18 shots he faced during his two periods on the ice in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (see observations).

“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “Just trying to see pucks and basically get acclimated in a game situation. We haven’t seen that in camp at all. So playing a game is fun, to get back in there, you forget how actually fun it is to play a game.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1 for more than just fun. They want him to combine with Michal Neuvirth to give them the type of successful goaltending tandem they’ve lacked for a while.

Elliott, in turn, wants to prove they were wise to move on from Steve Mason and bring him in. Elliott had some highlights during his season with the Flames, including an 11-game winning streak and a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over his last 21 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was a bust with an 0-3 record and .880 save percentage.

In addition to getting back into action, Elliott wanted to impress his new team.

“A little bit. You just want to play the same anyways, doesn’t matter what team you’re on or how long you’ve been with the guys,” he said. “But for sure when it’s your first time, you want to make a good impression. You only get one first impression, right. But it’s just a stepping stone, working towards that first game of the season here.”

The Flyers had several power plays early in the first period and Elliott wasn’t tested much until he gloved a shot from Bruins forward Anders Bjork on a 3-on-2 at 8:46.

After a television timeout, the Bruins put more pressure on the Flyers and Elliott remained sharp. He blocked away a point shot from Brandon Carlo and then gloved Bjork’s attempt on the rebound from the slot at 9:18.

Elliott made 10 saves in the first period.

During a power play early in the second period, Elliott had to be at his best as the Bruins kept the puck in the attacking zone for the first 90 seconds. Elliott made five saves during the penalty kill, including two difficult ones on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron from around the slot.

The Flyers' attack picked up the pace in the second half of the second period and took some of the heat off Elliott. He had earned the respite and then coach Dave Hakstol switched to Alex Lyon to start the third.

Hakstol has seen Elliott live up to the Flyers’ expectations so far in camp and in his preseason debut.

“I think he got in early and I just think I’ve seen every day at camp him kind of building his game,” Hakstol said. "I don’t think he tried to come in with a finished product on Day 1. I think he kind of started on the ground floor of building his game, obviously, after a good summer. And every day he seemed to ... kind of build his game. His last couple of days of practices have been really good, really clean and he carried that into the game tonight. So it’s a good start for him. It’s nice to see that.”

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

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BOSTON — It's still early in preseason, so the Flyers have a lot of time to iron out their power-play problems.

And they have a lot of problems.

Even with their most veteran-laden lineup of the preseason on the ice against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Flyers went 0 for 9 on the power play and lost, 2-1, in overtime at TD Garden.

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch had most of the Flyers’ weapons but the man-advantage didn’t score, didn’t threaten and did little to build momentum.

Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim scored a 4-on-4 goal at 4:57 of the third period to make it 1-0. The Bruins answered at 6:39 with a goal by defenseman Paul Postma to tie it 1-1. Kenny Agostino scored the game-winner 3:20 into overtime, as the Flyers fell to 1-1-2 in preseason action.

On to the observations:

• The loss and the power-play struggles aside, the Flyers avoided one potential nightmare. Second-year forward Travis Konecny had to leave the game after just 18 seconds of first-period play. But he returned to action later in the period.

Konecny was hit late and high at the red line away from the puck by Bruins rookie forward Jesse Gabrielle just before the whistle came 18 seconds into the game. Konecny returned with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first period.

Konecny looked himself when he nearly scored in the final minute of the first period, but his redirection of a Sanheim pass on a 3-on-2 went wide of the Boston net.

Gabrielle, trying to make the Bruins as a bottom-six forward, should hear from the NHL department of player safety, although Konecny’s return might’ve gotten Gabrielle off the hook.

• Goaltender Brian Elliott made his Flyers preseason debut and made 18 saves on 18 shots through two periods before Alex Lyon replaced him at the start of the third (see story). Lyon made nine saves, including one on Anton Blidh on a 2-on-1 late in the third period and one on Zach Senyshyn on another 2-on-1 in overtime to preserve the 1-1 tie.

• Sanheim was strong at both ends throughout the game, getting active on offense even before the game. He made a big play to break up a 2-on-1 with a Flyers power play late in the second period. Sanheim could make it difficult for the Flyers to pick among their three rookies for two spots on defense. Of course if Brandon Manning isn’t ready to start the season, there could be three spots available.

• Despite practicing as a left winger on Tuesday, captain Claude Giroux made his preseason debut at center between Oskar Lindblom and Jakub Voracek.

Giroux looked himself throughout the night, both 5-on-5 and on special teams. Early in the second period he canceled out a Boston power play by drawing a holding penalty on Bruins defenseman Postma during a race to the puck in the Boston end. He was also in the box for Sanheim’s goal and just exiting the box when Postma scored for Boston.

Coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday morning he would like to test Giroux out on the wing during a game later in the preseason.

• Voracek made his preseason debut and had his skating legs early as he won a race with Bruins forward Blidh into the Boston zone and drew a slashing penalty with a drive to the net.

• The Flyers dodged a miscommunication in the first period shortly after the Gabrielle penalty expired. When Konecny’s linemates Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier jumped on the ice for their shift, no one jumped over the bench with them and the Flyers played with four skaters for about 10-12 seconds. The puck changed possession a couple times in safe areas of the ice. And one could say the strategy worked because during the next shift, Voracek drew a penalty.

• Flyers forward Colin McDonald nearly joined Konecny on the sidelines near the three-minute mark. Off a faceoff win, Andrew MacDonald’s slap shot hit his teammate. McDonald hobbled to the bench. The Flyers didn’t need any more friendly fire considering they were already without Konecny.

• Lindblom joined Giroux and Voracek on the Flyers’ first line and that carried over to the power play, where Lindblom was part of the first unit along with Giroux, Voracek, Ivan Provorov and Wayne Simmonds until late in the second period. After the Flyers' power play had gone 0 for 5, Hakstrol switched Lindblom with Valtteri Filppula and that seemed to jump-start the man advantage. The Flyers didn’t score but put more pressure on Tuukka Rask during their sixth power play.

• Thursday morning the Flyers reduced their roster by 18 players. Forwards Connor Bunnaman (Kitchener — OHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville — QMJHL), Ivan Kosorenkov (Victoriaville — QMJHL), German Rubtsov (Chicoutimi — QMJHL), and goaltender Carter Hart (Everett — WHL) were returned to their junior teams.

Then the Flyers assigned forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Tyrell Goulbourne, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev; defensemen James de Haas, Mark Friedman, Maxim Lamarche, Phil Myers, Reece Willcox; and goaltenders Leland Irving and John Muse to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley (more on moves here).

Here’s a look at how the Flyers lined up to start the game:

Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Taylor Leier-Valtteri Filppula-Colin McDonald

Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg