Flyers prospects buying into Ron Hextall's patience

Flyers prospects buying into Ron Hextall's patience

When Sam Morin and Robert Hagg returned from their respective NHL debuts with the Flyers, Phantoms coach Scott Gordon sensed something different right away, and it had nothing to do with their performance on the ice.

"The smiles were bigger," Gordon said Wednesday. "There's no questions about that. It's just one game but until you actually play that first game, I think as a player, you're waiting and you're hoping, and what if it doesn't happen? And when you get that first game, it's a load off your shoulders. I'm sure they were walking a little bit lighter."

For both guys, it was like a sample you receive walking through Costco. Next season, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will likely have both defensemen buying in bulk as they take on a bigger load after Hextall said last week the team will go younger as they replace free agents Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz (see story)

But the timeline would test any young player's patience.

"Yeah, that's [Hextall's] philosophy and I agree with it 100 percent," Hagg said. "You need to be good down here (AHL) in order to have a chance at the NHL. You need to relax and realize you have young players down here and take our time to develop. When we're ready, we'll get a shot."

No other Flyers defensive prospect has as much AHL experience as the 22-year-old Hagg, who has logged 192 games. 

"You look at a guy like Robert, who's been here for three years -- it would be very easy to say, 'Jesus, it's just not going to happen here,'" Gordon said. "But he needed every bit of those three years to get to where he is now, and he's probably the most consistent defenseman out of our group. He doesn't have the amazing numbers offensively, but what he does in our defensive zone, on our penalty kill, how he gets up into the play, how he's improved his puck skills -- it's been a process."

Twenty-eight of the 30 first-round picks from the 2013 draft had already broken into the league by the time Morin (drafted 11th overall) made his debut.

"You see all those guys get their chance, but I'm not frustrated," Morin said. "I know my time's going to come. I didn't want to go to the NHL and not get better because I wasn't playing a lot. In juniors, I got a lot of ice time, here I've gotten a lot of ice time and I've gotten better every day and still getting better."

Now Hagg, Morin and 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim will be the defensive pillars in the Phantoms' first playoff appearance since 2009. The 6-foot-7 Morin, who's been compared endlessly to that of Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, feels there's room (in his game) to grow. 

"I'm still young," he said, "and when you see me in five years in the NHL, you're going to be like, 'That time in the AHL was worth it.'"

Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart on development: 'Trust the process'

Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart on development: 'Trust the process'

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- "You gotta trust the process."

Flashbacks to Sam Hinkie? A line from Joel Embiid's Twitter feed?

How about a direct quote from Carter Hart.

The Flyers' 18-year-old goaltending prospect spoke to the media extensively Wednesday after joining the Phantoms on Monday in preparations for their first-round playoff series against Hershey (see story)

"I think I got the sense that I'm just here to experience this area," Hart said. "I've never been to Lehigh Valley. It's nice to see the building, get to know the players, get to know the coaching staff, take it all in and learn from the pros."

Hart joins the Phantoms after his major junior team Everett Silvertips were bounced in the second round of the WHL playoffs. In three seasons in the Canadian Hockey League, Hart has compiled an impressive résumé -- an 85-40-12 record with 19 shutouts, a 2.13 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. He was named CHL Goaltender of the Year in 2016 and was a member of Team Canada's silver medal-winning team at the 2017 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.

"Great things take time," Hart said. "It's a long process. You just have to stick to the grind every day and just worry about getting better. I know that's one of the big things Philly believes in, and just worry about getting better every day."

Unless the Phantoms enter crisis mode, Hart doesn't expect to play in the AHL postseason, but he's already grabbed the attention of the team's starter Alex Lyon.

"He's a great guy," Lyon said. "Carter is the same height (6-foot-1) as I am, and he's so physically gifted. I can learn so much from him."

"One of the things you can definitely tell that's in his game is structure," Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. "Clearly the structure is in Carter's game, where more times than not the puck will hit him and he'll have the appropriate response after the save is made to make the next save, and that will continue to be a strength of his."

Along with talent, there's a maturity that instantly comes across when talking with the teenager from Sherwood Park, Alberta. He has a familiarity with the Flyers' organization and has studied the trajectories of other great netminders in the NHL.

"One of my favorite goalies is Carey Price and I also like Braden Holtby, as well, and they've both taken different routes to the NHL," Hart said. "Both are some of the great goalies in the league. Holtby came in a little later and Price was thrown in as a 20-year-old. … The Flyers have had a lot of good prospects the past few years. To see a couple of guys like (Travis) Konecny and (Ivan) Provorov jump in as 19-year-olds is something pretty special. You don't see too many guys doing that. It shows how much they value their young prospects and how much they care about their development."

Obviously, the Flyers thought enough of Hart to make him the first goaltender selected in the 2016 NHL draft, and during the team's development camp, general manager Ron Hextall couldn't help but praise his second-round pick.

"Quite honestly, it's almost hard for me to relay that a 17-year-old understands what he's got to do to become a pro and hopefully an NHL goalie one day," Hextall said. "Typically, kids are 20, 21, 22 before they realize, 'You know what? I gotta get better.' He's impressive."

Since Hart won't turn 19 until August, he has just two options for next season -- return to his WHL team for a fourth year or join the Flyers as a rookie much like Provorov and Konecny did. Hart said he's fine either way because he's come to accept the Philly way.

Just trust the process.

Phantoms set to showcase future Flyers in AHL playoffs

Phantoms set to showcase future Flyers in AHL playoffs

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The Delaware Valley may be experiencing playoff withdrawal, but it's definitely getting a taste of it in the Lehigh Valley.

The Phantoms have returned to the AHL postseason for the first time since 2009, the franchise's final season at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

"Everywhere you go, people are talking about it," head coach Scott Gordon said Wednesday. "It's great for our organization, great for our players. I think every player benefits from playing in the playoffs on a bigger stage and against tougher competition."

The Phantoms will host their first-round best-of-five series against the Hershey Bears, last season's Calder Cup finalist, who finished four points behind Lehigh Valley in the standings. The two regional rivals squared off a whopping 12 times during the regular season, with the Phantoms winning the series, 7-4-1. The new series starts Friday with puck drop at 7:05 p.m.

"They're a big rival," defenseman Sam Morin said. "It's going to be a good series. We learned to hate each other, that's for sure. I think they have a really good team and we have a really good team. It's gonna be fun."

More impressive was the Phantoms' one-year turnaround that saw Gordon's team go from 12th place in the Atlantic Division to second place with 101 points, marking a 26-point improvement.

"It's a resilient group," captain Colin McDonald said. "I think we learned a lot from last year. It was a tough year. We had a lot of young guys last year. I thought they made the commitment from Day 1 of summer to put themselves in position to try and make the playoffs."

With Anthony Stolarz lost for the season, the Phantoms now will be leaning heavily on goaltender Alex Lyon, who led Lehigh Valley in starts, wins, goals against and save percentage in his first season coming from Yale University. 

"It was a totally interesting, bizarre roller coaster of a year," Lyon said. "I feel like it's been a good test for me as an individual and I've definitely grown."

Other notes
Gordon said he expects 20-year-old defenseman Philippe Myers to join the team sometime during the playoffs, but he wasn't sure when exactly. Myers just completed his season with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL. The Flyers signed him as a free agent in 2015.

The Phantoms currently have 12 Flyers draft picks on their roster, including Carter Hart, who's with the team following the conclusion of his junior season. Hart was the Flyers' second-round pick, and the first goaltender taken in the 2016 NHL entry draft.