Flyers fans, don't be surprised by Morgan Frost … yet

Photo: Aaron Bell | OHL Images

Flyers fans, don't be surprised by Morgan Frost … yet

Morgan Frost has taken just about the whole gamut by storm.

Whether it's Flyers fans tracking his progress or the hockey world keeping tabs on the game's future, Frost's jump in production would seem staggering to most.

Except for one person.

The guy who sees and knows the 18-year-old's game as well as anybody.

His head coach, Drew Bannister.

"I'm not totally surprised," the Sault Ste. Marie leader said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Frost, a teenage center the Flyers drafted 27th overall last June, is the primary reason the Brayden Schenn trade doesn't sting as sharply as it could. The Flyers acquired the pick in the deal that sent the 2018 All-Star to the Blues, and while Schenn is on pace for a career season, Frost is in the process of shattering his personal bests in junior.

After putting up 20 goals and 42 assists in 67 regular-season games last year for the Greyhounds, Frost has 27 goals and 44 assists in only 42 games this season. His 71 points lead the OHL, as does his astounding plus-50 rating.

Talk about blowing up, right?

The scary thing is, Bannister isn't blown away. Instead, Frost may be sprouting with much more growth in store.

"I don't know if he's made huge strides this season, I think he's just continued his development," he said. "The biggest development I saw for him was probably in his first season here as a 16-year-old — from the first couple of months until after Christmas time was probably the biggest jump I've seen with Morgan. I think Morgan is just a little bit more comfortable in the position that he's been put in with his linemates and being a No. 1 centerman on his team here compared to the past couple of seasons. I think that took a little bit of time to adjust to, but now he's more comfortable, obviously playing some real good hockey and has for quite a stretch here now."

In 2016-17, Frost enjoyed feeding Bruins 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn, who scored 42 goals on the wing before graduating to the pro ranks. So, last summer, Frost said he wanted to show he could do more than just pass — that his offensive game was expansive, that he could make a difference on the penalty kill and prove his defensive worth, as well.

This season has been his chance and Frost is flourishing.

"Morgan has had a little bit more opportunity this year than he has in the past and we're starting to use him more on the penalty kill and he's been very responsible," Bannister said. "We hold Morgan accountable to be better defensively. His all-around game, especially his play away from the puck, has gotten better. Not that it was poor before then, but I just see a more committed player away from the puck, the way he tracks pucks down. For him, he's creating more offense for himself and his linemates right now playing that way, and he's recognizing that, too."

Sault Ste. Marie implements a style in which it utilizes its skilled players on the penalty kill, resulting in greater pressure on the opponents' power play with the shorthanded unit looking to attack instead of ice the puck. Frost and company have parlayed that tactic into a league-leading 16 shorthanded goals and a top-10 PK (81.5 percentage). The team also won 23 straight games and is atop the OHL at 37-3-2.

"When you're down a man, you want to make sure that you have players on the ice that are making the right reads," Bannister said.

"Putting a guy like Morgan Frost in that opportunity this year certainly works in our favor. He's been doing a good job on it."

That's on top of Frost and his linemates, Boris Katchouk and newly acquired Taylor Raddysh (both NHL second-round picks), making for a matchup nightmare.

"They're seeing the best defensive pairing and they're seeing checking lines or another team's top line," Bannister said. "It's impressive that line and Morgan himself are able to defend and create offense against other teams' best players.

"What stands out for Morgan is his hockey IQ. It doesn't matter who you put him with, he's just going to make them better players."

Those abilities are what could make Frost a sleeper to crack the Flyers' roster next season as a 19-year-old rather than play a fourth campaign of junior hockey. If 2017-18 is any indication, it's that Frost is coming along … and pretty darn quickly.

"For me, he's going to play in the NHL, there's no question about that, it's just when is it?" Bannister said. "Nothing surprises me these days, but he could be in the lineup as early as next year. Who knows, right?"

Bannister hasn't been surprised by Frost.

He might know best.

End to End: Will Carter Hart need a full season in the AHL?

End to End: Will Carter Hart need a full season in the AHL?

Going End to End today is NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Will Carter Hart need a full season in the AHL?

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall kept the door open, however slightest, at his end-of-season news conference for Hart to earn a spot with the big club in training camp. Knowing Hextall's past, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Hart breaks camp with the Flyers, but the 19-year-old is a special breed years beyond his age.

Hart closed the book on his junior career Saturday with his second CHL Goaltender of the Year award in three years, becoming the first goalie to win it twice (see story).

On paper, the Flyers have Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth under contract for 2018-19. Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz are restricted free agents, and one figures to move on from the organization this summer. My bet is on Lyon coming back and having first dibs at the NHL backup job if injuries hit the Flyers' crease.

But it's hard for me to sit here and say Hart has no shot at being in the NHL next year. I think he's going to do everything he can this offseason to push for a job, and I think if he's ready for one, he'll be here.

Do I think he needs a full season in the AHL? Probably not. If I were to bet, I'd put my money on him being with the Phantoms in October. But I've lost plenty of bets in my life. I think we'll see him with the Flyers at some point in 2018-19.

It's just a matter of when.

A full year in the AHL would be wise for Hart — and all signs point to that happening.

Last week, I asked Everett general manager Garry Davidson if he could tell Flyers fans one thing about Hart, what would it be?

Here was his response:

"I think they still have to be a little patient. He's just a 19-year-old, he's just played major junior, he's been very successful. But the jump from where we are to the pro game — whether it's either in the American league and then at the NHL level — is a substantial jump. He's going to need some time and I don't know how much time that will be, but we use the word here all the time — you've got to have patience."

That certainly jives with Hextall's approach to prospects. The Flyers have confidence in their current tandem, featuring two goalies in the final year of their respective contracts. And it seems Lyon, a restricted free agent this offseason, has earned himself a contract and the status of backup in case of an injury.

Hart very well could be the future and the Flyers won't mess with it.

2018 NHL draft position preview — Defensemen

AP Images

2018 NHL draft position preview — Defensemen

We conclude our 2018 NHL draft position previews with a look at the top draft-eligible defensemen. We’ve already looked at centers, left wingers and right wingers. While the Flyers will likely draft a goaltender at some point, we are not previewing that position. It is highly unlikely they would select one in the first round with either of their two selections.

Rasmus Dahlin, 6-2/181, Frolunda (SHL)
Prospects like Dahlin come around once every so often and there is no question where the 18-year-old will be drafted. Dahlin will be a member of the Buffalo Sabres and become the first player born in 2000 drafted into the NHL. Dahlin is a special player with dynamic offensive ability and creativity. Dahlin will become just the second Swedish-born player ever drafted No. 1 overall, joining Mats Sundin, who was the first overall pick in 1989. Dahlin registered seven goals and 20 points in 41 games this season with Frolunda playing top-four minutes. He was an Olympian at 17 years old. His highlight reels have some bonker plays on them.

Draft projection: No. 1 overall

Quinn Hughes, 5-10/170, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Finishing as the sixth-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, Hughes is one of the top defensive prospects in a defense-heavy draft class. He should join a respectable list of Wolverines defensemen drafted high in the first round — Zach Werenski, Jacob Trouba and Jack Johnson. Had five goals and 29 points in 37 games during his freshman season at Michigan and has plenty of Team USA experience coming up in the USA National Team Development Program. An all-around defenseman who is an excellent skater and puck-mover.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 4-9

Adam Boqvist, 5-11/168, Brynas Jr. (SuperElit)
Another Swedish defenseman, Boqvist checks in as the second-best European skater by Central Scouting. The younger brother of Jesper Boqvist, who the Devils drafted with the 36th overall pick last year, Adam Boqvist has high-end offensive skill with a ton of potential. A little bit away from coming overseas and more of a long-term play but could blossom into a star blueliner. He averaged nearly a point per game with Brynas’ junior team, recording 24 points in 25 games and led the junior league among defensemen with 14 goals.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 4-9

Evan Bouchard, 6-2/193, London (OHL)
The OHL veteran finished as the fourth-rated North American skater by Central Scouting. Bouchard, in his third season with the Knights, had 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games this season. His 87 points led all OHL defensemen and was eighth among all players. He’s a right-handed shot who can quarterback the power play and owns a wicked slapper. Has decent size and strength and has a good hockey IQ.

Draft projection: Top 10

Noah Dobson, 6-3/180, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Dobson finished as the fifth-best North American skater by Central Scouting, a three-spot climb from the midterm rankings. A right-handed shot, Dobson has been entrusted by the Titan to play against teams’ top players. He’s a strong two-way defenseman with good size, though he’s not a great skater. He had 69 points in 67 games with Acadie-Bathurst in the regular season, and while his points were down in the playoffs, he’s helped the Titan reach the Memorial Cup.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 8-15