VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault remembers Joel Farabee almost being in tears.
The Flyers' 2019-20 season was about to begin and the 19-year-old rookie had accompanied the team to Europe for its final exhibition game and regular-season opener.
Vigneault had to inform Farabee that he was not making the season-opening roster. Instead, the prospect was headed to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley when the Flyers returned to the United States.
Farabee was crushed.
But he made his AHL stay a short one. A motivated Farabee ripped off three goals in his first three games as a pro and put up four points through four games before the Flyers called him up.
Vigneault said Scott Gordon and Kerry Huffman, the Phantoms' head coach and assistant coach at the time, told the Flyers' bench boss that Farabee was "one of the smartest young players that they had ever coached."
Farabee forced his way back to the Flyers. He played 52 games that season and 12 more in the playoffs. Last season, he led the Flyers in goals with 20. This offseason, he signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension.
"He was working hard, came back up, obviously played well for us and continued his progression last year," Vigneault recalled in September as this year's Flyers training camp began. "When a young man has the right attitude and the right work ethic, a lot of times they can put it together. Joel's one that put it together, maybe a little bit quicker than some other young players can. Just a positive, smart hockey player."
Morgan Frost, another top prospect of the Flyers, finds himself in a similar spot to Farabee's in 2019 — dealing with the disappointment of being cut. With an injury to Kevin Hayes, the 22-year-old center looked like a front-runner to make the Flyers' season-opening lineup. However, Frost ended up being assigned to the Phantoms three days ago.
Frost, a 2017 first-round pick with scintillating skill, has not had it easy this year. He suffered a dislocated left shoulder during January in his second game of the 2020-21 campaign with the Flyers, an injury that required season-ending surgery. His rookie year at the pro level in 2019-20 was cut short as the hockey world went on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic. As result of the pandemic and his injury, Frost had played two pro hockey games over a span of 560-plus days before his three exhibition games this preseason.
If Frost needs any encouragement as he heads to the Phantoms, Farabee and Scott Laughton are good resources. They've been in Frost's shoes.
"I talked to him a little bit yesterday," Farabee said Thursday, the day after Frost was cut. "Pretty simple conversation, honestly, I just told him to go down there, have a good start to the year. I think that's the biggest thing. If he goes down there and scores his first three or four games, puts up some good points and plays well, I think they'll have no choice.
"He's obviously a great player and has a lot of upside, so I don't think anyone in this organization is worried about him. He hasn't played in a long time, so getting some reps in and getting some games is definitely going to help him. He's going to be a really good player for a long time. I think the biggest thing for him is getting that confidence back."
Frost was selected 27th overall in 2017. Laughton was taken 20th overall by the Flyers in 2012. After playing his first full season with the Flyers in 2015-16, he spent almost all of the next season with the Phantoms. He didn't truly carve out his NHL role until 2018-19.
"When I played a full year and then I got sent down the next year, I think that was probably the toughest for me, just getting a taste of what it was like up here for a full season," Laughton said Saturday. "Frosty's a really, really good player, a really good guy around the room. I talked to him a little bit just about my experiences through it and what I went through. He's still so young and he hasn't played in a while, either. To get your timing back and to come in full steam in a training camp, it's tough. I'm excited to see what happens here in the next month with him and I think he's going to be really good down there. I'm sure we'll see him soon."
Not only did Laughton deal with the demotion and having to play the 2016-17 season in the AHL, but he also had to be stretchered off the ice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs prior to that season. It all combined for a serious dose of adversity. Laughton said the experience with the Phantoms helped define his NHL role and build his confidence.
"My mindset that year, honestly, was not getting called up," he said. "I think it was more focusing on the team in Lehigh and trying to make the playoffs."
A lot like Laughton, Frost got a taste of the NHL early on, playing 20 games for the Flyers in 2019-20 as a first-year pro. For now, Frost will turn his focus to playing for Ian Laperriere's Phantoms.
"I think the best part about Lehigh is they have such great facilities and there are so many good guys down there," Farabee said. "I had Cal O'Reilly, Greg Carey, some older guys that have played pro hockey for a long time that really helped me out. The support system, even having Lappy down there now, he knows what it's like. Within our organization, we have some great people down there and it's the reason why guys don't spend too much time down there."
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