An integral part of a prospect's growth is putting him in the best possible environment for development.
How about a normal season to start?
Morgan Frost and Cam York, two of the Flyers' top prospects, have a chance at that in 2021-22. Many want them to have a chance at the Flyers' roster and they'll get that chance. But, finally, a normal year of development at a pro level an hour-plus drive from the Flyers could be really good for two important and talented prospects.
Prior to a pair of offseason signings, the opportunities to grab spots on the Flyers' roster appeared much more ripe for Frost and York. In correlation with the revamping of his defense, general manager Chuck Fletcher then put more air in the Flyers' tires on the blue line by signing Keith Yandle, a guy who hasn't missed a game since March 2009. And when you thought the active offseason was done, Fletcher added more depth up front 10 days ago as the Flyers inked center Derick Brassard, a veteran with 905 career games and 117 in the playoffs. The Flyers signed both to one-year deals.
Just like that, the training camp competition turned up multiple notches for the youngsters and their chances at the Flyers' season-opening roster shrunk. But it's nowhere near the end of the world if Frost and York play the bulk of the 2021-22 season, if not all of it, down at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
Over the last year and a half, there hasn't been much normalcy or consistency in the world of NHL prospects. In 2019-20, Frost had his first pro season cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. After the lengthy pause, he joined the Flyers in the Toronto bubble for the 2020 playoffs but did not appear in a game. Last season, he made the Flyers' season-opening roster as the club's 13th forward but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in January during his second game. The 22-year-old has essentially played only one pro season. Getting back into the swing of game action and playing with Ian Laperriere's Phantoms can be beneficial for him.
"I feel really good," Frost said last Sunday at development camp. "I kind of got through the rehab part of my shoulder and then it was more just about strengthening it a little bit. I think I'm very close, I feel ready though. I'm confident in it, I feel confident that I can go into battles, take hits and play physical with it. I'm fully confident. I think I just have a little bit more rehab to go to make sure that it's fully 100 percent for the future."
The Flyers signed the soon-to-be 34-year-old Brassard almost a month after free agency opened. Brassard is a center who can play some winger and had his best years under Alain Vigneault with the Rangers from 2013 to 2016. He played for five teams in the past three seasons.
"The conversations started, to be honest with you, just a few days before we signed him," Fletcher said Aug. 26. "I had a long conversation with A.V. and we just looked at our depth and were just a little bit concerned if he had a couple of injuries early on in the season, that we'd be relying on a lot of young players to come in and play whether or not they were ready. It was an opportunity for us to land a quality player, a quality veteran player. As you get into the season, it gets a little bit harder to find these players."
When asked if he had any reaction to Flyers' signing of Brassard, Frost smiled and said he "didn't really have a reaction."
"There's going to be lots of guys coming in and out within the organization," the 2017 first-round pick said. "I'm just focused on myself, what work I need to put in and what I need to do to make the team."
York, a 20-year-old defenseman and the club's 2019 first-round pick, had his 2019-20 freshman season at Michigan brought to a halt because of the pandemic. Last season, he had a busy banner year in which he played for Michigan, Team USA at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, the Phantoms and the Flyers.
Similar to Frost, York didn't express any discontent with the Flyers adding a veteran at his position.
"I still believe in myself, I think I can make the team still, but it's a long year, like it's 82 games and the schedule is really tight," York said last Sunday at development camp. "There's going to be a lot of guys coming in and out of the lineup. If you block a shot wrong, you're out eight games. That’s eight games that people need to fill. I didn't look at it like, 'Dang, there goes my spot.' I'm still confident and I still believe in myself."
York played 11 games between his time with Lehigh Valley and the Flyers last season. This season will be his rookie year at the pro level. Yandle has played 1,032 games in his NHL career and in 922 straight, the league's longest active streak. He has a chance at passing Doug Jarvis' NHL record of 964 played in a row. Yandle has familiarity with Vigneault, having also played for the Rangers, and turns 35 years old next week. His addition solidified the Flyers' desired depth on the back end.
After the way last season transpired, a year in which the Flyers trusted a lot of younger players in new roles, Fletcher put an emphasis this summer on gaining as much experience as possible for 2021-22.
"I think Cam’s play will dictate when he arrives in the NHL," Fletcher said July 28 after the Flyers signed Yandle. "What this move does is it just gives us more depth. You need a lot of defensemen to get through a season and this goes to our goaltending tandem, too. I think two seasons ago, we played 69 games, last year 56 — we're going back to 82. It's a compressed schedule, it's a difficult schedule. We have a five-game-in-seven-nights stretch, we have 16 or 17 back-to-backs, all kinds of three-in-fours, we’re crossing the continent again.
"We're going to need a lot of bodies and it's going to be an adjustment for the players going back to 82 games and with this type of compressed schedule. I think what we're trying to do as much as anything is add as many quality players as we can knowing that you're going to need a lot more than 22 or 23 players to survive this season."
Vigneault has always said players dictate the decision-making of the front office and coaching staff.
"One of the things I've found throughout the years is people say that we make the decisions, but we really don't make the decisions," the Flyers' head coach said in September 2019. "The players make the decisions for us by how they play, how they continue to improve."
If Frost and York are playing and improving down at Lehigh Valley, then they're getting closer to the Flyers. And that would be good for both parties.
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