Flyers

Future Flyers Report: Morgan Frost picks up where he left off

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Future Flyers Report: Morgan Frost picks up where he left off

Welcome back to the return of the Future Flyers Report, a weekly column tracking the development of Ron Hextall’s master experiment. With the Flyers’ season opener in Las Vegas 10 days away, expectations for the NHL club are higher.

But there remains a heavy pot of prospects worth following. Carter Hart turns pro. Joel Farabee and Jay O’Brien begin their collegiate careers at rival schools in Hockey East.

The CHL opened its regular season last week, and international leagues are also underway. It’s September, and that means hockey is back. As another NHL season filled with surprises, disappointments and Dave Hakstol lineup decisions creeps up on us, let’s dig a bit into the future.

• Let’s begin with Morgan Frost, who was returned to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds last Tuesday, one day before the OHL season opened, after just one preseason game with the Flyers.

Frost didn’t waste much time cracking the scoresheet in 2018-19, registering a primary assist in the Greyhounds’ opener last Wednesday against Saginaw in a 5-2 loss.

After Friday’s game was postponed, Frost jumped right back into the fray with his first multi-point game of the season in Sault Ste. Marie’s 6-0 win over the North Bay on Saturday.

He also added a secondary assist on the Greyhounds’ final goal of the season. It’s an encouraging two-game start for Frost, who has won over 61 percent of his faceoffs as well.

While Frost didn’t make the Flyers, it wasn’t for a lack of opportunity. He had that in the rookie game and the preseason tilt he played in, but he didn’t move the needle enough to stick around.

Still, Frost figures to have another monster season in the OHL. It will be his last. He turns pro in 2019-20 and he’ll have much higher odds of being an NHL player next season.

• While most eyes will be on Hart in Lehigh Valley, Felix Sandstrom remains a goalie to watch overseas. He has a lot to prove this season after a difficult 2017-18 campaign (see story).

Sandstrom, now with HV71, has three games under his belt thus far. He allowed two goals on 34 shots in his first game on Sept. 15 in a 3-1 loss to Färjestad. He struggled Thursday, allowing five goals on 28 shots against Linkoping but rebounded with a 23-save, two-goal effort Saturday.

If all goes according to plan, Sandstrom will come to North America next season.

Quick Hits
• Matthew Strome picked up his first points of the season Saturday with a two-assist game in Hamilton’s 4-2 win over Barrie.

• Marcus Westfalt, the Flyers’ seventh-round pick from June’s draft, has a goal and three assists in five games for Brynäs IF in the J20 SuperElit.

Isaac Ratcliffe (Guelph, OHL) has an assist in two games, Wyatte Wylie (Everett, WHL) has an assist in one game, Maksim Sushko (Owen Sound, OHL) has an assist in two games.

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Worried about Alain Vigneault coaching Flyers' youth? There's evidence to ease concerns

Worried about Alain Vigneault coaching Flyers' youth? There's evidence to ease concerns

Kevin Hayes and some Flyers hit the ice Tuesday morning at Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.

The team tweeted out pictures of its new seven-year, $50 million man in Flyers orange, giving us the first glimpse of Hayes rocking his new threads.

In 2019-20, Hayes will be tasked with great responsibility as the Flyers look to rebound from one of their most trying, tumultuous and disappointing seasons in 12 years. As Hayes signed with the Flyers, he set up a reunion with head coach Alain Vigneault. From 2014-18, the two were together in New York, where Vigneault came under the microscope near the end of his tenure for not developing younger players.

From 22 to 25 years old, Hayes played his first four NHL seasons under Vigneault and scored a career-high 25 goals during the coach's final year with the Rangers.

"It's always tough when you go to a new team and you don't know how you're going to fit in with the coach, you don't know how you're going to fit in with the players," the 27-year-old Hayes said in June. "But playing under A.V. for four years, we had a great relationship, on and off the ice. He demands hard work. If you play the correct way, he kind of lets you play freely offensively. That was a huge factor in the decision — being comfortable with him made the decision a lot easier."

At his introductory press conference during April, Vigneault was asked about being maligned for not utilizing young players enough while in New York. It was a fair question because it was a tactile criticism of Vigneault as the Rangers parted ways.

But just how fair?

"Everybody has their opinion, I respect that," Vigneault said. "I don't necessarily agree with that, but for me, that's just part of the coaching job that you have to do. Some people are going to like some of the things [general manager Chuck Fletcher] and I do, and I do with my staff, and some other people aren't going to like it as much. At the end of the day, you know what we have to do? We have to win."

There are some interesting facts from Vigneault's time in New York, where he went 226-147-37 with three straight 100-plus-point seasons and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. (For some context, the Flyers haven't earned 100 or more points in a season since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series.)

When the Rangers won the Eastern Conference in 2014, the team's second-leading scorer was 23-year-old Derek Stepan, who experienced a career year over 82 games. Ryan McDonagh was the team's best defenseman at only 24 years old. And Chris Kreider was a team-best plus-14 at 22 years old.

The following season, New York put up 53 wins and 113 points. Hayes had an excellent rookie year (17 goals, 45 points) and the Rangers' youth took strides.

In 2016-17, when New York experienced a 102-point season, the team's second-leading scorer was 23-year-old J.T. Miller and one of its best defensemen was 22-year-old rookie Brady Skjei, who scored 39 points over 80 games.

So there is evidence of Vigneault getting the best out of older and younger players.

At our level, there's not one coach that will not play a player that will permit him to win. I firmly believe that talent has no age. If a guy who's 19 can step in and help the Flyers win and be competitive, he's going to play. Talent has no age.

- Vigneault

The Flyers were not the most disciplined team with the puck during 2018-19. Fletcher talked about bad on-ice habits at his end-of-the-season press conference. But he knows the talent — both young and old — is in place.

The belief is that an experienced coach like Vigneault, along with experienced assistants, can create better habits and smarter decisions from everybody on the ice.

"There weren't a ton of young players during my time with the Rangers that came up in the system because of where that organization was at the time," Vigneault said. "Was I perfect with all of them? No, and I don't think anybody is. I think my record is pretty good with younger players, it's pretty good with core players as far as them coming into a season and having strong performances. It's also good with older players."

The Flyers, once again, have a blend of veterans and youngsters. It gives Vigneault a prime opportunity to reinforce his track record and prove he can win with all ages.

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Which Shayne Gostisbehere should Flyers fans expect in 2019-20 season?

Which Shayne Gostisbehere should Flyers fans expect in 2019-20 season?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall and Brooke Destra

The topic: Predictions for Shayne Gostisbehere's 2019-20 season.

Hall

Some reporter (it was me) was bullish on Gostisbehere entering the 2018-19 season. 

He was super impressed by Gostisbehere's skill and mobility during the preseason, especially with the defenseman fresh off a career-high 65 points, the fourth most among NHL blueliners in 2017-18.

He foresaw big things for Gostisbehere. And that reporter (it was me) was way off.

There are a handful of important factors to note when analyzing the outlook for Gostisbehere in 2019-20.

Firstly, Gostisbehere will be playing under a new coaching staff. Coaches and their philosophies are crucial to a player like Gostisbehere.

Secondly, during his exit interview, Gostisbehere admitted to dealing with a banged-up knee from early on through the midseason. He didn't use it as an excuse, but for a guy that relies heavily on his slipperiness and mobility, a knee problem can be a significant hindrance.

And thirdly, Gostisbehere should feel a lighter burden on his shoulders with the additions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. Both bring different elements to the table but understand goal prevention and can play minutes. One would think those acquisitions will allow Gostisbehere to play a bit more freely without the 26-year-old trying to do too much, overthinking every decision.

How all of the above impacts Gostisbehere's production and usefulness will be one of the more fascinating storylines to watch in 2019-20.

I don't see why Gostisbehere can't get back into the 50-point range or 40-assist territory — although, that will depend on a lot.

Destra

I'll be very upfront with my views of Gostisbehere's performance last season — it was no indication of the direction he is heading in as a player and it truly isn't a big concern (at the moment). He was one of many players who underperformed on the Flyers and when his lower-body injury surfaced at the season's end, it validated a lot.

He's about to have a bounce-back year — and it's going to be a good one.

Heading into this season, this is probably the most balanced the defense has looked in well over a decade. He will be able to play on his true side as a LHD and will have the opportunity to be a leader to whoever the other half of his pairing is.

Even though he wasn't at the top of his game in 2018-19, he was still able to put up nine goals — this tied him for the lead in most goals scored by a defenseman on the Flyers (along with Travis Sanheim).

Gostisbehere also has the ability to make or break his respective power-play unit. Not many players stationed up at the blue line have the kind of sniper shot he can produce. Even if he doesn't pot one, he is capable of getting the puck in deep and setting up high-danger scoring opportunities.

It'll be tough to top the numbers he put up in 2017-18 (65 points — 13 goals, 52 assists), but there's a chance he comes close to it. By the nature of his game, he is an offensive defenseman — his instincts are strong and he tries to contribute to his team in any way that he can.

It's very possible to see him at 55-plus points for 2019-20.

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