Flyers

Could Morgan Frost follow Travis Konecny's path to Flyers?

Could Morgan Frost follow Travis Konecny's path to Flyers?

When free agency opened, the Flyers’ most glaring immediate organizational need was an upgrade at third-line center, so when they struck loudly with left wing James van Riemsdyk and departed the market without signing a center, the hole remained unfilled.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall drew a line in the sand and proved he would not cross it. Hextall admitted the Flyers were in on a center, but the term went past his boundary. He also said they identified four or five forwards who were at their line. van Riemsdyk was one of them.

Hextall did not want to make a lateral move at 3C or block prospects. He felt the Flyers could fill it from within. He specifically mentioned Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal as options and opened the door for Claude Giroux to return to center after posting a career year as a left winger in 2017-18.

When asked about two prospects, Morgan Frost and Mikhail Vorobyev, Hextall turned to the safety net of “we’ll see.” Hextall has stuck to his guns with his prospects. They have to earn their spots, and while Hextall has been ultra conservative with the prospects, he has placed three 19-year-olds on the opening night roster in the past two seasons.

While Hextall refused to put Frost or Vorobyev on the roster without them earning it, by saying he’s comfortable with his internal options, it suggests that the Flyers are banking on either Frost or Vorobyev to push hard in training camp.

With the Flyers opting against signing a third-line center, at least for now, Frost’s odds of making the opening night roster in 2018-19 have significantly increased if only because there is now a clear path for the 2017 first-round draft pick.

“I think my opinion is different than other people,” Frost said last Thursday at development camp in Voorhees, New Jersey. “I want to make the team. If I work my hardest, it’s realistic.”

That was before free agency opened and before Hextall conceded that the market dictated the Flyers’ best course of action for a third-line center comes internally. It’s certainly realistic now. 

Once Hextall sifted through the “we’ll see” on Frost, the Flyers’ GM put the ball in the 19-year-old’s court. Hextall said Frost has to get “a lot stronger” and has “work to do,” which Frost knows. Frost came into development camp considerably stronger than he was last season at 184 pounds, a 12-pound increase from where he was at this point last summer. Frost finished the 2017-18 season at 175 pounds and said he hopes to play above 180 pounds in 2018-19.

“He’s certainly stronger than he was a year ago,” Hextall said. “He’s got a couple months here. He’s certainly got some work to do.”

Strength is the one area holding Frost back as his overall skill set very well may be NHL ready. Frost has two months to gain more muscle before training camp opens in September, which considering he’s already up nine pounds from his end-of-season weight, is possible.

Take Travis Konecny, for example. Konecny showed up to the Flyers’ July development camp in 2016 listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds. By training camp, Konecny added about nine pounds to reach 185 and made the team as a 19-year-old. It could be a similar course for Frost.

It’s about adding the right weight, which Flyers director of player development Kjell Samuelsson said is part of the team’s teaching methods. Frost appears to have added the right weight as his frame was noticeably more mature than it was last summer, but the Flyers will not know for certain until the competition escalates come September.

“Everyone can see that, everyone knows that,” Frost said. “I need to get a lot stronger and I think that comes with eating and working out. I think it’s just trying to eat as often as you can, even if it’s little, small meals instead of having your breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

By now, everyone knows about Frost’s draft-plus-1 season. He finished second in the OHL behind Barrie’s Aaron Luchuk with 112 points in 67 games, posting 42 goals and 70 assists for an absurd 1.69 points-per-game clip. He led the league in plus/minus with a plus-70 rating. He won 52.2 percent of his faceoffs, taking 466 more draws than he did in 2016-17.

Advanced metrics in junior hockey are hard to find and come from independent sources such as The Athletic’s Mitch Brown. Brown tracked 17 of the top teams in junior hockey across the CHL and USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USHL games only), and while it’s a small sample size, it’s advanced data that we can use.

Frost was among the players tracked, though the data includes just eight Sault Ste. Marie games, so for Frost, it’s an extremely small sample. Still, he posted a 65 percent Corsi relative and both his controlled entry percentage (92) and controlled exit percentage (96) were strong.

“He learned a little bit to play a 200-foot game,” Samuelsson said. “Most of the players who score points like that, when they come into the professional world, that’s the thing they really have to work on — playing without the puck.”

The Greyhounds finished atop the OHL and it wasn’t even close. Sault Ste. Marie finished the regular season with 116 points, a campaign that included a 23-game winning streak. Frost was a major factor in the Soo’s success and compiled 43 points over a 20-game point streak himself.

One Flyers prospect who knows Frost from playing against him in the OHL is Isaac Ratcliffe, who’s a member of the Guelph Storm.

“He just knows the game so well,” Ratcliffe said. “He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with and played against. … The passes he makes — he won’t have to see a guy across the ice, he’ll just know he’s there. The puck always seems to find his stick no matter where he is on the ice. I know he’s going to be a top player in the NHL one day.”

One day could be as soon as this October. By the looks of it, it’ll all be up to Frost.

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Flyers Talk podcast: Is this team convincing us in round robin of NHL playoffs?

Flyers Talk podcast: Is this team convincing us in round robin of NHL playoffs?

On the latest Flyers Talk podcast, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra and Jordan Hall discuss the team's climb in the round robin.

From the Flyers' best line to what's ahead, let's dive in:

1:00 — Exciting times for Flyers fans

5:55 — Who has been the most impressive on the second line?

11:55 — Something we've noticed with the Flyers' first-line production

16:05 — Has this two-game stretch convinced us if we weren’t convinced already?

22:10 — What did we think of James van Riemsdyk being scratched? Big deal or no?

27:50 — Speaking of lineups, would we keep the same D pairs vs. the Lightning?

 33:00 — What we like and dislike about the Lightning matchup

 40:00 — The matchup could do a ton for Carter Hart's confidence

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Jakub Voracek out, James van Riemsdyk back and more changes as Flyers aim to win round robin

Jakub Voracek out, James van Riemsdyk back and more changes as Flyers aim to win round robin

With the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed up for grabs Saturday, the Flyers' No. 1 line will look differently and the reason for why is unknown.

What we do know is Jakub Voracek will not play in the Flyers' round-robin finale against the Lightning at Scotiabank Arena.

"He's not available," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in a video interview, "that's all I can say for tomorrow."

As we learned during training camp when Voracek was absent from a scrimmage, there will be various levels of weirdness, uncertainty and inevitable speculation when a player is unavailable. Because of a mutual agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to respect an individual player's right to medical privacy during this time, clubs are not allowed to release specifications for any injuries/illnesses in the return-to-play 24-team tournament.

Naturally, time will tell about the severity of or length of time needed to return for Voracek's undisclosed absence.

Regardless, not having Voracek hurts the Flyers' chances to win the round robin. If the Flyers beat Tampa Bay, they'll secure the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, which is slated to begin next Tuesday. If the Flyers lose to the Lightning, they'll settle for the No. 2 seed. The team has won its first two round-robin games by a combined score of 7-2 over the Bruins and Capitals.

Update: What Flyers fans need to know for round-robin finale, 1st-round matchups

When the Flyers started rolling in November of the regular season, Voracek was one of the club's best players. Since Nov. 1, the facilitating winger had 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 58 games. He finished the regular season with a team-best 44 helpers, 56 points and a plus-14 mark in 69 games.

"Jake's got a unique skill set, a veteran guy that's been around and has played in some big games," Matt Niskanen said Friday in a video interview. "We'll welcome him when he comes back. In the meantime, keep chugging forward with the guys we have."

The Flyers will chug forward with 20-year-old rookie winger Joel Farabee climbing to an exciting spot in the lineup. He'll play on the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, while James van Riemsdyk will return to the lineup after being interestingly scratched for the Flyers' 3-1 win Thursday over the Capitals. Connor Bunnaman, a 22-year-old forward who will likely be an extra come the first round if the Flyers are healthy, played in van Riemsdyk's place.

"It was less about benching James than looking at the big picture," Vigneault said. "Yes, James had been OK, just OK so far, after having in my estimation a real strong training camp. But I wanted to get Joel in, I also wanted to get Bunny in at some point, and I felt with the opposition, that it was the right time. Probably less to do with benching, more to do with the big picture."

The 31-year-old van Riemsdyk will join the third line. Vigneault is known to communicate with his players when they're taken out of the lineup or there's a notable change. The two-time 30-goal scorer wouldn't disclose the message between the player and coach, but van Riemsdyk was positive Friday, taking everything in stride.

“With those types of conversations, generally like to keep those in-house," van Riemsdyk said.

“For me, I look back at my career and playing in the playoffs and all these things, I’ve had success doing that in the past. My approach is going to stay the same and try to be the best player I can be and maximize every day. That’s always the way I approach things no matter what, I love the game. We have a great team and have a great shot this year, so my motivation and approach remains consistent day in and day out. No matter if you have a day that doesn’t go your way or if you have a day where things are going well, you go to the next day and you have to do it all over again.”

On the defensive side of things, Shayne Gostisbehere will draw into the lineup for Robert Hagg. Vigneault and his coaching staff had wanted to get Gostisbehere some action in the round robin. They trust the 27-year-old defenseman who could give a boost to the Flyers' power play, which is 0 for 8 through the round robin. Expect to see Hagg back with Justin Braun when the first round begins.

Here is the Flyers' lineup for Saturday's round-robin finale:

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Joel Farabee
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman-Nate Thompson-Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere-Justin Braun

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

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