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An opponent's perspective on 'special' Flyers prospect Morgan Frost

An opponent's perspective on 'special' Flyers prospect Morgan Frost

Cory Stillman played 1,000-plus games in the NHL over a 16-year career. He won two Stanley Cups. He has worked in player development at the highest level.

Now, he's the head coach of the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, who went from 17-42-19 last season to 43-20-3 and a playoff series victory this season, Stillman's second year on the job.

He knows the game, and for fives games, his team faced Flyers prospect Morgan Frost during the 2018-19 regular season. The 2017 first-round pick, a package of skill, speed and smarts, put up five goals in one of those matchups, a 7-5 Sault Ste. Marie victory over Sudbury on Jan. 20.

"He just seemed like he kept going by the bench scoring," Stillman said with a laugh.

What were his impressions of Frost?

"Morgan is a special player," Stillman said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "The puck follows him around and he makes players around him better. On that night, you give him a chance to score, and he scored some highlight goals against us."

Frost finished with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in the five games against Stillman's Wolves. Impressively, in the final meeting, Sudbury won, 3-1, and held Frost scoreless. That didn't happen often for Frost. The 19-year-old went without a point just eight times in 58 games. He scored 109 points (37 goals, 72 assists) this season after recording 112 (42 goals, 70 assists) in 67 games last season. Over his final two junior hockey seasons, he was a plus-103.

Those totals have Flyers fans excited about Frost turning pro in 2019-20. Stillman understands why and he won't miss game planning for Frost, like the Wolves did tirelessly in the last matchup.

"He single-handedly beat us probably four times," Stillman said. "On that night, we switched a bit, we put a guy right on him to check that whenever he was on the ice, he shadowed him. In saying that, our goalie also had to come up with some big saves because [Frost is] always going to get two to three chances a hockey game. That night there, we tried to frustrate him, but usually it takes him one pass, one shot, one goal and then you can see the ice tilt in his favor."

In January, Sault Ste. Marie head coach John Dean commended Frost for playing a 200-foot game and in all situations (see story).

Frost, like any other prospect, will have to adjust to the pro level — the physicality, the pace, the lack of space and playing without the puck. Starting next season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley seems most likely for the playmaking center, who will have to prove his size, strength and 200-foot play with the Phantoms in order to climb to the Flyers.

"I hope this team becomes a harder team to make as we get deeper and add players," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said last month. "Obviously, of course somebody can come in and make the team, but they're going to have to earn it. We're not looking to just put players on the team. 

"I think the American League is a great developmental league. I think it's an important place for most players to spend some time. Having said that, I don't like cutting players in April. There are some talented kids coming out of junior, coming out of college. We'll let their play determine how they do."

What has been determined is Frost made his graduation from the OHL quite clear.

"You can tell he's been in the league for four years," Stillman said. "You can see the confidence he has when he has the puck and the plays that he's willing to make or try to make. And the nights that he's on, he makes it look so easy.

"When he gets the puck in the neutral zone coming through with speed, it's either you take his speed away or he creates his own space. When he does that, the ice opens up and he will see the right play 99 percent of the time."

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Let's not forget the point of Kevin Hayes and his value to Flyers

Let's not forget the point of Kevin Hayes and his value to Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Kevin Hayes contract was and will always be polarizing.

Especially in a market as passionate and demanding as Philadelphia.

When seven years and $50 million are doled out to a forward, the eyes automatically go to the columns that count goals and points. They will this season and for the next six. Hayes was aware of that reality when he signed with the Flyers in June.

“I think early on, obviously I signed that big deal and I wanted to come in here and have 82 goals and 82 assists,” Hayes said Tuesday, “but that’s just not how it works.”

Not with a player like Hayes. Wins can serve as a proper reminder of that, as can the less ostentatious statistics. General manager Chuck Fletcher made clear from the outset the Flyers would not judge Hayes purely by the center’s offensive production.

To start the 2019-20 season, Hayes felt the need to put up points — a tangible way to quickly justify his new deal and win over fans, to show why the Flyers were wise to sign him.

“I think at the beginning, with the media and the fans, when you sign that deal, you want to come in and be on everybody’s good graces right away,” Hayes said. “When you’re not putting up points, it’s easy to think you’re not playing great hockey.”

The Flyers’ staff noticed a difference in Hayes. Alain Vigneault, who coached him in New York from 2014-18, knows Hayes’ game well.

The coaches grabbed me after about six or seven games in and felt like I was putting too much pressure on myself, cheating the game a little bit offensively and kind of exposing myself out there. Since we’ve had that meeting, I’ve gotten back to playing the right way defensively, I think I’m playing good hockey. Obviously I haven’t been getting a ton of points, but I’m playing the right way.

It was kind of just, ‘Hey, we didn’t bring you in here to get 100 points this year.’ Points are great, but I think I was brought in to play a 200-foot game, to help the PK, help the PP when they needed help, to play the right way and be somewhat of a leader on the ice.

I still play a lot of minutes every night and, honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in a while and I think a lot of it has to do with the team winning and everyone being so close.

Hayes has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 17 games. He has gone scoreless over the past seven games, but the Flyers are off to their best start since 2011-12 and Hayes has made an impact.

The Flyers entered the year with the NHL’s second-worst penalty kill since 2014-15 at 78.4 percent. This season, through the Flyers’ 10-5-2 start, the PK has ranked seventh at 85.4 percent. The Flyers are 8-2-1 since Oct. 21, a stretch in which the club has been the league’s third-best shorthanded team at 90.9 percent.

Hayes leads Flyers forwards in penalty kill ice time (31:01) but is eighth in power play ice time (22:33). Since Oct. 21, he has played just 2:55 on the man advantage, so Hayes’ point production must come at even strength. It’s why his PK work is so vital and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Do the Flyers need him to score? Of course — Hayes and his coaches know it, too. After all, the Flyers signed him for multiple reasons, not to only kill penalties.

“There’s still more there,” Vigneault said. “Hayesy, when he defends well, plays that 200-foot game, the offense comes with himself. Right now, I do think he’s pressing a little bit offensively, he’s putting pressure on himself. His best hockey this year, when he was fully committed … it was almost defense first, then offense. When he does that, he’s a real effective player.”

Inevitably, the offensive numbers will be placed under a microscope, examined and compared to the monetary figures on his contract.

However, don’t lose sight of what the Flyers needed to change. Seventeen games into the 2019-20 season, they are allowing fewer goals, are tied for the NHL’s sixth-best point percentage and haven’t even gotten close to Hayes’ best.

“I hold myself to a high standard where I think I should be contributing offensively, but that hasn’t come too much yet,” Hayes said. “I’m not really too concerned about it, it will come, I’ve been an offensive player my whole life.

“It hasn’t really crossed my mind. I know what I bring to the table and the biggest thing for me is the team stats. … I think it’s a lot different when your team is struggling, that’s when you kind of start caring about points, start proving, ‘Oh, I’m playing the right way because I’m getting my points.’ I don’t think that’s the case here.”

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Future Flyers Report: Egor Zamula continues to make a name for himself, Jay O'Brien dominating the BCHL

Future Flyers Report: Egor Zamula continues to make a name for himself, Jay O'Brien dominating the BCHL

Another week of hockey has come and gone, so it's time for another check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

• Things were quiet for defenseman Egor Zamula last week, but he made sure to turn up the volume heading into the next one. 

Zamula added another two goals, giving him an impressive 17 points on the season. He ranks second in points with the Calgary Hitmen and first in assists with 11.

It is also worth noting that Zamula is first among defensemen in plus-minus with a plus-18. This also puts him as fourth-best in the league.

This is a pretty impressive and rather rare sight to see a player who went undrafted find so much success. The Flyers have lucked out in recent years with finding two undrafted defensemen that have quickly made names for themselves — Zamula being one and Philippe Myers the other. If his upside is as great as it's projected to be, talk about another steal and even more depth at the blue line.

Jay O'Brien continues to flourish in the BCHL. In three games with the Penticton Vees this past week, O'Brien tallied six points (three goals, three assists).

In addition to that, he also extended his point streak to eight games. He now has 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) through 23 games. Only two other players in the league — Kent Johnson and Michael Colella, who both play for the Trail Smoke Eaters — have more points.

The Vees also announced on Nov. 7 that O'Brien was their first ever player of the month for the month of October.


Quick hits

• It was another weekend of racking up points for Morgan Frost. He had a two-assist night on Saturday and also scored his fifth goal of the season on Sunday. He now has 12 points in 13 games.

It's also important to note the assist on Frost's goal came from Maksim Sushko. It was Sushko's only point of the weekend, but a beauty at that.

Alex Lyon had a solid performance Saturday night when the Phantoms won in overtime against the Hershey Bears, only letting in two goals. Through six games played this season, he is 3-1-2 with a 2.10 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Noah Cates had a pair of goals in as many games this weekend with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. That gives him four goals thus far in eight games. Funny enough, he and his brother Jackson Cates are tied in first for goals on the team.

• Shifting gears to Western Michigan, Ronnie Attard scored the game-winning goal on Nov. 8. In that game, Wade Allison also tallied an assist. That was Allison's first point since Oct. 12.

Wyatt Wylie had a successful weekend on the road with Everett, collecting three points (one goal, two assists) in a two-game span. He now leads the WHL in power play assists with 10. Wyatt and the Silvertips won both games and they currently lead the U.S. Division with a 13-4-0-0 record.

Felix Sandstrom did not dress for either game this weekend for the Reading Royals. Through six games, he has a .890 save percentage and 2.80 GAA.

Down at defense

• This past Wednesday, while on a conditioning stint with the Phantoms, Samuel Morin suffered a torn ACL in his right knee for the second time in 19 months. He will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

• It's still unknown how long Mark Friedman will be out for the Phantoms after he left Saturday's game in the first period. He was injured directly following a collision against the boards and needed assistance off the ice. The Phantoms also recalled defenseman James De Haas from Reading, which could imply Friedman's injury may keep him out for a significant amount of time.

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