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."
Frosty the goal man a fitting tag ⛄️
5️⃣🚨 performance today for @NHLFlyers prospect @_morganfrost_10 including his first #OHL 🎩🎩🎩 brings his season goal total and @OHLHoundPower’s win total to 3️⃣0️⃣ pic.twitter.com/GPSR8a4L8z— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 21, 2019
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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