Sean Couturier's injury has Flyers preseason paging Morgan Frost

Sean Couturier's injury has Flyers preseason paging Morgan Frost

When Sean Couturier's name surfaced early Wednesday morning in a report highlighting a sudden knee injury, alarms sounded for Flyers fans.

Those sirens were deadened considerably when general manager Ron Hextall updated the status of his first-line center. This was not an aggravation of the MCL injury Couturier suffered during the playoffs and the 2018-19 regular season is not in danger.

And … exhale.

But amid the collective phewwwww was a bell ringing in the distance for 19-year-old Morgan Frost.

His preseason just shifted in a different way.

As we know, Couturier's injury doesn't change a whole lot. No roster spot will open, but opportunity in exhibition games has and here is Frost charging hard off a 112-point junior season. 

The 2017 first-round pick has an outside shot at winning a job with the Flyers instead of returning to the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for a fourth and final year. That script remains untouched. However, Frost's showcase may be turning up a notch now that Couturier will miss at least the first four of the Flyers' eight preseason contests while possibly playing in just two.

Couturier out impacts all the centers jostling for position in the Flyers' picture — Scott Laughton, Jordan Weal, Mike Vecchione, Mikhail Vorobyev, German Rubtsov and Frost, one of if not the most noteworthy in Couturier's absence given the teenager's identifiable strength of facilitating when surrounded by talent.

"We've got enough centers to take a look at, it's the one position that we’ve got to sort out," Hextall said Wednesday. "We've got enough guys, you know, the Jordan Weals, Scotty Laughtons and [Jori] Lehtera and a couple of our kids. We've got enough players to fill. Again, we need to look at some of those guys in that position."

Over the past few preseasons, head coach Dave Hakstol has strategically placed his top prospects vying for roster spots alongside NHL regulars to best gauge readiness. During the 2016 preseason, Hakstol used Travis Konecny with Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl. Last fall, Nolan Patrick saw time with Konecny, Wayne Simmonds and Jordan Weal.

Both Konecny and Patrick won roster bids at 19 years old by not looking out of place. They fit in with those players and were ready to jolt the Flyers now, not later.

"What stands out for Morgan is his hockey IQ," Drew Bannister, Frost's junior head coach last season, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia in January. "It doesn't matter who you put him with, he's just going to make them better players."

Conceivably, Frost this preseason was going to see some ice time with proven NHLers. Now, it's much more likely he plays a prominent role next to the Flyers' current difference-makers, which would, if anything, add an anticipated layer to exhibition play.

The quick-skating pivot is a constant threat with his creativity. He had a transformational 2017-18, filling out physically and producing a 50-point increase from the previous year. After a 42-goal, 70-assist season in which Frost posted a plus-70 rating, imagine him flanked by a few NHL wingers?

Should be fun.

"I think for me, playing with a goal scorer is part of the best thing because I'm a guy that likes to distribute," Frost said in July 2017. "At the same time, I feel like I can contribute offensively in terms of scoring, but I'm definitely a playmaker."

Could Couturier's injury mean zilch for Frost's 2018-19 chances? Sure, but training camp is all about leaving an impression. The Flyers will be a bit more impressionable to start this preseason and Frost has his opening.

Let's watch and see how much he answers the bell.

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One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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