On day one of free agency, the Flyers made no additions to their main roster. They did, however, make multiple additions to the Phantoms roster. After parting ways with Mike Vecchione, Cole Bardreau, Bryon Froese, and Tyrell Goulbourne, along with the departures of Jori Lehtera, Corban Knight, Justin Bailey, and Mike McKenna, there were plenty of open roster spots that needed to be filled.
The Phantoms signed forwards Kurtis Gabriel, Andy Andreoff, and Kyle Criscuolo. Gabriel was signed to a one year, two-way, $700,000 contract. Andreoff was signed to a two year, two-way contract that pays him $750,000 a season. Criscuolo, a Philly native, signed a one year, two-way, $700,000 contract.
The Phantoms added defensemen Andy Welinski, Nate Prosser, Chris Bigras, and Tyler Wortherspoon to bolster their blueline, which only had three members before free agency. Prosser, Bigras, and Wortherspoon signed identical two year, two-way, $700,000 contracts, while Welinski signed a one year AHL level deal worth $750,000.
The Phantoms also added goaltender Jean-Francois Berube on a one year, two-way contract worth $700,000.
These players are mainly depth additions to the Phantoms, who are going to rely on talented prospects to do the heavy lifting this season. With players like Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Joel Farabee all likely starting the season in Lehigh Valley. They join a group of players returning for their sophomore season such as David Kase, Mikhail Vorobyev, Pascal Laberge, and German Rubtsov.
The goaltending situation is a bit unclear, especially for the backups. The starting role should be taken by top prospect Felix Sandstrom, but who grabs the eventual backup role is up for debate. Alex Lyon has been the Phantoms starter for much of the past two seasons, and took a… lions share… of the starts after Cater Hart was called up to the Flyers roster in December. His future with the organization has become foggy as he has seemed to fall out of favor with Chuck Fletcher, who immediately demoted him to the AHL once Hextall and Hakstol were fired. With the addition of Berube, who would probably receive the call up to the Flyers first if an injury struck, Lyon may find himself either in the pressbox or in ECHL Reading to start the season.
The Flyers signed another rookie goaltending prospect Kirill Ustimenko to his ELC in May. Coming from the MHL in Russia, there might be more of a transition period for him and given Sandstrom should see a vast majority of the starts for the Phantoms, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him start the season with Reading so he can see as much ice time as possible to have plenty of time to adjust.
The defense was the biggest area of need for the Phantoms, as they only had Mark Friedman, Reese Willcox, and T.J. Brennan under contract. After the Flyers bought out the contracts of Andrew MacDonald and David Schlemko, who would’ve both more than likely started the season in the Valley, they needed bodies to fill holes. The two most notable players added to the blueline were Nate Prosser, who is a veteran of 354 NHL games in his 10 year career where he racked up 231 penalty minutes. The other is 24-year-old Chris Bigras, who was drafted 32nd overall in 2013. despite much hype, he never developed at the NHL level, but was a top defenseman for the San Antonio Rampage, the, at the time, Colorado Avalanche farm team.
The Phantoms are mainly relying on the Flyers top prospects to carry the team, but with a new-look core overall, they hope to find success after a disappointing 2018-19 season where they failed to make the playoffs after a late-season tailspin.
David Kase and German Rubtsov were surprises last season after taking big roles with the club, but both saw their share of injuries when they combined for only 54 games played. Two prospects that were considered by some to be busts have a chance to silence the critics if they stay healthy and find chemistry with some of the new blood on the team.
There is a lot to be excited about for the Phantoms heading into the 2019-20 season, and with multiple big named prospects penciled into the lineup, not only should their record improve, developing players like Frost, Ratcliffe, and Farabee in a winning environment will be beneficial to their chances once they get the call to take their talents the big club.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: bsndenver.com