The Flyers organization has recently been touted for their prospect depth. And while that still remains true, there was a bit of a gap at the professional level during the 2019-20 season. With almost every high-level prospect now in the NHL, it left a huge hole for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Top prospect Morgan Frost was one of the few bright spots in Lehigh this season after other prospects Joel Farabee, Phil Myers, and Nicholas Aube-Kubel were recalled by the big club. Some of the other notable prospects had a bit of a down season, Isaac Ratcliffe and German Rubtsov didn’t take the steps forward that was expected and it left a noticeable gap in the Phantoms lineup, as they finished with a 24-28-3-7 record.
Luckily, there are reinforcements on the way for the emaciated Phantoms. The organization recently signed defenseman Wyatte Wylie as well as forwards college-standouts Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski. Not to mention defenseman Yegor Zamula, who signed his ELC in 2018, as well as goaltending prospects Felix Sandstrom and Kirill Ustimenko, who were already in the system.
Tanner Laczynski was the Flyers sixth round pick in 2016 and finally signed his entry-level contract in March after his successful college career at Ohio State came to an end. Laczynski registered 48 goals and 143 points in 138 games during his NCAA tenure. Coming in at 6’1 and 205lbs, he brings offensive potential and a strong ability to battle along the boards to the lineup.
Wade Allison was drafted by the Flyers in the second round of the 2016 NHL draft and was signed to his ELC at the end of March. Allison scored 45 goals and 97 points in 106 games at Western Michigan University. Allison brings a similar size to the table as Laczynski, standing at 6’2 and weighing 205lbs. The biggest issue for Allison is his health, as he missed significant time with a torn ACL in January during his sophomore year, and a slew of minor injuries since.
Wyatte Wylie was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL draft, and has quickly developed into a jack-of-all-trades defenseman. Scoring 31 goals and 152 points through 210 games, he is coming off his best season of his junior career registering 64 points, which was second in WHL defeseman scoring. He is a right-handed defenseman with a huge upside. Wylie’s biggest challenge will be climbing the Flyers depth chart, which is rather crowded right now.
The Flyers struck gold yet again in the undrafted free agent market with defenseman Yegor Zamula. He has made an impression at the WHL level, as well as the Russian national team at the World Junior Tournament. He will make his jump to the AHL level coming off of surgery to help ease a “degenerative back issue.” All signs point to him being ready for training camp come September. Zamula has recorded 19 goals and 102 points in 158 games. His best season came in 2018-19 when he scored 10 goals and 56 points. His play at this year’s World Juniors was highly praised as Russia’s top defenseman.
Felix Sandstrom technically already has two AHL games under his belt, one coming in 2018-19 and the other in 2019-20, pitching a shutout in the later. His numbers in the ECHL were less-than-stellar to start the year, but he has managed to turn his game around as the season pressed on. Sandstrom has a 3.27 goals against and a .885 save percentage through 25 games. His immediate AHL future depends on whether or not the Flyers re-sign Alex Lyon or not. Since Ustimenko has already made the jump, if the Flyers choose to re-sign Lyon or another “third string” goaltender, he may find himself starting the season in the ECHL, even if his play is ready for the AHL.
Kirill Ustimenko has already gotten his feet wet at the AHL level, supplanting J.F. Berube as the backup in Lehigh Valley late in the season after he was dealt to the Rangers organization. Ustimenko suited up for five games going 1-3-1, registering a 3.84 goals against and a .889 save percentage in that span. The 6’3 21-year-old rose through the ECHL level much faster than his counterpart Felix Sandstrom, but Felix is still considered to have the higher long term ceiling of the two. Training camp and offseason moves made by the Flyers will determine the Phantoms goaltending tandem when the season rolls around in the fall.
The core of the Phantoms roster is already intact. Only Mikhail Vorobyev, Chris Stewart, Kurtis Gabriel, Greg Carey, Andy Welinski, Mark Friedman, Reece Willcox, and Alex Lyon are on expiring contracts, and Friedman may be the only one likely to return.
There will still be a crop of young prospects on the roster as German Rubtsov, Isaac Ratcliffe, Maksim Sushko, and David Kase will all likely start next season in the AHL. If Morgan Frost finds himself back with the Phantoms to start next season, he could form a symbiotic relationship with the new talent at forward where Frost can help the new kids grow, and Frost playing with actual talent will help him develop as well.
As the 2019-20 season remains on pause, the Phantoms would’ve only had 14 games left in the regular season and they were 14 points out of a playoff spot, so the chance of actually playing postseason hockey this season was very slim. Whether or not the season picks back up again is still TBD, but one this is for sure, the Phantoms will be a brand new team come October as new prospects flow into the Valley and pump new life into the Phantoms.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: hockeydb.com