As the book closes on an abysmal 2019-20 Lehigh Valley Phantoms season, there are only a few bright spots to take away from the campaign. One of those highlights was the play of rookie forward Maksim Sushko, who rose a couple eyebrows with his game.
The former fourth round draft pick in 2017 made the jump from the OHL to the AHL this season after racking up 66 goals and 143 points in 176 games with the Owen Sound Attack.
Sushko started the season with three goals in his first six games. The initial heat wore off as he only recorded three points in the following 14 games through mid-December. Then a fire lit. His play was noticeably stronger and faster, and it showed up on the score sheet. he finished the season with 11 goals and 21 points in 53 games. Sushko finished fourth on the team in goal scoring and seventh on total points, which was second on the team for rookies behind only Morgan Frost.
With a full season under his belt, and an improved team around him, is there a chance Maksim Sushko can become a star for the Phantoms? The 21-year-old may not have the hype of Morgan Frost, the lofty expectations of Isaac Ratcliffe, or the immediate NHL potential of Connor Bunnaman or Carsen Twarynski, but his speed and silky-smooth hands provide him a solid foundation to succeed.
Hopefully his game will continue to improve during his second season as a professional and he can take a leadership role with the Phantoms to work his way up the depth chart to potentially see his first NHL recall. The Phantoms have already upgraded their defense and have at least four holes to fill at forward with the expiring contracts of Mikhail Vorobyev, Chris Stewart, Kurtis Gabriel, and Nathan Noel. With the proper addition of select AHL veterans, they could set Sushko up to succeed next season.
On July 17, the Flyers announced that Sushko has been loaned to Dynamo-Minsk of the KHL. It looks to be a way to get the prospect extra playing time during the delayed start to the 2020-21 NHL/AHL season, which is still in limbo due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Time will tell what becomes of Maksim Sushko, but he certainly has all the tools to succeed. With more time to marinate at the AHL level, he’ll have a good chance to one day make the jump to the NHL. His sophomore season will be important in his continued climb, but with proper usage and an improved Phantoms team, there’s no reason to believe Sushko isn’t a diamond in the rough.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: oursportcentral.com