Image courtesy of philly.com
This column will be the first of many to keep you guys informed on what’s going on down on the farm in Lehigh Valley. In the coming articles, I’ll focus more on the day-to-day picture, but this first one will be a recap of the Phantoms’ first eleven games. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Flyers entered the season with more than a few quality prospects at the AHL level—and they did not disappoint to start the season. The Phantoms beat the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on the road in their opener and beat the Adirondack Flames in overtime in their first ever game in the PPL Center. While the Phantoms losing on their first trip back to Adirondack since leaving for Lehigh Valley hurt, it didn’t hurt nearly enough as the losses that the Flyers were taking on their blue-line. Ron Hextall had been adamant in his approach of patience with regards to the kids, but he had no choice but to call up Shayne Gostisbehere after only three games into the AHL season.
The resilient Phantoms went on to win their next two games without Ghost to take their record to an impressive 4-1. But then Brandon Manning was called up to stop the bleeding at the NHL level and Mark Alt (1G,1A,5GP) suffered a shoulder injury that he’s still sidelined with. Since that point, the Phantoms lost three in a row, got Ghost and Manning back, then went one for their next three and lost Ghost to a torn ACL in the process. That’s pretty much where the Phantoms stand until this weekend when they visit the WB/S Penguins on Friday night and host the Toronto Marlies on Saturday night.
Here are some notes on the key players thus far:
- There was once a time, right after Sean Couturier was called up to the NHL, that 3rd round pick Nick Cousins was our top prospect. That time is no more, but not necessarily because Nick hasn’t been playing well. The relatively forgotten Cousins got off to a blazing start in his sophomore season scoring 10 points in his first 8 eight games. Although he’s been pointless in his last three games, his team-leading 10 points in 11 games is way better than his scoring pace was last year (29P, 74GP). We do know discipline can become a factor with Cousins and he didn’t help his reputation with a 5 minute major and ejection in a recent loss to Worchester.
- The 20th overall pick in 2012, Scott Laughton, is right behind Cousins in the early season Phantoms point race. While Laughton only has 8 points, he leads the team with 5 goals—four of which came in back-to-back games, landing Scott Laughton AHL player of the week honors for his efforts. I’ve watched parts of three games this season and Laughton has really stood out as the Phantoms’ most offensively gifted forward. He’s just got an extra gear to his game that really stands out at this level.
- Petr Straka was signed before last season to help the Phantoms on the offensive front and he didn’t exactly overwhelm with a stat line of 9 goals and 18 assists in 60 games. He’s gotten off to a much better start this year with 3 goals and 4 assists in only 9 games (two missed due to injury). Straka, Cousins, and you guessed it, Zack Stortini (???) have somehow found some chemistry and have played pretty well in the second line role for Lehigh Valley.
- If Nick Cousins wins the most forgotten prospect award, Robert Hagg isn’t a distant second. The 6’2”, 203 pound, 19-year-old Swede leads all Phantoms defenders in points (1-6-7) and leads the whole team in shots on goal (33). For someone without a huge offensive reputation he sure shows the ability to get pucks to the net.
- While I didn’t want to make him the focus of the article, I have to bring him up. This past weekend we got the horrible news that Shayne Gostisbehere tore his ACL and will miss most, if not all, of the 2014-15 hockey season. Ghost was off to a fantastic offensive start in the AHL with five assists in his first five games. His skill set transitioned nicely from the college game to the AHL as he was able to rush the puck up the ice with ease. Unfortunately we wont be seeing too much of Ghost outside of the press box this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to learn a thing or two with all of the hockey he’ll be watching this year.
- Rob Zepp, the Phantoms starting goalie who was signed prior to this season after spending his last 7 years with the Berlin Polar Bears (yes, the team Claude Giroux played with during the lockout) is off to a 5-2-1 start posting a respectable .919 save percentage and a 2.69 GAA. Anthony Stolarz, the 45th overall pick in 2012 isn’t off to such a hot start with a line of 0-3, .909, 3.05.