It’s an exciting time of the year for all hockey fans as the NHL playoffs are ready to ramp up. It’s even more exciting at this point for fans of major junior or college hockey as the playoffs are well under way. With no playoff hockey in sight for Flyer or Phantom fans we have to latch onto something and it might as well be someone from a talented prospect pool. While as a whole those prospects are doing quite well there was a bit of heartbreak last week.
As usual we’ll dig into what the Phantoms have done first, as they drift through meaningless games.
Loss (3-0) April 8th vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
After a crushing 3-0 defeat while visiting the Pens on the previous Saturday, you’d think Lehigh Valley would have been amped up to host WBS on Wednesday.. they didn’t appear to be. Kasperi ‘son of Sami’ Kapanen came out and embarrassed the Phantoms with an extremely quick turnover goal off a Petr Straka miscue. Around 4 minutes into his first ever AHL game Kapanen walked right in, made one deke to get some room in front of Adam Comrie (who showed a lack of defensive awareness by just waiving at him), and took a rocket of a wrist shot to the top corner on Rob Zepp’s glove. No chance.
Kapanen also set up the Pens’ PP marker in the 2nd period as Kunhackl was sitting in front of Zepp and tipped in a pass. These are his only 2 points in 3 AHL games so far so I’m pretty sure he was just excited to rub his skill in the Flyers’ and their organization’s face. He did a great job of it.
The Phantoms did have a number of quality chances early in this game, but were unable to capitalize whereas Wilkes-Barre/Scranton were able to convert on their chances. The shots after 2 periods were 30-19 in the Pens’ favour and a ridiculous 20-6 in the 2nd. The powerplays came into play here as Lehigh Valley dug themselves a huge hole thanks to Rosehill in particular who took an elbowing call and added another 2 minutes for an unsportmanlike call. Rosehill took 3 minors and Stortini took 2 in this game. The Pens had 3 PPs in the 2nd period and I end up trumpeting the same note as always. Too many dumb penalties.
No real positives in this game to speak of, except maybe Andrew Gordon’s 7 shots? Zepp had 29 saves.. that’s about it.
Win (2-1) April 10th vs. Norfolk
I’m sure the early goal by Matt Bailey had coach Murray cursing at Adam Comrie. A rim play that was thrown behind the net by the Admirals ended up in the back of the net as Comrie lost his man Bailey behind the cage. Comrie’s attempt at boxing out Bailey was soft and when Bailey made his power move on the wrap around Comrie blew a tire. This wasn’t all Comrie’s fault because Zepp really should have stopped it, but man.. it was a bad goal.
Not a whole lot happened in this game as these 2 teams are pretty pathetic. Mathers fought John Kurtz.. proving nothing.. only that he’s a bad hockey player. Which there’s just a ton of evidence in favour of already.
Midway through the 2nd the Phantoms evened the game on a beautiful Scott Laughton wrister. He’s becoming a dangerous guy activating off the half-wall on the PP and a lot of that has to do with how effective Stortini has been screening goalies. Stortini is obviously the lesser of evils when we look at him, Mathers and Rosehill. He’s contributed positively to offensive efforts, banged in some goals and become an okay special teams asset. If the Phantoms are intent on keeping any of these guys Stortini would be the obvious choice.
Lehigh Valley had a couple of great chances in the 3rd to win it, Mark Alt had a partial break and an outside shot that was stopped. Andrew Gordon was in all alone, but was robbed by Ryan Faragher. Laughton had a similar opportunity on the PP with a Stortini screen again, but he missed. There was another PP they couldn’t cash in on in OT, and Andrew Gordon put a puck behind Faragher that wouldn’t trickle in. Finally there was a Comrie rush that the defenseman just couldn’t finish on the backhand.
Laughton buries a backhand five-hole on Faragher in the shootout (via Frank Fimmano: Fimmano Photography)
The Phantoms really deserved to win this game, but they needed the shootout to do it. Straka scored on a Crosby-esque backhand top shelf and Laughton sealed it with a backhand through Faragher’s wickets.
Loss (3-2) April 11th vs. Norfolk
Fights erupted just over 5 minutes into this contest as Mathers and Rosehill were both involved. For some reason both of these donkeys are dressed and for other reasons they’re on the same line. Adding to how ridiculous this is they both fought at the same time; Mathers vs. Kurtz (2nd time in 2 nights) and Rosehill vs. Nathan McIver. The icing on this cake is that Rosehill came out with an extra 2 mins for a crosscheck. Norfolk went to the PP and of course scored to take an early lead. Stolarz didn’t really have a chance to make the save as it was through a lot of traffic. Norfolk Admirals smart smart smart, Jay Rosehill dumb.
Column favourite Kevin Goumas scored an ugly goal off a broken play in front of the Admiral net. He just hacked the puck with a backhand and it tipped off of Norfolk captain Steckel’s skate and in. Stolarz tracked the puck pretty well in this game, but he let a softy in on defenseman Brandon Montour’s 1st of the year. He couldn’t squeeze his pads together quite quick enough as it dribbled into the net on a bad angle shot. Blair Jones was the Phantom hero in this game as he jammed in a Scott Laughton shot in the crease. Bardreau got a stick on it too as Lehigh Valley crashed the net hard and came up with a goal.
Stolarz and Faragher went toe-to-toe in overtime as Stolie made a magnificent pad save on a Noesen breakaway, followed by Faragher getting just a piece of a Laughton wrister sending it just over top of the net. Friberg finally found a crack in Stolarz as Anthony went down a little bit early and he sent a shot over his glove-hand shoulder giving the Admirals the win.
Flyers Prospects in the Professional Ranks
Danick Martel (Free Agent)
Signed his Try-Out contract with Lehigh Valley this past week and suited up on Saturday night against Norfolk. Wasn’t very noticeable in his 3rd line role centering Stortini and Straka. He had a whole pile of zeroes across the board on the stat sheet, but that’s not really a horrible thing when you’re playing in your first ever professional game. I’m hopeful that we’ll see Martel playing wing in the top-6 as the last few games tick off the schedule. He was a dangerous offensive guy in the Q so it will be interesting to see if that skill translates to the pro level. Full time Phantom next season unless he’s a huge surprise at Flyers’ rookie camp in September.
Scott Laughton (2012 – 1st Round)
Another week, another goal, another assist. He took 11 shots in 3 games and looked dangerous on the powerplay as usual. Laughton is having a good finish after meandering through mid-season. This kind of production could have really helped Lehigh Valley when the team was sinking in February and March.
Jason Akeson (Free Agent)
Just a lone assist on 6 shots for Akeson, but he missed Saturday’s game against Norfolk because he was recalled to the big club for their finale. He played 13:21 for the Flyers against Ottawa and actually had 2:18 of PP time in Giroux’s spot along the wall. He looked okay as a puck distributor and ideally this is where I would stick Akeson if I was the coach of the Flyers. I think he could really help out the bottom-6 and probably turn that 2nd PP unit into something more useful. 2 shots and also took a Holding call on Sens’ rookie sensation Mark Stone.
Taylor Leier (2012 – 4th Round)
6 shots for Leier was just about all he could put up in the last week. He played with Laughton and Gordon the entire time, but obviously he doesn’t receive the PP time that Laughton does and that’s part of the reason we don’t see as many points going on the board for him. He’s been a dependable winger all season, he goes to the net, digs pucks out, backchecks, the only thing bringing him down is his lack of numbers.
Nick Cousins (2011 – 3rd Round)
Loaned back to the Phantoms after Saturday’s game against Ottawa, Cousins ended up scoreless after 11 games with the parent organization. He averaged just under 9 minutes of ice time per game so it’s pretty obvious Berube was sheltering him and using him with the checkers like Rinaldo. Cousins is a bit of a pest so it would seem a natural fit for him to slide into that sort of an NHL role, but hopefully he gets to do it without Rinaldo riding shotgun. He has quite a bit of offensive upside so as long as he can keep up to the NHL pace he could be a good match-up player against other bottom-6 forwards in the league.
Robert Hagg (2013 – 2nd Round)
I’ve been riding Hagg quite hard the last couple of months, but that’s because I expect a lot of him. He’s a legitimate top-4 defensive prospect and it’s been tough to see past some of his errors lately. 6 shots this week and an assist to boot on a Goumas garbage goal. It was nice to see him getting some shots through as he’s had trouble doing that for the entire second half of the season. Overall I didn’t see him get turned around quite as much last week which is a step in the right direction (although that could have something to do with playing Norfolk twice). He has to learn keep forwards in front of him as he’s proven lately that he doesn’t have the quickest feet.
Petr Straka (Free Agent)
Looked good with Bardreau in a checking role, showed flashes of creativity when moved up with Jones and Akeson on line 2, and basically disappeared when put on a line with Martel. Very clear that Terry Murray has no idea what to do with Straka. He made an egregious giveaway to Kaperi Kapanen which resulted in the Finn burying his first ever North American pro goal. That play really stands out and if you’re teetering on the edge, as Petr is, with this organization it’s not a great way to wind down the season.
Mark Alt (Free Agent)
Continuing to play big minutes especially on the penalty kill for a Phantoms team that takes entirely too many penalties. He’s been a rock lately in the top-4 for Lehigh Valley and hasn’t been easy to score against at Even Strength. He was on for the Admiral’s early goal on Friday, but had nothing to do with the play. Comrie was beaten and Zepp was asleep, Alt appeared to have his assignment in check as he occupied the slot. Noticing Alt activating off the point to create passing opportunities and net drives a LOT lately which is great and also looking for the slap-pass-tip option. Glad to see him getting back his groove in terms of creating offense.
Adam Comrie (Free Agent)
On the ice for many goals as of late, it would be difficult for me to pencil him in as an AHL starter next year. He’s clearly better offensively that most of the Phantom defense, but he’s proven time and time again that his defensive work is awful. He’s a turnstile. With Manning coming back down from the Flyers, Comrie was sent to Reading of the ECHL where he’ll jump on board for their playoff run. Difficult to say whether he’ll be back with Lehigh Valley next year.
Kevin Goumas (Free Agent)
Noticed Goumas a ton playing with Bardreau and Jones on the 2nd unit. Why this hasn’t been a common sight all season I will never know.. and he even scored an ugly goal on a broken play in front of the Norfolk net net. His line was out in the final minute of the 3rd as well when Blair Jones hammered in a garbage goal to tie the game and send it to OT in the eventual loss.
Nick Luukko (2010 – 6th Round)
Didn’t play in any of the Phantoms’ 3 games last week. He’ll obviously have an uphill battle to even get a contract on a Flyers’ roster stacked with talented defense prospects. With veteran Brandon Manning getting a contract extension just a few days ago that’s another spot that Luukko can’t occupy.
Cole Bardreau (Free Agent)
Picked up an assist on Jones’ tying goal in the final minute on Saturday, but it wasn’t pretty! He was jamming along with the rest of the team and it squirted through Norfolk’s Faragher. Much like Taylor Leier, Bardreau appears to be a dependable 2-way forward who can contribute offensively, but is more suited to a defensive role. Even as a wing he dips back towards the low slot and tries to take away passing lanes (much like a center would). He has a good head on his shoulders.
Other Flyers Prospects in College or Junior
Michael Parks (2010 – 5th Round)
It was a bit of a storybook season for Michael Parks and his University of North Dakota compatriots. Considering it’s been 15 years since UND won a Championship I think a lot of people were pulling for them and rightfully so as they were the #1 ranked team for long stretches this season. Parks himself had a rather electric start to the season scoring at a point-per-game pace and carried that momentum through about 25 games before his production finally started to falter. Now 23-years-old, Parks had 32 points in 42 games this year and he was set to be a huge piece of UND’s run through the Frozen Four. It didn’t go as planned.
Parks vs. Eichel the opening face-off!.. okay Parks is a winger, and Eichel a center, but whatever (via undsports.com/)
UND advanced to the Frozen Four, which of course was hosted at TD Garden in Boston, and ran into Boston University with their star Jack Eichel. Now touting an absolutely massive 71 points in 40 games for BU, Jack was no slouch in the semi-final but he didn’t really land any crushing blows in this game. He started off the scoring on a weak backhand on the PP off a rebound which UND’s Zane MacIntyre had no chance to stop. It wasn’t an amazing goal by any standard, but Eichel was in the right place at the right time. Jack later fed A.J. Greer a one-time pass (great shot by Greer) to put BU up 3-1 in the 2nd period, and he finally buried an empty net goal in the 3rd to seal the win 5-3.
UND never went away in this game as they attempted 64 shots (39 on target) to BU’s 49 attempts (28 on net), but a lot of that has to do with BU going up 2-0 after the first and sitting back a bit. They capitalized on 2 early PPs which basically sunk UND from the get go. Parks had 2 shots in the game and was pretty silent, but Eichel was held to just 4 shots and didn’t register a point with Parks matched against him. When BU were able to get Eichel away from Parks and company he struck, but it was an entire team effort from BU that won this game and not Eichel’s singular talent.
Lehigh Valley still have 4 games remaining on their schedule so look for Parks to sign a Try-Out contract as he tries to make a bit of an impact heading into the off-season.
Radel Fazleev (2014 – 6th Round)
Showed great patience on Sanheim’s opening goal feeding Connor Rankin cross ice in the Hitmen’s 3-2 OT Home loss in game 2, he was held off the sheet in the series opening win and the win in the 3rd game. Mack Shields gave up a beachball from beyond the blueline in the OT loss and I thought it would be tough to rebound from that, but he looked okay in the 3rd game. The Hitmen lead 2-1 now and would probably really like to go up 3-1 before heading to Medicine Hat for the 5th game. Fazleev has been pretty quiet in the series offensively, but he’s usually in a checking role against stiff competition so that’s understandable.
Travis Sanheim (2014 – 1st Round)
Had the opening goal in the series-evening loss Saturday night hosting Medicine Hat. His goal was a wonderful thing to behold, a tic-tac-toe with Fazleev starting the play and Connor Rankin feeding the streaking defenseman. Had a helper later on as checker Jordy Stallard scored a rare goal. Sanheim showed great poise on this play as he stepped up and claimed a loose neutral zone puck to feed Stallard.
Defensively though he looked a little sleepy in Game 1 on Dylan Hunt’s goal. Got turned around and dove at Hunt who snapped a shot over Mack Shields’ shoulder. He was also lax in his coverage of Cole Sanford in Game 2 where Mack Shields made a diving save to take away goal. I know he’s an offensive player, but he has to be a bit tougher than that on opposing forwards. He then followed that up by giving too much room to Dylan Hunt AGAIN as the forward scored far side post and in on Shields. In the 3rd game he was a -2, but he can hardly be blamed for either of the 3rd period goals he was on the ice for. The first was a colossal screw up by rookie Pavel Karnaukhov and Sanheim was already exiting the zone, while the second was a carom off the boards that found its way right to a Tiger stick.
Travis Sanehim celebrates a Hitmen goal with captain Kenton Helgeson in their 5-4 game 3 victory (via hitmenhockey.com)
He was able to recover from 2 so-so performances in the opening 2 games to post 1 goal and 2 assists in the 3rd game. His 1st assist was a good keep off a Medicine Hat rim along the glass which he then fed to a wide open Helgesen in front. The 2nd assist was a PP assist where Travis walked the line and quarterbacked the play. While his goal was also on the PP, a wrister from the high slot. One thing is for sure, Sanheim loves to get to the middle of the high slot for his shot opportunities. I’ve seen it time and time again. He knows that’s a high percentage area and that there will be screens on those shots, that’s just good business.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel (2014 – 2nd Round)
The Foreurs came in as a favoured team in the 2nd Round, but they lost the opening game of their match up with Baie-Comeau 3-2 and were smashed 9-1 in the 2nd game of the series! They’ll head to Baie-Comeau for 3 games in a row (to lessen travel costs) where they have a big hole to dig themselves out of. Aube-Kubel hasn’t been involved offensively, but neither has the entire team for that matter.
Tyrell Goulbourne (2013 – 3rd Round)
Kelowna are 6-0 now in these WHL playoffs as it doesn’t look like the Victoria Royals will be able to stop them. Goulbourne is playing a depth role now as this Rockets team is really good. He’s contributed 3 minor penalties in the series all of which have resulted in Royal PPs.
Sam Morin (2013 – 1st Round)
Missed the series opener against Gatineau as the heavily favoured Oceanic lost 2-1 at home. Rimouski had the best record in the Q’s regular season and are ranked 6th in the country, but Gatineau (coached by Benoit Groulx this past year’s Team Canada World Junior boss) are a plucky underdog. Morin returned the following game and Rimouski evened the series at 1s as they head to Gatineau for game 3. Was on the ice for the eventual game winner, took a minor penalty..