AHL affiliate for Philadelphia Flyers struggling with many top players injured or playing in NHL

By Jashvina Shah
Brandon Manning - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Defenseman Brandon Manning is the top scorer for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season, with 20 points through 26 games. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

After moving from their home of Adirondack, the Phantoms are now underway in their first season in Allentown, Pennsylvania, at the PPL Center. But the Philadelphia FlyersAHL affiliate has struggled, and many of the team’s top players have spent time at the NHL level.

That included Shayne Gostisbehere, who suffered an ACL tear in early November after he was called up by the Flyers. Scott Laughton, the organization’s Philadelphia’s prospect, has not played in Lehigh Valley since November 15th. Since his call up, Laughton has been determined to prove he belongs in the NHL. It took Laughton, who had 11 points in 13 games with the Phantoms, 13 games this season to get his first NHL goal. In his 17 appearances with the Flyers, has recorded two goals and three assists.

This has been a good season for some defenseman, as injuries defensive injuries in Philadelphia’s organization gave several players a chance to see steady or NHL ice time.

AHL

Jason Akeson, RW, 24

Akeson started the season with the Flyers, just after spending the playoffs with the team. While Akeson was impressive – and flashed his offensive skill during the postseason last year – he did not have the same luck this year. He recorded zero points through 12 games, and was returned to Lehigh Valley on November 28th. Some believed Akeson has limited upside and will become a career minor leaguer, but the demotion means Akeson – who was not playing so much in Philadelphia – has more playing time in Lehigh Valley. That means more time to develop, including his defensive side. Akeson has eight points in 11 games with the AHL affiliate.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 20

Stolarz is in his first professional season, where he serves as backup to Rob Zepp. Stolarz has appeared in 12 games for Lehigh Valley this season and holds a 2.29 goals against average and a .933 save percentage.

Many who’ve seen Stolarz are impressed with his play as a butterfly goalkeeper. As a net minder who is 6’5, Stolarz takes up a lot of space in the net. Despite his large frame, scouts say Stolarz can move well. He is the best goalkeeper in Philadelphia’s organization, but the goalkeeper still has a long time to develop, especially after he missed a portion of last season with an injury.

Robert Hagg, D, 19

Hang was not expected to contribute much offensively, but has 13 points through 28 games in his first AHL season. He is fifth on the team in scoring, and the team’s second-highest point-producing defenseman. At 19 years old, Hagg is one of the younger players with the Phantoms. His size and willingness for challenges means he could become a physical defender.

It is still early to see how Hagg has been developing, especially since this is his first season playing in North America. After representing Sweden in the World Junior Championship last year, Hagg will again be represent his country this year. While consistency has been an issue for Hagg, the defenseman spent last season in the SHL, a difficult league to play in – especially for a 19-year-old.

Taylor Leier, LW, 20

Leier is one of the team’s top left wing prospects, and this is his first season in the AHL. Last year, Leier had 79 points through 69 games with the Portland Winterhawks. While the former Portland captain is not expected to replicate that scoring, he is considered one of the more skilled forwards in Philadelphia’s organization.

The left wing is known for his work ethic, and is considered one of the hardest working prospects in the Flyer organization. He has played in every contest this season, putting up 15 points through 28 games. He has improved in each season so far, and brings good defensive and leadership qualities to the organization.

Petr Straka, RW, 22

The biggest question for Straka was if he could replicate offense at the professional level. There is no question the fast skater has the ability, but he struggled last season, evidenced by an up-and-down year where he sat as a healthy scratch for a couple of games. But this season, his offensive output seems to have improved. While Straka needs to be more consistent, he gas 12 points through 26 games with the Phantoms.

Derek Mathers, RW, 21

Mathers has spent time in the ECHL and the AHL this season. He was sent down in early October, but called back to the Phantoms late in the month. Mathers has spent most of this season with Lehigh Valley, where he has one assist through 12 games. The defenseman turned forward is more of a physical, lower-line forward with minimal offensive upside.

Nick Cousins, C, 21

Cousins is the number two center prospect for the Flyers, and his counterpart, Scott Laughton is already in the NHL. Like Laughton, Cousins is a two-way forward. Last season had its challenges, but Cousins came out on top as one of the team’s leading scorers. He is replicated that effort this season, and thanks to his playmaking skills, the center is third for scoring on the Phantoms with 16 points through 28 games.

Mark Alt, D, 23

Behind Hagg, Alt is probably the best defensive prospect with the Phantoms. He is older than Hagg, and has more experience with an extra year of playing in the AHL. Thanks to a depleted Philadelphia blue line, there were rumors Alt would be called up this season. But an ill-timed shoulder injury kept the defenseman out for roughly a month. He returned in late November, and has five points through 17 games with the Phantoms. It was an unfortunate break for Alt, who is considered a good two-way player.

Brandon Manning, D, 24

Manning was another defenseman who benefitted from Philadelphia’s depleted blue line, as the defender was called up to the NHL in late October. He spent two games with the club before being sent back down. While Manning is considered a more physical defenseman with minimal offensive upside, he leads Lehigh Valley’s scoring with 20 points and a plus-five rating. He is also one of six Phantoms with a plus-minus rating that is positive.

His most recent stint with Philadelphia was the second of his career. In the 2012-13 season, Manning spent six games with the Flyers and recorded two assists. If Manning manages a permanent spot in the NHL, he will most likely be a physical, defensive defenseman.

Jesper Pettersson, D, 20

Pettersson is young, but clearly impressed the Flyers enough last season to join the Phantoms this year. Despite this being his rookie season in the AHL, Pettersson has appeared in 21 games, thanks largely to defenseman being called up to the Flyers.

ECHL

The Reading Royals have been inconsistent this season and are currently fourth in their division. The Flyers have three players – Brandon Alderson, Andrew Johnston, and Maxim Lamarche – who are with the Royals. Lamarche’s defense has improved, but he has not matched his scoring output from juniors, while Johnston’s development has been hampered by concussion problems.

Non-Minor League Prospect Update

Team Canada recently released their final roster for the 2014 World junior Championship and Flyers defensive prospect Samuel Morin is among those who made the final cut.

Michael Parks is the second-leading scorer for North Dakota, and had six multi-point game since the start of November. He currently has six goals and 14 assists in 19 games.

Philadelphia Flyers Prospect of the Month

Scott Laughton - Philadelphia FlyersScott Laughton was the top prospect of the month last month, and he has held the title again. After a strong start in his first stint with the Phantoms, Laughton parlayed his short AHL time into a call up with Philadelphia. Since his time in the NHL, the center has made his case to stay. He was not expected to contribute a lot offensively, but nonetheless has five points through 17 games. He netted his first NHL goal not too long ago, and has looked like he fits into the next level. It took 17 NHL games for Laughton to score his first career tally, but his talent has been evident this season.