Of the 20 players that suited up for more than 40 games through a disappointing 2009-10 season with the Adirondack Phantoms, only 11 will return for another go, and a few of those players will likely see reduced ice time in the future.
From the moment the final horn sounded signaling an end to the AHL regular season, the organization made it clear that there was going to be a massive turnover for the Phantoms. The wheels were already in motion during the spring of 2010 when GM Paul Holmgren inked a number of standout free-agent prospects including goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, defenseman Erik Gustafsson, as well as forwards Luke Pither, Mike Testwuide, Ben Holmstrom, and Shane Harper. All of those players are expected to have roles with the Phantoms in the upcoming season.
While no one is quite sure how the season will go in Adirondack, everyone expects that things will be different. Different is good for the team that finished last in the East Division and second to last in scoring in the entire league.
The most noticeable subtraction from the Phantoms’ roster is clearly center Jonathan Matsumoto, who was traded to Carolina at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The AHL‘s second worst offense had just lost its highest scoring forward.
Despite a key loss, there is still hope for a revived offensive attack in 2010-11. Patrick Maroon returns looking to rebound from a disappointing season where injuries limited him to 67 games and far fewer healthy ones. Joining him will be David Laliberte and Stefan Legein, who finished second and fifth in scoring for the club last year respectively. Jonathan Kalinski will also return looking to continue his defensive role with the team, and though their ice-time will most likely be limited, both Garrett Klotz and Matt Clackson will return to bring some tenacity to the lineup.
Andreas Nodl, who recently made the Flyers’ roster out of camp, was loaned back to the Phantoms before getting the opportunity to play the season opener in the NHL. He will add another quality forward to the roster in between call-up duty.
In Matsumoto’s place, OHL standout Luke Pither will look to be the offensive juggernaut for the club only a season removed from finishing third in OHL scoring behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, who were drafted first and second overall in the 2010 Draft respectively.
Joining him will be Ben Holmstrom, who played very well at center through Flyers’ training camp, and winger Mike Testwuide, who displayed some chemistry with Holmstrom. Along with Andrew Rowe, the trio make up a solid mix of former NCAA forwards who can do a little bit of everything well.
A trio from the CHL finish out the youth movement at the forward position. Eric Wellwood comes in as the speedy two-way standout forward who managed to win back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires. Shane Harper, who signed with the Flyers at the same time as Pither after finishing fifth in goal-scoring among all WHL forwards with 42 in 2009-10, will fight to be on the roster along with the energetic Zac Rinaldo, who hopes to bring some fire to the lineup as well as some big hits.
The lone veteran presence among the forwards will be Greg Moore, who has tons of AHL experience since leaving the University of Maine in 2006 ranging from the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and the Syracuse Crunch. Along with his travels, he has collected 10 NHL games including stints on the New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Joonas Lehtivuori is back to lead the blue line for the Phantoms once again in 2010-11 along with a seemingly much improved Marc-Andre Bourdon, who impressed at times during the preseason. Though Kevin Marshall was battling an injury through training camp, he will also make a return for the season.
The biggest addition to the blue line comes in the form of 21-year-old, Swedish-born Erik Gustafsson, who spent three years dominating the NCAA with his smooth puck-handling and precision passing. In a trial stint with the Phantoms at the end of last season, he managed seven points in just five games.
Outside of the main prospects, AHL vet Dan Jancevski will be leading the charge while Cullen Eddy, a defenseman straight out of Mercyhurst College, Logan Stephenson, who played 62 games for the Phantoms last year, and J.P. Testwuide, brother of Mike Testwuide who played 58 games for the Houston Aeros last season, will battle for ice time.
The biggest question mark right now is whether or not one of the eight defensemen currently on the Flyers’ roster will be joining them in the future. With the additions of Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker, and veteran Sean O’Donnell to the Flyers’ already deep blue line, it is possible that Latvian Olympian Oskars Bartulis is pushed back to AHL duty. For now, the Flyers will carry eight defenseman including Bartulis.
After struggling through offseason injury, Johan Backlund got a very small sample size during preseason. The Phantoms’ 2009-10 MVP will be returning once again to a vastly different and much improved roster.
The Flyers’ recent free-agent signing, Sergei Bobrovsky, seems to taken all of the attention away from Backlund though. The 22-year-old, self-coached KHL star for Metallurg Novokuznetsk got his first chance in North America, and thanks to an injury to starter Michael Leighton, he will get his shot with Flyers. Though he was originally expected to split time with Backlund in the AHL, his play between the pipes was the biggest bright spot among rookies during the preseason. Once Leighton returns, it could mean a trip north to Adirondack for Bobrovsky, but for now he is making Philadelphia buzz with the hope of a long-term savior in the crease.
Nicola Riopel, a QMJHL superstar and regular season GAA record owner will be sent to the ECHL, likely to start the season with the Greenville Road Warriors. The organization feels that getting consistent starts is important for his development.
Former Toronto Marlies head coach Greg Gilbert will return for a second season behind the bench for the Phantoms with an almost completely different roster. He will be looking for a significant improvement from his newly reformed team, and he certainly has the tools in place to accomplish it.
Another familiar face will be joining the bench as an assistant coach for 2010-11. After three years as the intimidator for the Flyers’ roster, Riley Cote rejoins the team that he was a member of when they won the Calder Cup as AHL Champions in 2004-05 during the NHL lockout as the Philadelphia Phantoms.
The camp standouts for the 2010-11 preseason are a short list that include Sergei Bobrovsky and Erik Gustafsson. Others such as Patrick Maroon, Andreas Nodl, Ben Holmstrom, Mike Testwuide, Eric Wellwood, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Joonas Lehtivuori all looked solid enough despite playing different amounts of games.
Right now, the majority of Flyers’ prospects have entered into their professional careers at the same time, thanks in large part to Holmgren’s recent signings.
With an AHL squad flooded with an influx of new prospects, the youth movement is certainly on for the Phantoms. The goal now is to get everything together and mesh a ton of new faces into a team that can win games.