Philadelphia Flyers’ minor-league prospects bouncing back after horrendous start

By Chris Shafer
Photo: Although he has a minus-21 rating through 36 games, Erik Gustafsson has been among the bright spots for the Adirondack Phantoms this season. (Photo Courtesy of webb.nmu.edu)

There is plenty of disappointment these days when the Adirondack Phantoms are mentioned in Philadelphia. Gone are the days when they brought life to a now half-demolished Spectrum in 10 postseason appearances through 13 seasons. The two championships once hoisted by Phantoms’ captains over the years seem to be even more of a memory as the team continues its worst season ever. With just 11 wins and 26 points in 40 games played this year, they sit fairly comfortably in last place having scored the least amount of goals and given up the most.

What may be even more shocking than the Phantoms’ record of 11-25-2-2 is that seven of those eleven wins have come in the last eleven games. Though it certainly is not reason to get excited at this point, it is a step in the right direction.

Greg Gilbert, who coached the Phantoms through their poor season last year and their abysmal start to 2010-11, was fired on November 8th leading the way for Flyers’ Assistant Manager John Paddock to name Joe Paterson the new coach after Paddock himself took up a stint as interim coach. Paterson took over on December 20th, 2010, and since then, the Phantoms have put together a record of 5-4-0. The recent wins and change on the bench comes after a number of problems within the locker room that resulted in the departure of top prospect Patrick Maroon (ANH).

Eric Wellwood, LW, 20

As the new top forward prospect with the departure of Patrick Maroon, Wellwood has already seen NHL action. In three games with the Flyers this season, his speed and tenacity turned some heads as he finished his brief stint with a plus-one rating. His numbers on the Phantoms though are a completely different story. Through 36 games he has eight goals and six assists for just 14 points. The normally very responsible two-way forward also has a minus-19 rating. It does not however say very much about his play for the Phantoms as he has been discussed as one of if not the best player on the team as the halfway mark of the season inches closer.

Andrew Rowe, LW, 22

Like Erik Gustafsson, Ben Holmstrom, and Mike Testwuide, Andrew Rowe was signed out of college this past off-season in an attempt to bring more depth to the prospect pool. Also like the other three skaters that the Flyers scouted from the ranks of the NCAA, he made a few waves during the preseason. He showed a little bit of offensive creativity to go along with his hardworking style of on-ice play. Like all other forwards on the Phantoms, his offensive success has been marginal with five goals and four assists through 36 games.

Rob Bordson, LW, 22

The 22-year-old acquisition from the Patrick Maroon trade, Rob Bordson, has found a little niche on the Phantoms, though the production is not coming for him. He has been tested all around the lineup including the powerplay with very little as far as results. He has had 21 games with the Phantoms since the trade but has yet to record a goal. He remains a minus ten with ten penalty minutes. The University of Minnesota-Duluth product was signed by the Ducks for the 2010-11 season after a dynamic junior year which included 12 goals and 28 assists for 40 points in 40 games. Outside of that single year, he has not recorded more than seven points so far since leaving the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL in 2007.

Matt Clackson, LW, 25

Matt Clackson has become the regular enforcer for the Phantoms and has appeared in 37 games so far. With a goal and three assists to his name, he is not exactly helping the scoring problems for the team, but that is not what he is in the lineup to do. His 79 penalty minutes though are only second on the roster behind Rinaldo’s 146.

Garrett Klotz, LW, 22

Klotz appeared in 10 AHL games with the Phantoms and finished with ten penalty minutes, no points, and a minus one rating. The bottom line menace seemed to bring very little to the table for the team and was soon sent down to the ECHL in order to bring more skilled bodies to the roster. He played three games for the Greenville Road Warriors without any stats to his name before being dropped to the Bloomington PrairieThunder of the Central Hockey League where he now plays with Flyers’ goalie prospect Brad Phillips. In 14 games in the CHL, he has a goal, three assists, and a hefty 49 penalty minutes.

Luke Pither, C, 21

Much like the Phantoms themselves, Pither has been on a tear recently with five of his eleven points in the last month. Pither himself has spent time all over the lineup and even on the outside looking in while the team struggled under the recently fired Greg Gilbert. For a long stretch of time in the early season while the Phantoms appeared to be in a bottomless pit, Pither was being used in a fourth line role which is directly in conflict with his talents as a playmaker and a scorer.

Though he lacks physicality, he uses the assets at his disposal such as creativity, timing, and a sense for the offensive aspects of the game. Though 11 points off of six goals in 35 games is not remarkable in the least, like the Phantoms Pither struggled early under Gilbert but is shining recently in a role that is better suited for his talents.

Ben Holmstrom, C, 23

Another player who started to pick up offensive steam in December was Ben Holmstrom, someone who surprised a lot of people with his play on the Flyers during the preseason. The two-way product of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell has been moved away from the wings in order to center his own line. So far the move has created relative success with the only relative part being that the Phantoms have not had a successful season so far. Holmstrom right now sits as the third highest scorer on the team. He has seven goals and eight assists in 40 games this year and is one of only two Phantoms to play in every single game so far this season.

Jon Kalinski, C, 23

It may feel like a long time since Kalinski was in the spotlight and playing games for the Flyers, but Kalinski already has 22 fairly successful NHL games under his belt. At one point along the way, the organization even converted him to center in the hope of grooming him to be a defensively solid fourth line role-player who could bring some versatility to the lineup. Even though they re-signed Blair Betts to fill that role, many believed that Kalinski would be the next in line for that position. During this season though he got into a few locker room problems. Because of this, Kalinski’s play has relatively flown under the radar. While it is obviously not much, his 14 points in 33 games is fourth among forwards on the team.

Zac Rinaldo, C, 20

One of the few players that the Flyers’ front office has pegged as someone with a future in the NHL is Zac Rinaldo. His reputation for stirring the pot and playing on the edge certainly preceded him into the NHL where he has earned a team high of 146 penalty minutes while no other Phantom is even relatively close to hitting triple digits. He has even gotten a few opportunities to play on lines with more extensive roles at times during his 35 games played this season. Though the success in a scoring role has been marginal, he has notched two goals and four assists on the year.

Mike Testwuide, RW, 23

Outside a stretch in mid-December where Testwuide accumulated six points in six games, like much of the offense for the Phantoms the rookie two-way forward’s production has been inconsistent. He has just two goals on the season to go along with ten assists through 36 games played, but just how he has managed to stay at a minus four while playing a significant role in most of the games the Phantoms have played this season in fairly remarkable. Fairly quietly Testwuide is earning some praise despite his limited production. His game was noticed in the preseason by the Flyers and the fans much like his teammate Holmstrom, and it should come as no surprise that the organization is keeping a close watch on him.

Stefan Legein, RW, 22

After sitting out the last 19 games with a shoulder injury, it appears as though Legein will be looking for a return in the near future. He started skating again right before the Phantoms’ Christmas break, but since this is the second time he has injured that shoulder, he is taking extra precautions. He did play in the Phantoms’ first 19 appearances this season registering two goals and six assists, but his numbers were just as unremarkable as those for the rest of the Phantoms in the early season. The Phantoms are 3-14-2 with him in the lineup and 8-11-0 without him, but he has yet to play with the team since they moved into the Joe Paterson era.

Shane Harper, RW, 21

Shane Harper did not make Greg Gilbert’s roster out of camp. Instead the young, talented winger was sent to the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL where he notched 10 points in 11 games. It was not until Gilbert’s removal and Paddock’s moves as interim coach that Harper got an opportunity to play with the Phantoms. In his first night with the team, he notched two assists and has since added a goal for three points in 20 games. Though those numbers are not particularly impressive, with the Phantoms slowly starting to shows signs of life they are something to build from.

Erik Gustafsson, D, 22

Though Joonas Lehtivuori was expected to carry the bulk of the work from the blue line after showing the world what he was capable of in 2009-10, the 22-year-old rookie Erik Gustafsson has solidified himself as the Flyers’ lead defensive prospect halfway through the season. He currently leads the Phantoms in points with 27 in 36 games and plays all situations for the team. He has a plus/minus rating of minus-21, but that it more characteristic of the responsibility he has on this struggling team than of his actual play. He has been called up by the Flyers on a couple of occasions due to blue line injuries, but he has yet to be needed in an NHL game. If his preseason was any indication of what to expect from him against NHL competition, then he could find himself getting an opportunity with the Flyers soon.

Joonas Lehtivuori, D, 22

After a great 2009-10 season where Lehtivuori led the reigns on the blue line earning him plenty of praise from the Flyers’ organization, he is not playing as well this season. His offensive pacing is roughly the same on what is easily the league’s worst offensive attack, but he has not been as focused in the defensive zone. That is not to say that he has been bad because he has clearly performed well enough despite the circumstances, but his play has certainly not met the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders after last season. In 32 games he has two goals and seven assists, but his minus-24 is startling. Like Gustafsson’s low rating, it is not entirely deserved, but Gustafsson has certainly jumped Lehtivuori on the organization’s defensive depth chart.

Marc-Andre Bourdon, D, 21

It is certainly a down year for Marc-Andre Bourdon even though his rookie season last year was not all that impressive. Seven points in 33 games played so far this season is not quite what he was expecting as a year where he should start to get more accustomed to the professional game speed. His skating is still holding him back, and it is much more evident now than it ever was playing against lesser competition in Canadian juniors.

Kevin Marshall, D, 21

Like Bourdon, Kevin Marshall has not quite got the hang of the professional game just yet. Marshall though, despite a lack of the pure offensive instincts that Bourdon has, is able to simplify his game for a defensive role. He has played every game this season but one, a rarity among Phantoms’ players, and has three points on the season. His minus-15 rating is not to appealing, but there is not a defenseman on the roster who has logged a large amount of minutes for the Phantoms with a rating that does not dip negatively into double digits.

Nicola Riopel, G, 21

Originally dropped to the Greenville Road Warriors thanks to the organizational depth at the goaltending position, Riopel quickly put himself together through nine early season games in the ECHL. Before being recalled to the Phantoms during their struggles, he finished with a record of 6-2-1 to go along with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. His once-earned title of ECHL goalie of the week in late October though could not save him from a struggling Phantoms team in the id="HFlink" href="/teams/ahl">AHL. He jumped into five straight losses as the goaltender for the Phantoms leading into mid-December. His numbers during that stretch of six games, one in which he relieved Johan Backlund from net halfway through, stood at a 3.72 goals against average and a .849 save percentage. In the following four starts, he put up a 2.25 average and a .933 percentage including a shutout earning him four wins. Due to the Flyers waiving Michael Leighton though, he has been returned to the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL.

Brian Stewart, G, 25

Like most players on the Phantoms, Brian Stewart‘s game has been better since the turnover in coaching duties. Before the organization stabilized itself in mid-December, Stewart posted a 4.20 goals-against average and a .847 save percentage. However, since being called in to relieve a Nic Riopel during a six to two loss for the Phantoms on December 29th, Stewart has put up a 1.31 goals-against average to go along with a .950 save percentage in five games which included his first four wins of the year. Even impressive numbers were not enough to save Stewart though. With the return of Michael Leighton to the minors, Stewart was loaned to the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.

Brad Phillips, G, 21

The now 21-year-old Phillips has had an interesting career since being drafted by the Flyers in the 7th round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He committed to the University of Notre Dame where he put up strong numbers in the backup role during his freshman year. An injury sidelined him for his sophomore season, but he came into 2009-10 expecting to finally get his time as a starter. Instead he ended up as part of a rotation before finally losing the job completely. Instead of sitting through another year as a backup, Phillips forwent his senior season instead opting to play for the Bloomington PrairieThunder of the CHL. Once again in a backup role, Phillips has ten games while accounting for four wins. His 2.40 goals-against average and .913 save percentage are better than his teammate, the 32-year-old Marco Emond, who has 24 starts in net this year.

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