The Philadelphia Phantoms wrapped up their sixth season of existence in the American Hockey League on Sunday night in Hershey. A largely up-and-down campaign, the 2001-02 season saw the Phantoms finish with a 33-27-15-5 record (86 points), good for eighth place in the league’s Western Conference. As the team prepares for its preliminary playoff series with the ninth-seeded Rochester Americans, now is a good time to take a look at the individual player performances from the regular season.
The following article rates each player’s season performance with a letter grade. Included are players who either finished the regular season with the Phantoms or who remain a part of the Philadelphia Flyers organization at the current time. The ratings are done in accordance to usual grading standards (using an A+ to F scale). In this analysis, grades range from A to D+.
Note: Some players simply haven’t played enough games with the team to warrant a full grade rating. Thus, these players have been given an incomplete grade (I). If a player who has been given an incomplete grade has made a notable contribution (or lack of one) to the team in his short time with the Phantoms, he is given a secondary grade. As an example, Greg Koehler has only been with the Phantoms for 22 games, but he has already become an important member of the team in that time. Therefore, his grade is I/B.
The bottom line on the management of the Philadelphia Phantoms is the same just about every year. Regardless of the developmental needs of the parent Flyers, the organization always does whatever it can to ensure that the Phantoms remain competitive. This includes the consistent acquisition of veteran players to a.) generally improve the team and b.) help younger players in their development. This season, general manager Bob Clarke has bolstered the team with several proven minor league veterans, including David Harlock, Corey Hirsch, Greg Koehler, Yves Sarault, Jarrod Skalde and Mike Watt. This organization has also done a solid job of retaining key holdover players, such as Mark Freer, Mark Greig, John Slaney and Neil Little.
Coaching Staff: B
Head coach John Stevens had to deal with a ton of adversity this season, but he became a better coach for it. Coming off of a rookie season in which he often looked uncomfortable behind the bench, the former defenseman seemed to make better adjustments in 2001-02. This was virtually essential to the team’s success, given the amount of personnel adjustments the Phantoms had to make this season. Stevens’ poise and control over his team were questioned at times last season, but he really tightened the reigns this time around. The sophomore coach gave off a more confidant, stable vibe this season. He also seemed much more comfortable working with the team’s younger players (i.e. Guillaume Lefebvre and Mike Lephart). Overall, Stevens – along with assistant coaches Don Nachbaur and Kjell Samuelsson – did a fine job with a team that was, in terms of personnel movement (trades, injuries, etc.), anything but stable at times.
Eric Betournay: I
Straight off the roster of the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the 20-year-old center signed an ATO with the Phantoms on March 30. A 1999 draft selection of the San Jose Sharks (229th overall), Betournay did not register a point in three AHL games.
Pavel Brendl: C-
The season started so promisingly for the heralded right wing prospect. After leading the Flyers in scoring during the exhibition season (nine points in six games), Brendl was granted a spot on the big club’s opening day roster. However, after recording just one goal in seven games, the enigmatic Czech prospect was demoted to the Phantoms. Brendl looked sharp at times during his first full professional season in the AHL, but was largely inconsistent, notching only 37 points in 64 games. Often he would be a force in one game,
invisible the next. His team-high minus-15 wasn’t too impressive, either. We’ll cut Brendl some slack, as this was his first pro season. Still, should he remain with the Flyers organization, much, much more will be expected of him in 2002-03. The former junior scoring dynamo still has the tools to succeed at the pro level in North America, but his reputation as an often-lazy, defensively disinterested loafer continues to persist. Until he proves otherwise, think of Brendl as an Alexander Daigle/Pat Falloon for the new millennium.
Craig Brunel: C-
This fourth line grinder finished the season with the Trenton Titans. He was adequate in a checking role with the Phantoms, providing little offense (3 points in 43 games) while playing an energetic, physical game. Brunel’s 213 PIMs ranked him second on the team to linemate Peter Vandermeer (313). His talents are probably better suited to the pace and style of play of the ECHL.
James Chalmers: B
An effective fourth liner, Chalmers is a physical player who can chip in offensively from time to time (he registered 11 points in 61 games). One of the more surprising newcomers this season, the 24-year-old center impressed the organization with a strong, energetic training camp. A deft defender and penalty-killer, Chalmers adjusted well to the pro game after two seasons at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Tomas Divisek: C+
One of these years, injuries or not, Divisek has to step up and demand the attention of those who hold the key to his potential future NHL career. In this case, we’re talking about the management brass of the Flyers, the organization that drafted Divisek 195th overall in 1998. After showing promise in his first two pro seasons, the 22-year-old Czech right winger seems to have hit a ceiling in his development. This season, Divisek – who many have projected as a future third or fourth line NHLer – just didn’t do enough to impress the Flyers. The oft injured forward stayed relatively healthy this year, but managed only 31 points in 65 games with the Phantoms and one goal (his first in the NHL) in three games with the big club. The Flyers showed their dissatisfaction with Divisek’s play by loaning him to the Springfield Falcons in March. He made a point to predict that he will come back strong next year in Philly.
Todd Fedoruk: I/B-
If nothing else, Fedoruk proved to be a fairly effective fourth line grinder for the Flyers this season. Known primarily as a fighter, the “Fridge” tallied 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) and 137 PIMs in 52 games with the big club. He was eventually demoted to the Phantoms after general manager Bob Clarke pulled the trigger on the ill-conceived Billy Tibbetts deal with Pittsburgh. Fedoruk is by no stretch of the imagination anything more than a marginally skilled NHL role player, but he still deserved better. A “B-” grading may seem a bit high for Fedoruk, but you have to consider his role with the organization. He did everything asked of him this season, yet still found himself back in the AHL near season’s end. As of now, Fedoruk is back with the Flyers. He should stay with the big club for the playoffs – especially after the release of Tibbetts – but only time will tell. Should he be returned to the AHL for the postseason, Fedoruk makes the Phantoms a much more intimidating team to play against.
Ian Forbes: I/C
A strictly defensive rearguard, Forbes made more gradual steps toward his development this season. Though he is a longshot to ever make it to the NHL, the 21-year-old Brampton, Ontario native has shown plenty of commitment to his craft. Injuries limited Forbes to just 33 games with the ECHL’s Trenton Titans last season. In 2001-02, he again spent the majority of the season with the Titans, but also saw action in 18 games with the Phantoms. He looked quite out of place at times, but seemed to steadily gain confidence with each game he played. A physical, hard-working defenseman, Forbes still has a ways to go before he
can even crack an AHL roster on a full-time basis. He is the very definition of raw at this point.
Mark Freer: B+
Yet another solid season for this longtime minor league star. Freer, a veteran of 850 AHL and IHL games, finished third on the team with 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) in 80 games. Though he is not really known as a vocal player, he always leads by example on the ice. As usual, Freer provided plenty of veteran leadership for the Phantoms’ younger prospects. As the only Phantom to play in all of the team’s 80 games, Freer also proved he is still extremely durable at age 33.
Mark Greig: A-
The Phantoms’ captain was once again “Mr. Everything” for the team this season. A clutch performer who plays in all game situations, Greig is one of the most consistently solid players in minor league hockey. Though he did not finish among the league leaders in points this season, Greig did tie for the points lead (with John Slaney) on a team that often had trouble finding the net. The veteran right winger tallied 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) in 66 games this season. Those totals also included 7 powerplay goals, 2 shorthanded scores and 3 game-winning markers. In addition to his point-producing ways, Greig does a lot of the things that go unnoticed on the scoreboard. For instance, his tireless pursuit was a major reason why the team finished first in the AHL in penalty killing efficiency (87.1%) this season. And don’t let his minus-2 rating fool you. A very responsible veteran forward, Greig doesn’t get caught out of position too often. His plus/minus number is more a reflection on the inconsistency of the team this year than of his defensive play. Greig did not receive a call-up to the Flyers for the first time in his four-year tenure with the organization this season. Attribute that the big club’s depth, not his play.
David Harlock: I/B
A rugged, aggressive blueliner, Harlock fit right in with the Phantoms after being acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers (along with two 2003 draft picks) for Francis Lessard on March 15. In giving up Lessard, the Phantoms desperately needed a defenseman who could play a physical brand of hockey. Harlock fits that mold quite nicely, and then some. Though Lessard remains a developmental prospect while Harlock is essentially a career minor leaguer, the later is a much more disciplined defender. In 11 games with the Phantoms, Harlock notched four assists. He has displayed some surprisingly strong passing skills during his brief Philadelphia tenure. In fact, head coach John Stevens has not hesitated to use Harlock at the left point on the powerplay at times.
Corey Hirsch: I/B-
The veteran netminder was acquired on loan from the Washington Capitals organization on March 21. Though he was knocked around in his first few games as a Phantom, he has played well overall. In five games with Philadelphia, Hirsch has a 2-3-0 record, a 2.81 GAA and a .883 save percentage. Including his games with the Portland Pirates, his season record is 8-15-5 (with a 2.69 GAA and .915 SP). Neil Little is the team’s starter right now, but Hirsch can step in at any time should the need arise. The 29-year-old Medicine Hat, Alberta native did not appear in an NHL game this season, but he does have 106 games of big league experience with Washington, Vancouver and the New York Rangers.
Greg Koehler: I/B
This 27-year-old center – acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for Jesse Boulerice on February 13 – has already become an integral part of the Phantoms’ offense. At 6-2, 195 lbs., Koehler gives the team more size down the middle, which will help in the playoffs. Though he is not an ultra-physical player, he uses his size effectively while shielding the puck and creating room for his teammates. Also a good defensive and special teams player, Koehler looks poised to have a solid playoff outing. In 22 late-season games with Philadelphia, he notched 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists).
Kristian Kudroc: I
If nothing else, this 20-year-old Slovakian defenseman is one big dude. At 6-6, 235 lbs., Kudroc gives the Phantoms a physical presence just by showing up. He hasn’t had much of a chance to show what he can do yet, but he has looked decent at times since being acquired on loan from the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 21. Kudroc had four assists in 11 games with the Phantoms, but was a minus-5.
Kirby Law: B-
Statistically speaking, this was a disappointing season for Kirby Law. After recording 61 points in 78 games last season, his numbers dropped in 2001-02. In 71 games this season, the 25-year-old right winger notched only 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists). Though his overall numbers are down, Law’s offensive game came alive during the final weeks of the season. From February 24 to March 30, he notched a 14-game point streak (9 goals, 10 assists). During that span, Law also tallied four game-winning goals. The Phantoms have come to know what they can expect out of Law on a nightly basis. Though he has struggled offensively at times, the McCreary, Manitoba native gives the team an honest, hard-working effort every night. His contributions to the team as an emotional sparkplug often go unnoticed because they don’t always translate directly to the scoreboard.
Guillaume Lefebvre: A
The Phantoms’ 2001-02 rookie of the year, Lefebvre had a terrific all-around campaign. One of the Flyers organization’s most pleasant surprises of the season, the 20-year-old left winger showed remarkable poise and maturity both with and without the puck. As his team-high (tie with John Slaney) plus-12 rating will attest, Lefebvre plays a strong two-way game. He was also more than willing to get his nose dirty, totaling 111 PIMs. After recording one assist in nine playoff games with the Phantoms last season, the Amos, Quebec native tallied 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists) in 78 games this year. Head coach John Stevens showed his faith in Lefebvre throughout the season, playing him in all game situations. Lefebvre was a big part of the team’s first-ranked penalty killing unit. His speed and aggressiveness resulted in a team-high three shorthanded goals. Lefebvre also provided the team with an excellent forechecking game this season. His consistent play earned him three games with the parent Flyers. Though he failed to record a point,
Lefebvre did not look at all out of place during his brief stint with the big club.
Mike Lephart: B
Overall, a decent first pro season for this four-year Boston College standout. As the season progressed, so did Lephart’s all-around game. After a good training camp, the organization wasn’t really sure what to expect from the 24-year-old right winger (he turned 25 on April 3). He was used sparingly at times, but eventually proved that he belonged in the lineup. A fundamentally smart player with good – yet unspectacular – offensive skills, Lephart played a consistently smart defensive game. His point totals weren’t terribly impressive (18 points in 43 games), but he made good adjustments for a player coming straight out of the college ranks. Lephart is one of the Phantoms players to watch in the postseason, as he has been playing with plenty of confidence and jump as of late. On Friday night, he recorded his first four-point game as a pro (2 goals, 2 assists) in a 5-3 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Though he is not longterm NHL prospect, he has the talent to make a career for himself in the AHL.
Neil Little: B+
In terms of statistics, the 2001-02 season was Little’s best as a professional. Despite a misleading 13-15-7 record, the 30-year-old goaltender finished among the AHL leaders with a 2.02 GAA (second) and a .926 save percentage (sixth). After years of toiling in the Flyers’ minor league system, Little finally was given the chance to start an NHL game this season. Unfortunately for him, his turn came in a lackluster, 4-1 Flyers loss at Carolina on March 28. Still, it seemed for so long that Little would never get the opportunity to even appear in an NHL game. He has spent the past several seasons as the Phantoms’ number-one goaltender and the Flyers’ number-one groomer of young netminding talent. Little actually spent the better part of this season grooming the heralded Maxime Ouellet before the rookie keeper was dealt away as part of the Adam Oates trade with Washington. Little will most likely assume his role as a mentor next season should Finland’s Antero Niittymaki cross the pond as expected. Overall, this was yet another strong year for the ever-steady netminder.
Dan Murphy: I
A fourth-year netminder, Murphy spent the majority of the season in the ECHL, putting up terrific numbers with the Trenton Titans. He played adequately in four games with the Phantoms.
Dan Peters: B
Peters is often overlooked because he is neither an NHL prospect nor a proven minor league veteran. Still, the diminutive 24-year-old defenseman has been a steadying force on an ever-changing Phantoms blueline all season long. He’s not going to put up big point totals (18 points in 66 games), but he has shown himself to be a dependable, durable AHL defenseman. Peters may be a career minor league-type player, but he is nonetheless effective in that role. He also comes equipped with solid leadership skills and a tendency to get under opposing players’ skin. Given his current worth to the Phantoms, you’d have to consider his second pro season a success.
Vaclav Pletka: D+
Through the first 20 games of the season, Pletka may well have been the best player in the AHL. Then he let his disappointment in not making the Flyers’ NHL roster get to him, and it was all downhill from there. Pletka was practically sleepwalking on the ice during the second half of the season. He complained to Flyers management on numerous occasions that he belonged in the NHL, but refused to put forth any effort with the Phantoms. Everything came to a head in late April, when he simply left the team (or was told to go home, depending on which account you believe). He remains Flyers property through next season, but no one is sure at this point whether he will return to the Phantoms next season or play in Europe. Last season’s Phantoms rookie of the year, Pletka seemed primed to have a breakthrough effort in 2001-02. He began the AHL season on a tear (10 points in his first seven games), but his play soon tailed off drastically. As the season wore on, he seemed rather disinterested at times, particularly on defense (as his minus-11 rating attests). On the offensive side, Pletka – a creative player with considerable skill – failed to improve much upon his 2000-01 statistics (20 goals, 21 assists in 71 games). He played well in one
appearance with the Flyers, but his overall play this season has to be considered a disappointment. Pletka’s offensive numbers (39 points in 61 games) should have been much better this season. He has the talent to become an elite scorer at the AHL level, but he needs to better motivate himself if he plans on landing a full-time spot in the NHL one day. Obviously, Pletka’s status within the organization is uncertain at this point. Whether he’ll come back to the team next year remains a mystery.
Yves Sarault: I
A veteran of 106 NHL games, Sarault was acquired (along with a conditional 2003 draft pick) from Nashville on January 11 for Jason Beckett and Petr Hubacek. A shoulder injury suffered in his Phantoms debut kept the 29-year-old left winger out of the lineup until recently. He has been relatively ineffective in seven total games with the Phantoms, tallying just a single assist. However, Sarault is beginning to look more comfortable on the ice, so look for him to be a contributor for the Phantoms in the playoffs.
Jarrod Skalde: I/B-
The 31-year-old center was acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers organization for defenseman Joe DiPenta on March 5. Yet another late-season veteran addition to the Phantoms lineup, Skalde tallied 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) and was a minus-7 in 16 games with his new team. If you factor in his numbers with the Chicago Wolves, Skalde had more points (60 in 80 games) than any other Phantom this year. Though he seemed to struggle upon his arrival in Philly, Skalde has come on of late. A former second round draft selection of the New Jersey Devils (26th overall in 1989), he is one of the more skilled offensive on the Phantoms’ roster. Look for him to put forth a good effort in the postseason.
John Slaney: A
Who would have ever thought that the name John Slaney would become synonymous with that of Eddie Shore? OK, we are talking about the award that bears the name of the all-time Boston Bruins great, not the legendary defenseman himself. Late last week, the AHL announced that Slaney had been awarded his second consecutive Shore Award as the league’s best defenseman. Once again, the Phantoms benefited greatly from having Slaney on the blueline. His 59 points (20 goals, 39 assists) in 64 games placed him fourth in the AHL among defenseman and tied him for the Phantoms’ team lead (with Mark Greig). Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the 16 games Slaney lost to injury. Long known as a powerplay specialist, Slaney was a big reason why Philadelphia finished seventh in the league (19.7%) with the man advantage. Though he is not known as a great defensive blueliner, Slaney was solid in his own end this season. His plus-12 rating also led Philadelphia. While some labels are tough to shake, it is clear that Slaney did not win this year’s Shore Award for his offense alone. Ah, old Eddie would’ve been proud.
Bruno St. Jacques: A
With a terrific training camp/exhibition season, St. Jacques set the tone for a rock solid season. As the Flyers’ only NHL-ready defensive prospect, the 21-year-old Montreal native is all but assured of a roster spot with the big club in 2002-03. In fact, only the parent team’s numbers crunch prevented St. Jacques from becoming an NHL regular this season. Quick, versatile and equipped with a surprisingly nasty edge, he is particularly tough on opposing forwards along the boards and behind the net. Not known as an offensive player, St. Jacques tallied a solid 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) and a plus-2 rating in 55 games. He also got his first taste of the NHL this season, looking sharp in seven games. Though he did not record a point with the Flyers, St. Jacques was not shy about jumping into the fray with his usual brand of physical defense. Expect to see him wearing the orange and black full-time come October.
Brad Tiley: B
The 1999-2000 Eddie Shore Award winner was having a so-so season when he went down with a season-ending leg injury in February. Steady, but by no means spectacular, the veteran defenseman tallied 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) in 56 games before getting hurt. Tiley was a disappointing minus-8 this season, but the Phantoms will surely miss his experience and heady play in the postseason.
Jim Vandermeer: C+
This undrafted, first-year defender – a late blooming prospect out of the Western Hockey League – adjusted slowly to the professional game this season. He looked very uncomfortable with the puck early in the year, and was quite prone to turnovers and other mistakes. As the season wore on, Vandermeer began to look more at home, but was never really much better than average defensively at any point. To be truly effective, he must play an aggressive, physical game. Vandermeer was a force in some contests, but was largely inconsistent. For a player who relies on aggressiveness, his 88 PIMs was a rather low total. Though he recorded decent numbers during his junior days with the Red Deer Rebels (134 points in 248 games), Vandermeer is not expected to be a point producer at the pro level. He did, however, post a respectable 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) and a minus-8 rating in 74 games with the Phantoms this year. A major factor in the Rebels’ Memorial Cup-winning season last year, Vandermeer signed as a free agent with the Flyers on December 21. Obviously, he still has a ways to go in his development.
Peter Vandermeer: C
Far and away the team’s penalty minute leader with 313, Vandermeer provided the team with a strong physical presence. The 27-year-old left winger was more than glad to hold opposing players accountable for their actions against the Phantoms’ more skilled players. He became even more valuable to the team with the midseason departures of tough guys Jesse Boulerice and Francis Lessard. A useful grinder, Vandermeer was a good fit on the Phantoms’ fourth line with James Chalmers. Despite his role with the team, his offensive numbers were quite disappointing. He notched only six points (five goals, one assist) in 61 games after tallying 37 points (19 goals, 18 assists) in 62 games with the Providence Bruins last season.
Mike Watt: I/B-
When the Flyers acquired Watt from Nashville during the offseason, the organization expected the veteran center to become one of the Phantoms’ top offensive contributors this season. Unfortunately, Watt suffered a shoulder injury in training camp and missed the first few months of the season. When Watt returned to the lineup, it took him a while to get his overall game back on track (as his minus-11 rating will attest). He finished the season strong, and looks to be one of the Phantoms’ “go to” players in the playoffs. All told, Watt racked up 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 53 games this season.