Fans attending the Flyers’ 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday afternoon at the Wachovia Center were treated to a solid debut outing by veteran center Alexei Zhamnov.
If they were watching closely, however, they would have noticed another player wearing the Orange and Black for the first time (albeit in a cameo appearance).
Freddy Meyer’s participation in the pre-game skate received a brief mention during the game’s local television broadcast and nary a blurb in the newspapers that cover the team on a daily basis.
But people better get used to the name, because the rookie defenseman was officially recalled from the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms this morning. He will participate in the Flyers’ practice sessions today and could be in the lineup for tomorrow night’s home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I was very surprised [to hear about the recall],” explained Meyer, who was informed of the situation by Phantoms head coach John Stevens before practice this morning. “It came out of nowhere, and I had no idea it was coming.
“Obviously, I’m really excited though. This will be a great experience for me.”
Meyer has been solid for the Phantoms since the start of the season, and his play has gotten considerably better with each passing month. To this point, he has recorded 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists), a plus-10 rating and 20 PIMs in 36 AHL games.
His recall was unexpected, mainly because most observers view another rookie, Randy Jones, as the organization’s most “NHL-ready” minor league blueliner. Second-year man Wade Skolney was also thought to be ahead of Meyer on the depth chart, but is currently nursing a shoulder injury.
Jones is listed as the Flyers’ 15th best prospect by Hockey’s Future, while Meyer and Skolney have been included in the “other notables” section since the start of the season. The team did not provide an immediate comment on the transaction.
Meyer, 23, began the weekend with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the American Hockey League. He participated in the team’s 3-0 victory over the arch-rival Hershey Bears on Friday night at the Wachovia Spectrum, and was summoned by the parent club the following morning.
The former Boston University star took part in Saturday’s warm-ups as a precaution. Chris Therien had been feeling under the weather, but ultimately decided to play. That meant that Meyer – this close to making his NHL debut – was instead headed immediately to Hershey, to join the Phantoms in that night’s rematch against the Bears.
To say that he made the most of the situation would be a drastic understatement.
“There was a 50-50 chance of me playing for the Flyers, but it didn’t happen,” he explained. “So I had to hurry to make the [Phantoms’] bus to Hershey for the game that night. It turned out to be a pretty good game for the team and myself.”
Meyer wound up propelling the Phantoms to a 4-1 victory in a most unexpected way – by recording his first professional hat trick. In what was unquestionably his finest performance to date, the young rearguard scored three times in the third period (the last one into an empty net) and played a sound, physical defensive game.
“It was a good bus trip back,” said Meyer afterward, downplaying his performance with a telling laugh. “It’s always good when the team wins, especially in a big game like that.”
The Flyers were so impressed with Meyer’s play over the weekend (not to mention his handling of Saturday’s situation) that the team’s brass decided to grant him his first true NHL recall today.
How long the young rearguard stays with the big team is anybody’s guess. He has good puck skills, plays solid positional defense and can skate like the wind, but at 5’10”, 192 lbs., one has to call into question whether or not he can compete effectively on the world’s largest hockey stage.
Regardless, even if Meyer is used as a healthy scratch and does not appear in one game during his first big league stint, he will have already gotten much further than any critic predicted he would this season.
Meyer, an undrafted free agent, was signed to a two-year entry level contract by the Flyers on May 22nd. Though the team saw potential in him, he was expected to develop and play exclusively at the minor league level this season.
“I’m just going to take this day by day and see what happens,” he said. “I want to make sure I enjoy this and just soak the whole atmosphere [of the NHL] in.
“I’m nervous, but being with the team for Saturday morning’s warm-up kind of broke the ice for me. Now I can just focus on what the team wants me to do.”
Additional Phantoms notes
• Defenseman James Laux also remains out with what the team is calling a “sports hernia.” The team did sign Central Hockey League regular Les Borsheim to a PTO on Saturday.
• Veteran defenseman John Slaney accounted for the team’s other tally on Saturday. With it, he broke the AHL’s all-time record for goals by a defenseman (125). The mark was formerly held by Jim Wiemer, who played in the league for six teams between 1981 and 1995.
• The team established a new record for consecutive victories over one team with its ninth in a row over Hershey on Friday night. That mark was improved upon the following night, and the team is now an astounding 10-0-0-0 against Hershey this season.
• The team also held an astronomical 238 minute, 53 second shutout streak over Hershey before Pascal Trepanier scored for the Bears in the first period of Saturday’s game.
• And, finally, another record of sorts fell on Saturday night. The Bears actually welcomed this one, however, as the 10,812 fans in attendance at the Giant Center established a new high for the two-year-old building.