For the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms, the story this season has been more about who is missing rather than who is there. While the Flyers’ most talked about rookie, Sean Couturier, is too young to brave the AHL, it was a distinct possibility that any or all of Philadelphia’s numerous rookies could have been regulars for the Phantoms this season.
The Flyers’ fourth leading scorer is one of those rookies. Coming into training camp last summer it was a very real possibility that Matt Read, contender for rookie of the year honors, would be on the Phantoms’ roster. Brayden Schenn, another extremely high-profile rookie, was actually in Adirondack for a stint this season but has since earned a permanent position with the Flyers. Meanwhile Harry Zolnierczyk and Zac Rinaldo have become regular guests on a rotating energy line that changes to better challenge any given opponent.
Defensively, this year’s surprise rookie has been Marc-Andre Bourdon. Injuries had kept his professional career up to this point extremely quiet, but the physical offensive blueliner has made a splash on the NHL roster in a big way. Also finally healthy and making a presence of the Flyers’ blue line is Erik Gustafsson, who was the Phantoms’ second leading scorer and sole AHL All-Star representative last season.
Ben Holmstrom, C, 24
The Phantoms’ captain is not only the third highest scoring forward on the roster, but he is also one of the most defensively responsible players. While many believed it was possible for him to make the Flyers’ roster outright in an energy role this season, he has been kept in Adirondack despite getting his fair share of call-ups to the NHL.
Another telling point of emphasis for Holmstrom is his penalty minutes. His offense comes from grit and an unwillingness to be beaten off pucks. He’s quickly becoming the do-everything kind of forward that will keep him in the mix to earn a spot on the Flyers.
Tyler Brown, C, 21
If Ben Holmstrom was the camp surprise of 2010, then Tyler Brown was the man of 2011. Loose comparisons to other gritty forwards who found success offensively in the recent NHL were thrown around quite a bit, and Brown was certainly well-liked by General Manager Paul Holmgren. Even so, the offensive numbers were not there in juniors, and they have not been there with the Phantoms so far this season. Brown has brought a feisty style to the ice, but others have gotten call-ups and playing time ahead of him having proven they can bring more to the table at this point in time.
Luke Pither, C, 22
Despite the expectations, the offense just has yet to come around for Pither in the professional world of hockey. He began to come on strong at the end of last season due in part to the coaching change and a re-imagined role on the roster. This has not helped him much in 2011-12 though, as his offense and, in turn, his minutes have dwindled. He was recently placed with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL to see if the move could spark his game.
Jon Kalinski, C, 24
Once the next in line to be the Flyers’ energy line shut-down forward, now Kalinski is not getting as much attention. Veteran Maxime Talbot was signed to fill that role despite his movement around the Flyers’ NHL roster, rookie Sean Couturier has almost perfectly defined that role for more than half a season as a 19-year-old despite his inevitable move up the depth chart, and Phantoms’ captain Ben Holmstrom seems now destined for that role as displayed by his use during call-ups. All of this has left Kalinski in an odd state of limbo this season. This is nothing new for him though. He was in this same limbo last season, and though he has the talent to play in the NHL, his future in the big league may not be with the Flyers. He is having another solid year with the Phantoms and will be a restricted free-agent at the end of this season.
Eric Wellwood, LW, 21
Despite missing a couple weeks due to injury, Eric Wellwood has been a key player for the Phantoms this year. Of the skaters with significant time on the roster, he has the second highest point-per-game average on the team. His skating ability, a trait that fits well in Flyers’ system, also earned him a call-up this season for a game, in which he registered an assist putting him at two career NHL assists in four games. While the also speedy Harry Zolnierczyk is currently occupying the Flyers’ energy line in Wellwood’s stead, it is likely because the organization feels that only good things can come from being patient with Wellwood who brings not only pure speed but some defensive and offensive flair as well.
Tom Sestito, LW, 24
Many felt that Tom Sestito would have an NHL role in some capacity this season, and even though he has mainly played with the Phantoms this season, that does not mean he has been a disappointment. Head Coach Peter Laviolette seems determined to keep Jody Shelley in the mix while Zac Rinaldo and Harry Zolnierczyk have played too well to remove from the wings. That leaves Sestito with call-up duty when injuries arise. With NHL experience already in his wake, he has been able to jump right into the mix whenever asked bringing size and an on-ice attitude wherever he goes.
Tye McGinn, LW, 21
The former lead powerforward of the Gatineau Olympiques is not having the kind of year he envisioned his AHL rookie season to be. Despite playing fairly steadily through the year, he has only managed an unimpressive six points. While players with more production than him have been moved up and down between the ECHL and AHL, McGinn’s play could certainly use some more pay-off. He has the ability to score more and put up better numbers. Even so, he is still one of the younger players on the team, and the professional game is not always the nicest to 21-year-olds.
Andrew Rowe, LW, 24
Despite being among the pleasant surprise signings of the 2010 free-agent prospect initiative, Andrew Rowe has found himself shifting around the minors these past two seasons. Last year he spent 10 games in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors, and he recently came off of a two-game return stint with them this season. Coupled with an upper-body injury that sidelined him for much of the early season, Rowe’s temporary trip to the ECHL has left him with only 15 AHL games this season.
Jason Akeson, RW, 21
After a telling preseason that demonstrated the skill and vision that Akeson could one day bring to the Flyers’ roster, the former leading scorer of the OHL is now the leading scorer of the Adirondack Phantoms. While his shooting game is starting to develop, Akeson makes no apologies for being a pass-first kind of player, but that is what makes him of particular value to the AHL team which has lost a number of its better finishers to the NHL roster. Akeson is the kind of forward who makes players around him better, and he puts other players in the position to score goals.
Mike Testwuide, RW, 24
Testwuide has not necessarily been a disappointment, but in the wake of Ben Holmstrom‘s success, Testwuide has not demonstrated that he was deserving of much of the hype surrounding his signing a couple years back. Holmstrom, a much more minor signing at the time, has played better. Testwuide can still use his body around the net and play a strong defensive game, if not the best defensive game of any forward on the Phantoms. Even so, in order to make the Flyers’ roster down the road he has to beat out other young wingers competing for their NHL careers, most of which are performing better.
Shane Harper, RW, 22
When Harper and Luke Pither were signed together out of Canadian Juniors, there was much more hype surrounding the latter. Even into the 2010-11 season, Pither was getting AHL time while Harper was demoted to the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL for much of the season. This year it seems the tables may have slightly turned. Harper’s more unspecialized skill-set has earned him a regular spot with the team while Pither continues to struggle and has even suffered his own temporary demotion.
Kevin Marshall, D, 22
While he was a lengthy call-up this season, Kevin Marshall has been returned to the Phantoms due to the outstanding play of Marc-Andre Bourdon and the return of Erik Gustafsson. While his defensive play and physical play are progressing very well, his play with the puck is still not where it needs to be for him to get extended time in the lineup. In his 10 game NHL stint though, he demonstrated that it is not all that farfetched to believe that with a little more time Marshall could become the mid-range, solid shutdown defensemen that many projected him to be. He has definitely been an important part of the Phantoms’ success this season.
Blake Kessel, D, 22
Blake Kessel got a lot of attention in camp not only as the brother of NHLer Phil Kessel but because, despite his famous last name, he seemed to appear out of nowhere. A technicality allowed for the Flyers to steal Kessel from the Islanders’ prospect pool while the termination of Joonas Lehtivuori‘s contract allowed it to be made official.
The young, puck-moving defensemen got more pressure thrown on his shoulders when Erik Gustafsson was called up to the Flyers’ roster. Things got even more important when Gustafsson went down with a wrist injury. Now Kessel was the big time puck-moving defenseman on the Phantoms, a role which he seems to have adopted well.
Oliver Lauridsen, D, 22
Two games into his professional career, the 6’6 "Great Dane" of the Flyers’ prospect pool suffered a shoulder injury that put a quick end to his debut. It cost him his first professional season. This year Lauridsen has played in most of the games and is trying to make up for lost time.
Despite the hype over his size and defensive aptitude coming into camp, it was clear that Lauridsen was extremely raw. His skating needed work even though he had size and reach to create an almost absurd advantage over opponents. Things are still coming along slowly, and as a shutdown defenseman, he is still behind Kevin Marshall, who was a call-up for a lengthy stint this season already. Time right now is Lauridsen’s best friend, and just as it was when he was drafted in the mid-seventh round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, there is still no rush.
Brandon Manning, D, 21
Things this season have not been fun for Brandon Manning. The two-year captain of the Chiliwack Bruins expected a much bigger splash into professional hockey than he has had. An undisclosed injury kept him out of preseason camps and out of the lineup until a December 3rd matchup against the Norfolk Admirals. He has since played 20 games and registered only four points. He has demonstrated in Canadian Juniors that he is capable of being a force at every inch of the ice defensively, offensively, and physically. For now though it will take time and health for him to progress.
Tyler Hostetter, D, 20
Tyler Hostetter is the only Flyers’ prospect who was immediately sent to the ECHL where he was set to play for the Trenton Titans. He had played well in his first 10 games notching five points off of two goals and three assists before suffering an injury that forced the Titans to place him on the injured reserve list. His recent activation will give him the chance to continue his rookie season in the ECHL. Through 19 games on the season, he has managed four goals and three assists.