We’ve hit the dog days of the offseason.
Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers saw NHL free agency open last week and they barely made any noise — well, in terms of NHL-caliber players at least.
Fletcher made his moves in June and rather than overcommit to veterans in free agency, the Flyers added eight depth players for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and set the table for an in-house competition.
With no further signings, the Flyers have a spot open in their lineup — on the third line to be exact.
Here’s an early look at the Flyers’ top-nine:
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk – Kevin Hayes – Jake Voracek
Oskar Lindblom – Nolan Patrick – In-house option
The Flyers could fill that hole with someone like Scott Laughton or Michael Raffl, and have a veteran play on the fourth line, but given their options, a prospect should be more likely.
Fletcher’s quiet free agency left the door open for one of the in-house options to make a run for the third-line winger role in training camp. Let’s take a look at the five options that Fletcher named among standouts at development camp.
Drafted: 27th overall in 2017
Sault Ste. Marie (OHL): 58 GP, 37 G, 72 A, 109 PTS, +33
Playoffs: 11 GP, 7 G, 11 A, 18 PTS, +2
World Juniors (Canada): 5 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 PTS
Morgan Frost has graduated out of the OHL at 20 years old and will spend the 2019-20 season either in the NHL with the Flyers or in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He put on a show with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and is ready to prove himself with the Orange and Black.
It would not be much of a surprise if Morgan Frost made the team out of camp. He has shown what he can do in each of the past two seasons with a combined 221 points in 125 games. That’s an insane statline at any level.
The most impressive thing about Frost is that he can do damage no matter the situation.
This past season he had 65 even-strength points (23 goals, 42 assists), 33 power-play points (10 goals, 23 assists) and 11 shorthanded points (4 goals, 7 assists). His plus-minus of +33 is a sign that he’s a well-rounded player, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s satisfied with his two-way game.
While Frost doesn’t like to set expectations for himself, he does set goals. At development camp he said that one of his main goals this season is “playing more defensively,” as well as “getting stronger and faster.”
You have to imagine that one of his private goals is to make the Flyers roster out of training camp.
Assistant GM Brent Flahr spoke highly of Frost at development camp, saying that “you can see the way he thinks the game and sees the ice. He can make plays.” However, “training camp will dictate” if Frost is physically ready for the NHL.
The one possible “knock” against Frost is that he is naturally a center. He would need to shift to the wing to make the roster with Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes and Nolan Patrick ahead of him on the depth chart. It’s possible that he could center the fourth line for some time, but if Frost makes the NHL, he should be receiving more than fourth-line minutes.
Frost is the leading candidate for the job based on the current circumstances. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, you can expect to see him as an in-season call-up similar to Oskar Lindblom two years ago or Carter Hart last season.
Drafted: 14th overall in 2018
Boston University: 37 GP, 17 G, 19 A, 36 PTS, +4
World Juniors (USA): 7 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, +2
Right behind Morgan Frost as an in-house option is Joel Farabee.
Farabee was selected as the National Rookie of the Year after an outstanding freshman season at Boston University. As a freshman, Farabee led the Terriers in points with 36 (17 goals, 19 assists) in 37 games before missing Boston’s final game with an injury.
The 2018 first-round pick would’ve undoubtedly built on that in his sophomore year, but he decided to sign his entry-level contract with the Flyers in March. He is now no longer eligible to play college hockey and will be turning pro this season.
The question that remains is if it’ll be with the Flyers or with the Phantoms.
Farabee is hoping it’s with the Flyers — and for good reason. The strong two-way center felt he had done all he could with Boston University and is ready to take it to the next level.
“There is a wing spot open right now so obviously that’s my goal to make the team,” Farabee said at development camp.
“Pretty realistic, so if I’m up and down or don’t make it this year I wouldn’t be surprised. I just have to prepare to either play in Philly or Lehigh, so that’s where I’m at right now.”
The Flyers see that as well.
“You watch Joel Farabee. You watch the way he thinks the game, especially the small area hockey games out there,” Flahr said. He’s a guy that I can imagine you put him with NHL players, he can play.
Farabee could very well impress in training camp and earn the third-line right wing job. He is a winger by trade and has a great skill set that will transition to the NHL. He just needs to be physically ready.
Frost and Farabee are the big names, but Chuck Fletcher mentioned three other guys when asked about in-house options.
“It’s more than Farabee and Frost,” Fletcher said. “I think Rubtsov had a tremendous prospect camp here. Ratcliffe is a quality young player. Vorobyev is a young man that we feel is going to come back next year a little bit stronger. There are several players down there that can play games … That’s what training camps for. It’s an opportunity for players to come in and show that they belong. It should be an exciting camp.
Let’s take a look at those three.
Drafted: 22nd overall in 2016
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL): 14 GP, 6 G, 4 A, 10 PTS, +3
German Rubtsov hasn’t had a truly full season since being drafted in 2016. The 22nd overall pick has dealt with more than his fair share of issues including travelling (from Russia to the QMJHL in 2016-17; then traded midseason in 2017-18) and injuries (from a broken nose to a shoulder injury last season).
Now Rubtsov is training this offseason with the Flyers and looks to have a full summer to ramp things up.
“He’s full-on training right now. He’s sort of past the rehab stage. Now he’s working on strength and speed and quickness and his hockey game, and that’s exciting,” Fletcher said at development camp.
“He’ll essentially have a full summer here to get ready for next training camp, and again it was before I got here, but he showed very well at the beginning of the season, talking to Scott Gordon and the people that were around Lehigh Valley.”
Rubtsov missed most of last season, but he has the hockey IQ and defensive game that is needed for a third-line guy right now.
“Rubtsov’s a guy that you watch him in certain drills, defensively. Our coaches, they like a lot of things he can bring,” Flahr said. “He’s always responsible. He’s always in position. A lot of those things young players have to learn, he does well.”
“He still only has about 13 games of pro experience, or somewhere in that range,” Fletcher said. “Another young guy that needs time and experience, but again, smart hockey player, physically strong, has good skill and we believe has a bright future.”
That doesn’t sound great for Rubtsov, but training camp could hold a lot of weight; especially for someone in Rubtsov’s situation.
“If he needs more time, great. If he’s ready to go, great. That’s up to them. Their play will dictate that.”
Some people have deemed Rubtsov a bust already, but at 21 years old and hopefully, his first full, healthy season coming up, he still has plenty of time to come into his own at the NHL level.
Drafted: 35th overall in 2017
Guelph Storm (OHL): 65 GP, 50 G, 32 A, 82 PTS, +36
Playoffs: 24 GP, 15 G, 15 A, 30 PTS, +16
Isaac Ratcliffe would likely need to set the world on fire in training camp to open the season with the Flyers. The good news for Ratcliffe is that he has shown he has the potential to do that.
Ratcliffe was one of six players in the OHL to score 50 or more goals last season. He then added 15 more in 24 playoff games. He has a 6-foot-6 frame and hands to go with it.
After leading his team to the OHL championship, Ratcliffe had a chance to end his season with the Phantoms. It didn’t take him long to show off what he can do as he scored a goal on April 13 in his debut.
If the Flyers want a big-bodied, scoring winger to round out the third line, Ratcliffe is their man.
Drafted: 104th overall in 2015
Philadelphia Flyers (NHL): 15 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, +0
Phantoms (AHL): 42 GP, 7 G, 19 A, 26 PTS, -1
Mikhail Vorobyev is no stranger to competitions in training camp. He emerged from training camp with a roster spot to begin last season.
After two points in his first two games, he slowed down and was sent to the AHL after seven total games. He was recalled for another stretch in late January to the middle of February, but only averaged 7:13 in those eight games.
While he didn’t stick with the big club last season, he got some valuable experience that he used in the AHL and can use heading into training camp this season.
He had 26 points in 42 AHL games, which is three less points in 16 less games than he had in his first AHL season (29 points in 58 games).
The 2015 fourth-round pick has put himself on the Flyers’ radar and should be there to stay. A center by trade, Vorobyev is solid defensively and can add some offense here and there.
Fletcher and the Flyers expect Vorobyev to come back stronger this season and he’ll put some heat on the others trying for that final roster spot.
Every year there is some sort of competition for a roster spot, and this year’s training camp is shaping up to be a good one. With so many players vying for so few spots the competition should be intense.