Flyers’ Morgan Frost Not Developing as Expected

Morgan Frost has played 28 of his 50 career NHL games for the struggling Philadelphia Flyers in 2021-22. He has two goals and five assists, matching the point total he posted during a 20-game stint in the middle of the 2019-20 season. The former 27th overall pick has shown flashes of potential, but his lack of consistency leaves the organization underwhelmed with his overall development. While interim head coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher preach their patience with Frost publicly, their actions indicate dissatisfaction with the former top prospect.

Top Prospect Morgan Frost

The Flyers traded Brayden Scheen on the first day of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft for a package that included the pick used to select Frost late in the first round. His status as a prospect skyrocketed during his next two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He finished with 112 points in 2017-18 and 109 points in 2018-19 as a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Morgan Frost Philadelphia Flyers
Morgan Frost, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His transition to the professional level has been anything but flawless since. The left-handed center finished with 29 points in 41 games in the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2019-20, and he showed the skill that scouts had been lauding about during his limited time with the big club. His demotion to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in February 2020 made sense, however. Frost was not in a position to play a top-nine role down the stretch for a team that was in contention to win the Metropolitan Division. Sending him down would create the opportunity for him to play a key scoring role as part of his development process while the Flyers focused on the stretch run.

The organization knew their prized prospect had plenty of time for another shot, and his next opportunity came suddenly when Sean Couturier suffered an injury during the second game of the 2020-21 season. Frost’s season unfortunately ended almost as quickly as it began, as he suffered a serious shoulder injury that required surgery in his second NHL game after the call-up.

Flyers, Frost on Different Pages

Speculation swirled amidst a hectic offseason shuffle about the possibility of Frost stepping into a role as a third-line center to begin the season. Couturier and Kevin Hayes figured to center the first and second lines, but the departure of Nolan Patrick looked like it would create an open slot for Frost to step in. However, Fletcher spoke in August about how the Flyers would take a patient approach with the 22-year-old coming off the injury. “We don’t want to force-feed him into the league,” he said in an interview with Jason Myrtetus.

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The comments weren’t a glowing endorsement of high hopes, but the GM’s rationale sounded logical at the time. However, Anthony SanFilippo spoke prior to training camp on the Snow the Goalie podcast about how the Flyers were unhappy with Frost’s decision to rehab from the surgery in Canada rather than in Philadelphia. They also signed forwards Nate Thompson and Derick Brassard hoping to add some veteran depth to the roster and avoid depending on younger players like Frost to step into critical roles. It was unclear what they expected from Frost in 2021-22.

When Hayes underwent a second offseason core surgery in mid-September, it looked like another opening down the middle might benefit Frost and expedite his timeline to play in the NHL in 2021-22. He failed to seize the opportunity during training camp, however, despite the seemingly wide-open door in the Flyers lineup. 

Morgan Frost in 2021-22

The Flyers have been decimated by injuries, especially at center, during a disastrous 2021-22 season. Centers Couturier, Hayes, Thompson, Brassard, and Patrick Brown are all currently out of the lineup. Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton, who had played more frequently on the wing in recent seasons, have moved back to the middle on the top-two lines. 

Morgan Frost Philadelphia Flyers
Morgan Frost, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Frost is one of many Flyers who have been forced into unexpected roles because of the circumstances. He made his season debut on Nov. 24, and he hasn’t been able to sustain a good rhythm of play for any significant stretch since. His expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at five-on-five is 45.33, while his Corsi for percentage (CF%) at five-on-five is 45.97 (per Natural Stat Trick). His numbers were considerably stronger during the 2019-20 season, when he was roughly even in both play-driving categories with a 49.31 xGF% and a 51.55 CF%. 

Frost hasn’t seized the opportunity and played his way into an expanded role. Interim head coach Mike Yeo spoke on Jan. 28 about how drastically the injuries have affected his lineup decisions.

“It’s one thing to be in the lineup right now when we have as many guys out as we have. It’s another thing to show that you’re ready to be in the lineup when we get those guys back.”

-Mike Yeo

Brassard returned from injury just two games later. The Flyers kept inexperienced wingers Max Willman, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Gerry Mayhew on the roster and demoted Frost back to Lehigh Valley. Fletcher said that the demotion of Frost and Cam York was intended to expand their “ice time, role, and opportunity to get puck touches” in the AHL. Yeo has spoken about Frost in a patient tone that acknowledges the growing pains of the development process at the NHL level while also acknowledging certain areas where his young center can improve. However, reading between the lines can expose some additional information. 

Frost recently replaced Brassard again after yet another injury. After the recall, Yeo spoke about Frost rejoining the team. He pointed to Frost’s improvement leading up to the All-Star break and how his “competitive level was noticeably improved from a week or two before that.”

Yeo has made generally critical statements at times without naming individual players. He questioned his team’s “compete level” after a blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 6. The estimated timeline that Yeo placed on Frost’s compete level would suggest dissatisfaction with him during the Pittsburgh game. 

Yeo spoke after Philadelphia’s 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday. He praised Mayhew for taking advantage of the “opportunity of a lifetime” to earn power-play time and shifts with leading scorers Giroux and Cam Atkinson. The lesser-known journeyman Mayhew continued his impressive NHL stint with two goals in over 15 minutes of ice time while Frost logged the least amount of ice time of any Flyers skater.

Frost also made a mistake during a power-play opportunity at a critical point in another loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night. He carelessly flipped a puck into the offensive zone and over the glass while the team was looking for the go-ahead goal on the man advantage with just over five minutes left in regulation. The whistle stunted Philadelphia’s effort to find a rhythm on a struggling power-play unit. His power-play time dropped from 2:06 on Tuesday to just 26 seconds on Thursday.

Frost’s Future in Philadelphia

Frost’s veteran teammates Couturier and Laughton know better than anyone that player development in the NHL is not linear. The pair of former first-round picks experienced some struggles during the early stages of their careers before growing into roles as reputable NHL players. Frost still has the opportunity to do the same. However, his lack of versatility will make it harder than it was for his two teammates.

Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yeo’s usage of Frost indicates a lack of trust in his defensive game. In 28 games this season, the Ontario native has started 75% of his shifts in the offensive zone. During the 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15 seasons, Couturier started just 41.45% of his shifts in the offensive zone. His role as a 200-foot center brought value to the roster before he broke out offensively.

Laughton was also a prolific OHL scorer before he reached the NHL. He had trouble producing offensively early in his career, but he found a way to maintain his value on the roster by bringing grit and intensity in a bottom-six role. Frost doesn’t add enough to the game outside his offensive skill set to justify a spot in the lineup if he isn’t scoring. The limited games he’s played as a fourth-line center this season haven’t suited him well. 

Frost will need to develop his defensive game after his most recent call-up if he wants to improve his status within the organization. Some of his best NHL games have come with Mayhew and Willman as his wingers. For better or for worse, all three are likely to stay in the NHL because of the extent of the injuries the Flyers face up front. In a lost season for Philadelphia, opportunity still exists for players like Frost to prove their worth for the future.

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