Over the last 10 seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers have been on a mission to replenish their farm system as a means to grow a Stanley Cup contender. While some picks have been home runs, others have fallen short. Morgan Frost, 2017 first-round pick, is seemingly next in line for a chance at a full-time roster spot.
An electric scorer at the junior level, he has the tools to succeed in the NHL, but the outlook for his role on the team appears murky. The Flyers are among the deepest teams in the league at the center position, and with this depth comes uncertainty for Frost, exclusively a center up to this point in his young career. This narrative should ring familiar for Flyers fans, with Brayden Schenn coming to mind.
The shift in team-building philosophy truly began during the 2011 offseason, when then-general manager Paul Holmgren executed one of the biggest roster shakeups in NHL history by trading 26-year-old franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in separate deals for a bundle of picks, prospects and young players. The most notable pieces of the haul for the Flyers were Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, the eighth-overall pick in the draft (prudently spent on Sean Couturier) and super-prospect Schenn. All four players were quickly inserted into prominent roles for the team, but one had a somewhat difficult road to establishing a niche on the roster. That player was Schenn.
Like Frost, Schenn was viewed as a center at the time he was drafted and entered training camp during his rookie season in competition with Couturier for the team’s third-line center spot. Couturier won the job, but it was determined that Schenn was too skilled to keep out of the lineup. He debuted as a winger and spent the next four seasons bouncing between forward positions. He was finally able to lock down one of the top three center roles, racking up 59 points in 80 games during the 2015-16 season. He was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract, but only played one more season with the Flyers.
Related: Revisiting the Brayden Schenn Trade
Schenn was traded to the St. Louis Blues on June 24, 2017, for Jori Lehtera and two first-round picks — the former pick used on none other than Frost. The move was motivated primarily by the surprising news that the Flyers would pick second overall in the 2017 Draft, with centers Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick leading the pack of draft-eligible players.
Schenn immediately slotted into the first-line center role for the Blues and the Flyers were able to play their eventual selection Patrick as their third center.
After two seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds following his being drafted, Frost has split time this season between the Flyers and their AHL affiliate the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, playing 20 and 41 games, respectively. He has played well for the Phantoms and saw some success with the big club as well, but his promotion to the NHL was largely the result of injuries early on in the year. Additionally, the team has been reluctant to play Frost at wing, with the bulk of his minutes spent centering Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
Prior to the season shut down due to the coronavirus, the Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the league, leaning heavily on their scoring depth. They’ve been able to reach this point without Patrick or Frost in the lineup; Patrick has been unable to suit up for the team at all this season and Frost was sent back to Lehigh Valley on Dec. 29. With Patrick a roster lock upon his healthy return and Couturier and Kevin Hayes holding down the top two center spots, it begs the question where Frost will fit?
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
As has been the case for most of this season, the team could opt to keep Frost in Allentown with the Phantoms. Still just 20 years old, he can stay the course of his development playing top-six minutes with the Phantoms as they continue funneling in more top prospects from the aforementioned farm system. Frost has flashed his first-round pedigree this year, which could make this decision all the more disappointing for Flyers fans, but given the team’s depth and current success, there is no rush to force him into the lineup.
The primary issue that Frost encountered in the NHL was his lack of physicality. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Frost is known for his agility, playmaking and offensive instincts, but his slight frame was tangible in his limited action with the Flyers. Couple this with the pace of play discrepancy between the leagues and it became evident that he may need more time to develop, even if only physically. The short drive from Allentown to Philadelphia would also make Frost an easy choice to be one of the primary call-ups should one of the top three centers miss time with injury.
Nolan Patrick’s Long-Term Fill-in
As previously mentioned, Patrick has been held out of action this season due to a migraine disorder. A rotating cast of Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Tyler Pitlick and newcomer Derek Grant has filled his third-line center role. The results have not been overwhelmingly poor, but the depth of the roster could look very different for the Flyers next year. This upcoming offseason, forwards Nicholas Aube-Kubel, Nate Thompson, Oskar Lindblom, as well as Patrick, Pitlick and Grant are all due for new contracts.
With this in mind, the team could very well choose to let several of them walk as a means to give Frost a chance at significant minutes, especially if Patrick isn’t ready to start the season. Pairing Frost’s skill and skating with a pair of veteran wingers would be an ideal situation for the young center, even more so if he can fill out his frame some this summer. The team isn’t rushing him, but if he can get stronger and shines in training camp, his potential won’t be buried for long. Patrick’s ailment leaves no clear timetable for his return, and having an emerging forward like Frost in their system to fill the void puts the Flyers in an envious position.
Playing on the Wing
History may steer the Flyers away from this one, but shifting Frost over to a wing spot would not be the end of the world. Hayes is not even a full year into his seven-year deal, Couturier is on his way to a Selke nomination and Patrick will undoubtedly be given every opportunity to seize the third center job when healthy. The bottom line is that the team’s pecking order at center is pretty well established, and Frost is unlikely to end up playing ten minutes or less a night on a fourth line.
Giving Frost less responsibility on the defensive side of the ice could open up his scoring, but two-way play has not been a major issue for him at higher levels so far. This could be part of the reason that the Flyers wish to keep him in the middle. As was the case with Schenn, the team could view him as too good to keep out of the lineup; head coach Alain Vigneault’s trust in his young players this year furthers this sentiment. The Flyers forward group is full of interchangeable pieces, as evidenced by some interesting yet effective lines this season. If Frost were inserted into the lineup in any capacity, finding a potent combination would likely be just a matter of time.
Potential Yields Opportunity
Regardless of where he ultimately lines up for the team, the Flyers have to be happy with Frost’s development. Having a 20-year-old, first-round pick making a push for the NHL roster is exactly what team execs want to see. Like Schenn before him, Frost’s first extended action at the top level may not be in his ideal role, but in the business of hockey, talent never goes unnoticed.