The Philadelphia Flyers signed center Morgan Frost to a one-year contract worth $800,000 last week. They are expected to sign restricted free agent Owen Tippett in the coming weeks to a deal that Bill Meltzer estimates will be around $1 million in average annual value (AAV). The Flyers finished 31st in goals per game in 2021-22, yet they elected to sit idle while Johnny Gaudreau reportedly wanted to return to his childhood home.
“Up front, we have a lot of young players. We have to see if they can play. We have a lot of young players that require waivers at some point, players like Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett, and (Wade) Allison, (Tanner) Laczynski, (Hayden) Hodgson, and (Isaac) Ratcliffe. These kids need a chance to play. They need a chance to earn a spot. As an organization, we need to see where they’re at, so you know what we have going forward,” general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher said on Wednesday.
Fletcher failed to add offensive firepower to Philadelphia’s lineup. He will take a leap of faith that players returning from injuries and young players making further progress can account for better offensive production in 2022-23. Frost and Tippett, a pair of former first-round picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, have both struggled to find their footing in their respective paths of development at the NHL level. The lack of prominent offseason acquisitions leaves them with a golden opportunity that will make or break their NHL careers.
Flyers fans have grown restless with the organization after repeated failure, and a former top prospect who finished with just five goals and 11 assists in 55 games last season won’t get too much patience and understanding from them. The clock is ticking for Frost to develop into a player who can create offense effectively over a full season.
He was completely neutralized during some stretches in 2021-22. He scored one goal and added one assist during Philadelphia’s ugly 13-game losing streak that continued painfully through the month of January. His lack of confidence became obvious when he appeared rattled during postgame press conferences. Although then interim head coach Mike Yeo insisted publicly that the organization felt good about Frost, their actions indicated otherwise.
They set a high expectation hoping for him to fill a hole in the lineup entering 2021-22 coming off shoulder surgery that ended his 2020-21 season after just two games. Lack of depth at center, especially because of the uncertainty surrounding the health of Kevin Hayes, wasn’t enough to allow Frost to make the roster out of training camp. Repeated injuries to key players forced the organization’s hand in calling him up along with several other players who probably would’ve been better suited in the American Hockey League (AHL). However, Frost couldn’t even earn extended power-play minutes in a lineup desperate for offensive skill.
Gerry Mayhew made an egregious error shortly after his callup by allowing his team to skate 4-on-4 for about half of a shift while he was supposed to be on the ice for a power play. However, the journeyman still earned power-play minutes over Frost after the mental error. Max Willman, who was forced into a bigger NHL role in 2021-22 than anyone in the organization could’ve fairly expected, stayed on the big club in February when Frost was sent back to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The organization’s willingness to give Frost another shot in 2022-23 has to do with the tumultuous disadvantages he’s faced during his development. After losing ideal opportunities for growth during the beginning months of the pandemic, the shoulder injury cost him more opportunities to gain rhythm with additional professional experience. The chaos within the organization in 2021-22 consistently forced him into unideal situations in terms of usage and linemates.
For a player who scored over 100 points in consecutive seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) just three years ago, his stock in the NHL is extremely low. Frost will need to capitalize on this opportunity for an expanded role with a level of compete that Yeo made a point of emphasis for his former young center at points last season.
The Flyers acquired Tippett as part of the return package for sending Claude Giroux to the Florida Panthers ahead of the trade deadline in March 2021. The 23-year-old has experienced a similarly rocky path in his development. Pressure from the organization and the fan base won’t burn quite as hot for Tippett in 2022-23 because of the fresh start from the change of scenery.
Tippett averaged over a point per game in three seasons in the OHL after the Panthers selected him with the 10th-overall pick in 2017. Their loaded offensive lineup made it somewhat difficult for him to earn a defined role at the NHL level, and a trade that sent an AHL player for a proven veteran like Giroux made sense for a team in contention for a Stanley Cup.
The 21 games Tippett spent with the Flyers at the end of 2021-22 suited him well. He seemed to find a comfort level, and members of the organization have consistently complimented his raw talent. He earned more ice time at the end of the season than he did for any extended stretch in Florida. However, four goals and three assists in 21 games is not an offensive output that an NHL player should hang his hat on. The Flyers will expect more out of Tippett in 2022-23.
The most noticeable weapon in Tippett’s arsenal of raw talent is his quick shot from the flank position. It’s a trait that Fletcher identified as a need for the organization in December 2021 months before acquiring Tippett. The Flyers hope he can help improve a power play that finished dead last in the league in 2021-22.
“There’s no question the most successful power plays in the league are teams that shoot the puck well from the flank. We don’t have a lot of natural scorers from that area nor have we for a long time. It’s certainly something we’ve looked to try to address in the draft the last few years going forward. Having said that, there’s things you can do to make it better. There’s no question you look at the elite power plays in this league, and there’s one common theme in all of them. That’s an area. We have some really good talented players, but I don’t know that we have a lot of players that are natural goal scorers from the flank,” Fletcher candidly admitted.
With no additions of forwards expected to contribute on the power play, Tippett will have every opportunity to seize a bigger role. However, he will need to improve his career shooting percentage (SH%) below the league average at 7.9%. Snipers like Leon Draisaitl and Auston Matthews on top power-play units for dangerous offensive teams consistently double that mark. Tippett hit the post seemingly with regularity during his 21 games with Philadelphia, and he will need to refine his finishing ability if he expects his cannon from the flank to be his greatest strength as a player.
Frost, Tippett Finish Strong in 2021-22
The preexisting relationship between Frost and Tippett as former teammates with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2018-19 contributed to Yeo’s decision to play them together after the trade deadline. Former Minnesota-Duluth standout Noah Cates slid onto the left side of the “Kids Line” that can realistically be anticipated as Philadelphia’s third line on opening night in October.
Before the Flyers acquired Tippett, the 6-foot-1 winger started 66.51% of his shifts in the offensive zone while Frost required similar shelter from tough defensive responsibilities with a 64.06% rate. The presence of Cates, who plays more of a grinding style in board battles, helped his linemates earn a little more trust defensively at the end of the season when both percentages dropped significantly.
After the trade, Tippett posted a 53.62 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) while Frost put up a 52.46 xGF%. No Flyers forward who played more than 21 games finished with a better season total. The respectable play-driving metrics will breed some optimism within the organization for their attempt to stabilize after two consecutive disastrous seasons.
The willingness to hand opportunities to players without proven NHL track records likely won’t push the Flyers back into playoff contention like some people anticipated. However, the organization hopes that their inaction in free agency and trades might allow Frost and Tippett to finally break free from the burden of slow development amidst high expectations. The fortunate opportunity the two former first-rounders have will not come along again without substantial steps forward in a season that could make or break their respective careers.
All advanced stats apply to 5-on-5 play, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.