For a long time the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate was one of the worst in the league – and in more ways than one. Besides in the standings, the team wasn’t developing much talent.
Names like Andreas Nodl, Erik Gustafsson, Jason Akeson and Oliver Lauridsen had decent careers with the Phantoms – whether in the Adirondacks or their current home in the Lehigh Valley – but couldn’t put things together with the big club. In turn, the Flyers struggled without a strong pipeline to develop their players.
This year has been different. With playoffs in view, Philadelphia has been getting contributions from players developed and maintained by the Phantoms, and not just rookies.
At 25 years old, Brandon Manning nailed down his first roster spot out of training camp with the Flyers this past September. That was after the AHL veteran spent parts of four seasons in the organization plying his trade.
Manning may not be the most popular defenseman with the Flyers, but he’s suited up for 49 games this year, and has looked better lately after pulling ahead of Evgeny Medvedev for the sixth blueliner spot.
The Flyers have also used the Phantoms as a recharging tool for some of their veteran players this season, specifically Andrew MacDonald and Sam Gagner.
MacDonald was sent down largely due to cap space reasoning in September, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t hone his game with the Phantoms. He scored 36 points in 43 games in Lehigh Valley and was on a tear when he was called up in February:
MacDonald was in the midst of a 9-game points scoring streak (0G-14A). 1st among #AHL d-men in assists (31), 2nd among D in PP assists (17).
— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) February 13, 2016
Gagner was with the Flyers at the start of the season and even played well with four points in his first five games. But the team felt he wasn’t getting the ice time he needed and waived him at the end of December and sent him to the Phantoms.
The former Oilers’ stay wasn’t as long as MacDonald’s but Gagner piled up six points in nine games before being recalled. Since then he has looked more comfortable in a scoring role and has 10 points in 27 games.
The obvious popular Lehigh Valley alum to join the Flyers is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about him. The rookie has turned around the team’s season and his puck prowess on the back line has done wonders for Philly.
But he’s not the only young former Phantom to help out the Flyers. Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton have both helped the team to an upward trajectory.
Cousins didn’t join the team until February but he’s solidified the center spot on the third line and has potted in some timely goals over
his 30-game season.
Coincidentally it was Cousins that pushed Laughton away from the third-line center spot and into the press box, lately. The 21 year old has struggled defensively this year, but did look better at left wing than center before being benched.
Looking past those three, Anthony Stolarz may be the next Phantom to have a big impact before the end of the season. The goaltender was called up when Michael Neuvirth went down with a knee injury on March 20, but hasn’t played a game yet.
With seven games, three back-to-backs and 14 days remaining in the season it’s likely Stolarz sees some NHL action before the 2015-16 regular season closes. There will be a lot riding on him should he see game action, but if he plays like his other Phantom teammates, he should do just fine.