Phantoms Load Up For Playoff Return

The last time the Phantoms organization made the playoffs the team was still in Philadelphia, Jared Ross, Jonathan Matsumoto and Danny Syvret led the team offensively and a rookie Claude Giroux suited up for 33 games.

Since that 2008-09 season, the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate has moved twice from the Adirondacks to the Lehigh Valley, Ross, Matsumoto and Syvret are mere blips in a long history of Phantoms disappointment and Giroux is a 28-year-old NHL superstar.

This past season marked seven since the Phantoms made the playoffs, but it hasn’t been from a lack of trying. The Flyers have hired coaches with NHL pedigree like John Paddock, Terry Murray and Scott Gordon last year, plus some added veteran help over the years.

The biggest problem may have been a lack of wealth in the prospect pipeline. Three to four years ago, players like Eric Wellwood, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Tye McGinn were the premier prospects. None of them are household names now.

After a couple of years of building through the draft, the Phantoms will finally have a slew of talented prospects and after multiple free agent signings in early June – a strong group of veteran leaders.

The Veterans

On the first day of free agency, the Flyers signed forwards Greg Carey, Andy Miele and defenseman Will O’Neill to two-way contracts with the purpose of assigning them to the Phantoms. Carey scored 26 goals last season and Miele is a consistent 60-70 point AHL center. O’Neill put up 50 points from the blueline for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

Jordan Weal
Jordan Weal could join the Phantoms (Photo by Andy Martin Jr.)

The Phantoms may have lost Tim Brent, Aaron Palushaj and Davis Drewiske, but they clearly replaced them with better players.

Then there’s help from the Flyers roster in Jordan Weal who could join the Phantoms if he doesn’t earn a spot with the big team this September. It requires him passing through waivers which may not happen after he showed some NHL potential early in his career.

But the Flyers made their big splash for the AHL four days later when they signed T.J. Brennan, a two-time Eddie Shore Award winner (best defenseman in the AHL) and a South Jersey native to a two-year deal.

Last season with the Toronto Marlies, Brennan accumulated 25 goals and 43 assists for 68 points. That production will be crucial as the team welcomes some other additions on the blueline.

The Prospects

Travis Sanheim will be the biggest name joining the Phantoms next year. Although the 20-year-old has a chance with the Flyers, it’s GM Ron Hextall’s prerogative to have the prospects develop slowly.

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
The Phantoms will happily add Travis Sanheim fulltime this year (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports).

Sanheim was one of the top defensemen in Canadian juniors last season, but look for his offense to translate the most. In a four-game end-of-year stint with Lehigh Valley last season, Sanheim put up three points in four games.

The Calgary Hitmen alum will join prospects Sam Morin, Mark Alt and Robert Hagg at defense as all four attempt to take the next step in their development.

Sanheim’s teammate Radel Fazleev will be another new face on the Phantoms next season at wing, but Nicolas Aube-Kubel will be the intriguing prospect among the forwards. The 2014 second-round pick scored 38 goals in back-to-back seasons with the  Val d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL during his junior career.

In goal, Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon will be one of the youngest tandems the Phantoms have had in a while. However, Stolarz has two AHL seasons, including an All-Star selection under his belt.

The Flyers also added Russian forward Roman Lyubimov after a strong World Championship showing and suddenly the Phantoms have a logjam at nearly every position.

This is how great Phantoms beat writer Tony Androckitis sees the Phantoms lines on opening day:

(Note: This is pre Lyubimov and Weal signings)

Things look much better than the days of one or two veteran AHL signings and a mediocre prospect or two added. Now, the Phantoms have to hope that those seven years can be easily forgotten.