September 25, 2017
By: Steve Degler
It's almost time to drop the puck on the 2017-18 hockey season. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are coming off their first playoff appearance since moving to Allentown. Their parent club, the Philadelphia Flyers, missed the postseason in 2016-17. I think there is a very good chance both teams could play beyond their regular season schedules.
After spending a day at Flyers rookie camp, watching the rookie game in person and seeing two NHL preseason games, it's clear the Flyers are on the right path. The great season by the Phantoms last year is also evidence of that. Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has said all along that he wants to build his team through the draft. He has not wavered one iota from that philosophy. Hextall has continued to shed older players (and their contracts) and stockpile draft picks and younger prospects.
The Flyers could surprise in the NHL this year. Many predictions have them on the outside of the playoffs again. A healthy Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere are a good start to prove the experts wrong. Hextall said at PPL Center Wednesday that he still has lots of tough decisions to make regarding his roster. That's a good thing. It means he has options. Competition in camp is very healthy for the organization. If Brian Elliott stabilizes the goaltending, the Flyers can make some noise. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny figure to improve in their second seasons. A bounceback from Jake Voracek would also be a big boost.
Hextall and Phantoms coach Scott Gordon were intermission guests during the Islanders-Flyers preseason game in Allentown this week. Both are very optimistic about the Phantoms building on their success from last season. The Phantoms will benefit from the battle for spots on the Flyers roster. Not everyone can open the season in Philly. If Nolan Patrick makes the big club, that pushes another player to the AHL.
If you are a Phantoms fan, you should be very excited for October 7 to get here. The season opener against the Hershey Bears should be the start of another fun ride at PPL Center. And IF both teams can stay healthy, maybe both the Flyers and the Phantoms can play well into the spring of 2018. Each plays in a very strong division. But the talent level in the organization right now should have Flyers fans very optimistic.