September 13, 2018
By: Kristi Fulkerson
Unlike Development Camp in June, Flyers Rookie Camp is serious business. It’s a chance for the team execs and coaches to see how the players have improved and where each one may fit into a lineup. I had a chance to make the trip to Voorhees, NJ on Tuesday — Day 2 of camp — when members of both the Phantoms and Flyers coaching staffs were on the ice with prospects/signees going back to the 2014 NHL Draft. The lone 2018 selection in attendance was Wyatte Wylie, a 5th round pick from Washington state, who will return to his junior club (Everett - WHL) at the end of camp. One player noticeably missing from Tuesday’s session was center Pascal Laberge — who will be among the Phantoms newcomers this season after playing 2 games with Lehigh Valley in April at the end of his junior season. The 2nd round pick from 2016 reportedly left practice early Monday, hopefully as a precaution. 

I’m not one for evaluating rosters or talent but it’s fun to try to piece together a lineup we may see in Allentown this season. In addition to Laberge, there are three more 2016 draft picks competing for a spot on the Phantoms this season. Each gearing up for their rookie year, Connor Bunnaman (2016 4th round) says he looks forward to learning from the veterans (like Corban Knight, Phil Varone, etc) but also hopes to be among those with a regular spot in the lineup (this kid was in a boot in June but says he’s healthy and 100% ready to go). Carsen Twarynski (2016 3rd round) scored two points in 5 games with the Phantoms at the end of last season, coming off a strong junior season in WHL (72 points in 68 games). It seems Phantoms Head Coach Scott Gordon will have a welcome predicament with a logjam of talented forwards at his disposal. 

Speaking of the forwards, a surprising highlight post-practice on Tuesday was our first-ever interview with now 2nd-year center Mikhail Vorobyev (with the help of translator and Flyers skating coach Slava Kouznetsov). He’s the only player in four years that managed to avoid all interviews with me for an entire season. I suppose I should learn a little Russian in the next few weeks if I have a chance in year two with “Misha”, as he’s more commonly called. 

Last night was a chance for fans to get a look at some of the Flyers youngsters when they faced the NY Islanders in a Rookie Game. CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart (also part of the 2016 draft class) started and allowed three goals. Philly fans have practically named this guy their savior before he’s played a pro game but he seems primed and ready for his rookie season (although he admits he’s most concerned about living on his own). Hart will definitely be among the Phantoms goalie options this season — along with a now healthy Anthony Stolarz and third year pro Alex Lyon, who was outstanding last season. The Flyers rookies defeated the NYI 6-3 Tuesday, thanks to a combined 10 points for the first line (Oskar Lindblom, Mikhail Vorobyev, Carsen Twarynski). Lindblom led the way with 3 goals and 2 assists, continuing his strong case to make the Flyers roster out of training camp.

Defensively the Phantoms may lack a little depth. Maxim Lamarche and Will O’Neil are gone, Sam Morin is still out (surgery), and Travis Sanheim is expected to make the Flyers roster (along with potentially Phil Myers now that Andrew MacDonald is out for six weeks), but according to Gordon, signing free agent Zach Palmquist (Iowa-AHL) should help. With him, T.J. Brennan, Reece Willcox, Mark Freidman, James deHaas, and Myers/David Drake, they will be able to avoid starting two rookies on the blue line like last season (Mark Freidman, Myers).

Several rookie camp attendees are too young to join the Phantoms this season (*see below)  but it’s nice to see how they’re development just the same. 2017 first-round pick Morgan Frost says he feels more comfortable as a rookie camp returner, after getting pushed around a bit last summer. The 19-year-old center scored an underwhelming 112 points in 67 games last season (112 points! I was kidding about the underwhelming part) but he will either have to make the Flyers roster or head back to OHL for another season. 

*The minimum age for a player in the AHL is 18 years old, however the AHL is not an option for players competing in the Canadian Hockey League until they are 20 years old. The CHL encompasses three junior leagues — the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL — and the rule is part of an agreement between the NHL and CHL. Players drafted from the NCAA or Europe are eligible at 18.