In case you missed it, we took a trip to upstate New York over the weekend to visit the Phantoms, who won both games against two good teams while we were in town. We learned a lot about the team, the city, the players and the Flyers organization as a whole on the trip, and over the next few days we'll share that with you.
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- Down in the American Hockey League, Danny Syvret is a star, playing nearly half the game each night with relative ease at a level of hockey that does not come easily for most. He's had plenty of chances at the NHL level in the last five seasons, but for whatever reason he hasn't been able to stick.
His best chance at sticking came a year ago with the Flyers, when he saw action in 21 NHL games. Of course, he scored two goals in those games -- one in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park, but by year's end he was nothing but a Black Ace on the Flyers playoff roster while guys like Lukas Krajicek, Oskars Bartulis and Ryan Parent saw game action instead.
Something clearly didn't work out. Whether he simply fell out of favor or he just wasn't ready for a regular NHL role in the organization with too many guys ahead of him, the Flyers didn't show any interest last offseason when he became a free agent.
At the time, the Adirondack Phantoms were absolutely horrible. Greg Gilbert had been fired as head coach, John Paddock was filling in on a temporary basis and they were on their way to perhaps the worst finish in AHL history. Something needed to change, and in addition to the hiring of Joe Paterson as coach, the acquisitions of Michael Leighton and Syvret went a long way towards adding respectability to the operation.
That's likely the reason Syvret was brought back. He wasn't brought in to be a sixth or even a seventh defenseman on the Flyers, as at the time, Sean O`Donnell, Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis were filling those roles quite fine. He was essentially brought in to be an on-ice coach in Adirondack -- to help guys like Kevin Marshall, Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon fill out as young players.
But that's the rub: Syvret himself is still an asset, only 25 years old. He's the best defenseman in the organization that's not in Philadelphia (yes, he's better than Gustafsson), and he might even be better than some of the guys at the NHL level.
To be honest, before this weekend in Glens Falls, I didn't give Syvret much thought. Yeah, he's depth and he's a good mentor at the AHL level, but then you watch a guy for a few games and remember his circumstance. They don't keep track of ice time in the AHL (at least not officially), but our Geoff Detweiler spent Saturday's game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tracking the ice time of the top Phantoms defensemen.
Syvret played just under 30 minutes, sometimes taking shifts near two minutes in length before taking a 30 second breather and hoping back over the boards. And he does this easily, too. He's clearly learned to simplify his game to allow him to put on this kind of show. He takes direct routes to the puck. He uses his body effectively. He's grown quite a bit as a hockey player since last time we saw him in town.
One play on Saturday night was particularly impressive. After a bad giveaway near the blueline, Syvret chased down the puck carrier, some guy who was wearing a dark blue jersey for a team who's main colors are gold and white. He didn't have position on the guy at all, but in the blink of an eye he danced around him, stole the puck and got his body in position so that the guy couldn't take it back. Considering they were the only two players in the Phantoms end at the time, he likely saved at least a good scoring chance and recouped his mistake at the same time.
This isn't to say, of course, that Syvret could do any of this at the NHL level. He's not Chris Pronger. It does say, however, that's he's no longer an AHL-caliber player. He's good enough to play in the NHL in a third pairing role, and I'd go as far as to say that he's better than some of the players on the NHL club. Looking at you, Nick Boynton.
Clearly the organization knows this. John Paddock watches games with regularity and Joe Paterson certainly alerts those in Philadelphia to the progress of his players. They know that Syvret is playing (very) well in Adirondack, and yet, Gustafsson is the guy that gets ice time as a call up. That's not a knock on Gusty one bit, because he's three years younger than Syvret and probably has greater NHL potential at this point.
Right now, though, Syvret is a better player. He's played almost 60 games at the AHL level this season and just six at the NHL level, and that's not indicative of his talent nor of the talent on the Flyers' depth chart.
With O'Donnell struggling in the sixth spot as the season's worn on, Nick Boynton's less-than-stellar play as the sixth man with Pronger out of the lineup and injuries to both Oskars Bartulis and Matt Walker, there's an opportunity rising as the playoffs come into focus.
The third pairing, currently composed of SOD and Boynton, has seen a drastic reduction in it's minutes over the last several games. That's not good for anybody, as it puts more pressure on the top four defensemen.
Syvret is serving a purpose in Glens Falls right now as the mentor to some younger players, and that's an important function to be sure. With the Phantoms season close to it's end, though, Syvret can serve a much more vital purpose in Philadelphia. He's a restricted free agent again come July 1 and we won't know if this current AHL success can translate to the NHL beyond this season if he doesn't get a crack at the lineup.
All we're saying is that he deserves one more shot with the Flyers. Get him into a game or two before the regular season closes out, just to see what he can do. I'd guarantee he's not any worse than Nick Boynton, and the Flyers can use some improvement on the third pairing right now.