Matt Read looked fantastic in last night's preseason opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He flew all over the ice, seemed to have a ton of confidence, kept up with a bonafide NHLer in linemate Jakub Voracek, and quite simply was one of the best players on the ice from start to finish. It was impressive.
He even picked up a secondary assist on Zac Rinaldo's awesome goal. He had a very good night, exactly how one would envision their (unofficial) NHL debut going, minus perhaps a goal of his own.
It all lined up with everything we've been told about Read, just as it lined up what Geoff and I saw when we visited Glens Falls in March and happened to catch Read's professional debut with the Adirondack Phantoms. Speed, confidence, skill. A good hockey player.
When Read was signed out of Bemidji State back in March, he was sold by the Philadelphia Flyers organization as a guy who could make the team out of camp. He could be NHL ready. He could be a steal. A diamond in the rough, and we got him! That's what the organization (and the mainstream media that tend to buy the company line on these things) told us over and over again.
And tonight, all of that came to fruition. He looked good. Great, even.
Because of his night in Toronto, there will no doubt be any number of stories on how well he looked and how he's going to challenge the Flyers to make the roster out of camp now. And he could make the roster out of camp if he keeps this up, let's not get that wrong, even if the salary cap says right now that he can't. They'll figure something out. They always seem to figure something out.
But can we please temper the expectations a little bit here? We begged for this before with Read, just as we did a year ago when a very similar situation played out with Mike Testwuide. Please, let's not anoint Matt Read as a Flyer just yet.
There are a million reasons behind why we say this, but the most obvious is the same one we talked about before. He's just coming out of college. He's been playing 37 game seasons for the last four years. Even if he keeps looking fantastic throughout training camp and he makes the Flyers roster out of camp, can he keep this up over the course of an entire season?
That's entirely unlikely. We're going to go back to this quote -- we've cited it several times -- because it's extremely fitting. From our interview with Phantoms head coach Joe Paterson during that same March trip to Glens Falls:
Well I think for those players individually it's just a longer season. You've got a guy like Mike Testwuide who comes from college and now, the number of games he's played, it's like two years of college for him. So the preparation for him on game day, he has to be a lot more prepared because we're playing so many games.
It's different than college where you're playing maybe once or twice a week and then you have a long period off, whereas we can play -- right now we're in a stretch where we have six games in eight days, so he has to be mentally prepared for it.
As Testwuide (who also scored tonight off a nice set up from Sean Couturier) learned a year ago, you can look quite good in a few games early in the season. But in your first year of professional hockey after college, it doesn't always sustain itself over the course of an entire year. Professional hockey is a grind,especially in the NHL when you're playing on all nights of the week.
It's not even close to what a college player goes through in their season, and when you unfairly set expectations too high for a guy, it doesn't do anybody any favors.
Look at Testwuide. If you believed the hype last season, you probably think he's never going to be any more than an AHL player. He was expected to make the team and didn't. And then he had a mediocre season in the AHL to top it off. He's a failure then, right? Well, no.... but that's what happens when one has to live up to unfair expectations.
Look at James van Riemsdyk. He left New Hampshire after his sophomore 2008-09 season and played a few games with the Philadelphia Phantoms, where the anticipation was through the roof. He didn't really do much. When he came to the NHL the next season, people were already calling for his head and saying he was never going to live up to the potential of a second overall pick.
The trade murmurs never really fully subsided until he scored that goal in Game 7 against Boston in the 2010 playoffs, and then last season, he continued slowly growing throughout the year before a monster playoff run earned him an equally large contract extension.
The point here is that even with a player of Reemer's skill and stature, it took him at least two NHL seasons to grow into the impact player he is today. And he's still not done. Even with his new contract, he'll have some growing pains. Hell, he didn't look particularly strong in Tuesday's game in Toronto. Read certainly had a better night.
But that's the deal with college players -- it takes them a wee bit longer to fulfill their potential.
As good as Matt Read looked on Tuesday night in Toronto, there's no reason to think that he can be an impact player on the Philadelphia Flyers for the duration of the 2011-12 season. Can he perform like that in a limited role as a call up here and there throughout the year? Certainly. Hopefully, at least.
But no matter how he looks in the rest of camp, throwing NHL expectations on him at this stage is just unfair. He's better suited returning to the AHL, where he can get used to the grind of the professional hockey calendar without the added pressure of playing in the NHL with high expectations.
We all want Read to be a impact player. We want him to be the steal that we think he can be, and we want him to completely fill out his potential. Rushing him into the NHL with inflated expectations isn't the way to bring about that outcome.