The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' defense could and maybe even should be one of the best in the entire AHL this season. The team will have a number of exciting, young players on the blue line this year, with -- in particular -- Travis Sanheim entering his first professional season and Samuel Morin coming into his second. And Ron Hextall's decision to bring in AHL vets like T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill should only make that group more formidable.
But beyond the journeyman AHL vets and tantalizing young prospects, there's one name that Scott Gordon will likely be penciling into his lineup night in and night out without giving it much of a second thought. And that's the one guy who sort of falls in the middle of those two groups: Mark Alt, one of the last Phantoms holdovers from Glens Falls.
No. 21 : Mark Alt
Age: 24 (10/18/1991)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 4 G, 15 A in 72 GP
Nationality: American (Kansas City, MO)
Acquired Via: Traded from Carolina along with Brian Boucher for Luke Pither in January 2013
Alt -- who is the oldest member of our countdown, as he'll turn 25 in less than two months -- is entering his fourth full year with the Flyers' organization. In that time he's played one single game with the Flyers, as he was an emergency injury-fill in late in the 2014-15 season for a single game. He's otherwise been a mainstay on the Phantoms' blueline, and while by all accounts it sounded like he was doing a fine job on the farm, he never seemed to be given serious consideration as an NHL-level prospect.
In a lot of ways, it's easy to peg Alt as a sort of tweener prospect who's running out of time to prove that he'll ever be more than just an AHL player. And that's not totally untrue -- on his fourth year in the system, if he can't make a lasting impression soon, it's tough to know when he'll have the chance to again.
And with the influx of prospects and young, talented defensemen coming in and the roster crunch that the Phantoms are staring at, it wouldn't have been that surprising to see the organization not renew Alt's contract this past summer. Yet the Flyers shot that idea down quickly, giving Alt a one-year, two-way contract the day before they even extended qualifying offers to the remainder of their restricted free agents.
Clearly, there are some things the Flyers like about what Alt brings to the table. What could those be?
First of all, Alt it a fairly simple, steadying player. Nothing about his skillset necessarily screams "wow", but he does most things fairly well. He's not a big-time scorer, but he's got a solid offensive game; he's averaged .29 points per game in his Phantoms career, which is around 22 points per 76-game AHL season -- respectable for a defenseman who's only sparingly been used as a power play player. (Alt is also a right-handed shot, which is something the Flyers still don't have much of.) And his defensive game is solid as well.
On a team full of young players, a good but still safe player like Alt is a valuable thing to have. Look at how the team used him almost exclusively this year: on a pairing alongside AHL first-timer and prized defensive prospect Samuel Morin, on a pairing that was (per Highland Pack Hockey's Tony Androckitis) regularly used as the team's shutdown pairing. Morin's a good prospect, but you don't throw a player like that to the wolves in his first professional season unless you're confident he's got the right supporting cast in place around him. For Morin this year, that supporting cast was Mark Alt, which shows you what Gordon and the coaches in Lehigh Valley thought of him.
It remains to be seen exactly what the Phantoms have in mind for Alt this season. They could keep him with Morin again as the team's shutdown pair, or maybe they could run him out as Travis Sanheim's safety net. There are a lot of ways for the Phantoms to use a player like Alt, which is exactly why he has so much value to the organization even if he's not going to become a full-time NHLer.
But, since we asked: is there still time for him to make that leap?
On the one hand, it's tough to be too confident in it. As mentioned, in Alt's three years with the Phantoms there's never been much noise at all of him really being considered as a meaningful NHL replacement. Given how the Flyers' defense has been in the past few years (read: not too good!), the fact that no one in the organization ever looked at him as a potential improvement isn't a great sign.
Still, sometimes all it takes is one break. We know that the Flyers would prefer not to use any of their not-quite-ready-yet prospects as injury call-ups, and if Alt gets out to a strong start, he could be the guy who gets a look over the likes of T.J. Brennan should a call-up be necessary. Or, maybe he can hope the cards fall his way Brandon Manning-style: work your way through with the minor league team for years, then have a good enough camp that the team feels like it can't afford not to keep you around. This year very well may be his last chance to do so (at least within the Flyers' organization), but it's not that hard to see a scenario where he at least gets a chance to show his worth at the NHL level.
Yet for now, as Alt comes up on 25, we may know what he is, and he may just spend this year as the all-around pretty good AHL defenseman who works well with the prospects in Lehigh Valley. And even if that's it, that's a pretty important role for this franchise.
How we voted for Mark Alt :
How we voted at No. 21 :
|Radel Fazleev||Mark Alt||Mark Friedman||Phillippe Myers||Danick Martel||Mark Alt||Felix Sandstrom||Mark Alt||Cole Bardreau||Radel Fazleev|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: