It’s that time again! The Phantoms open up their regular season tonight, and in preparation for that, Brad and I took a moment to sit down and do some projecting on what the lines and pairings could look like to open the season. We did a bit of looking at the lines they ran during the preseason, did a bit of listening to our guts, and came up with this:
Maddie: Let’s start at the top. This is cheating a little bit, because it kind of seems like the Phantoms have showed their cards with who they’re liking on the top line. Makes our job easier. They ran an Andy Andreoff - Cal O’Reilly - Nicolas Aube-Kubel first line for their last two games, and that seemed to be the only one showing some real chemistry forming. Safe to assume they keep that together?
Brad: That’d make sense! Even without knowing that, O’Reilly and Aube-Kubel would’ve been two of my choices to begin with, however I would’ve guessed that Greg Carey would be with them, not Andreoff.
M: Agreed, especially considering how well Carey and Aube-Kubel worked together last season. But hey, maybe it’s something they revisit later on in the season, if they need to change things up.
B: Right. Then we have another line that has been together the last two games as well in Mikhail Vorobyev, German Rubtsov, and Maxim Sushko. And the most interesting thing to me is that Vorobyev has been playing wing. I’m not sure how I feel about that, he’s been one of the team’s best play drivers the last two seasons at center. Maybe it’ll be a good thing in the long run though.
M: Yeah, that was interesting! I feel like it was something they had to do, they kind of have an excess of centers, so they were going to have to do some shuffling. I definitely don’t hate it, especially considering the chemistry he and Rubtsov were showing last season. Sushko I’m not sure about yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shuffled down in the lineup once Morgan Frost and David Kase are cleared to play.
B: I do think that Kase would be a really good fit on that line. Someone else, if he’s actually there, that I think would work well with them would be Joel Farabee. All three are such plus-forecheckers, especially Farabee, that it’d be a nightmare to play against.
M: Man, that would be so fun.
B: We do still have to fit Carey somewhere too, and placing him alongside two playmakers who are good at both ends of the ice might be a winning formula.
M: That’s an idea! Or, hear me out, we make the Vorobyev-Rubtsov-Sushko line (I’m keeping him penciled in there just because we don’t know yet it Kase will be cleared to start the season, or if Farabee will be reporting to the Phantoms at all) the third line, and then put Carey alongside Frost and make that the second line. Thoughts?
B: Put the team’s best pure goalscorer next to the organization’s arguably most electric prospect? Sure, that sounds pretty OK!
M: Decent, imo. I think I have an idea of what you’ll say, but who would we want on the other wing, then?
B: Isaac Ratcliffe. Gives the line a bit of size, another goalscorer, and a net-front presence. Is that who you were thinking as well?
M: Yep! I think it’s a good fit, but also from a prospect development standpoint, you also want them to be getting as many minutes as possible, so putting Ratcliffe up on the second line would accomplish that as well.
B: And suddenly we’re down to one forward line with a good amount of names left.
M: That we are! I imagine things are going to be pretty fluid as the season goes on, both with the veteran limit and the fact that they just have too many guys and not enough spots. But for the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to say that they roll with the fourth line from the last two games, with Matt Strome-Gerry Fitzgerald-Kurtis Gabriel, because it seemed to be clicking. Even though, personally, I think I’d rather have Pascal Laberge on that line. But I imagine they’ll roll with what they have.
B: Yeah that’d make some sense. There’s a couple of “not sure if they’ll be ready for game one, but will be ready soon” injuries as well with Kase and Frost. Kyle Criscuolo and Laberge would be the other two that we don’t currently have on a line. They’re both capable, but it’s a numbers game. It’s entirely possible they’re both in on night one and two forwards that we have playing are not.
M: And then the defense! This section feels like it doesn’t require a ton of thinking on our parts, because the Phantoms rolled with the same top two pairs in both of the last two games, and that seems like a pretty clear indication that they like those. So we’d have T.J. Brennan with Nate Prosser, and then Chris Bigras with Mark Friedman. And that’s the top four!
B: So I do think that’s how they’ll start, since they’ve been running those pairs, however, eventually I would like to see Tyler Wotherspoon up there next to either Prosser or Friedman. I think he’ll be a big addition to the team.
M: That would be interesting! I imagine we’ll see that at some point this season, once Andy Welinski is healthy and assigned to the Phantoms, then they’ll have to do some more shuffling with the pairs. If I had to guess, he may sit for the season opener, because of that pesky veteran limit. So that leaves James de Haas and Reece Wilcox as the third pair.
B: Well hang on, they also just sent Philippe Myers down. If he’s still a Phantom when the season starts he’ll be getting big minutes. Not night one because of travel, but I guess we’re hoping he gets back up with the Flyers, right?
M: Hoping! If not, I’m thinking that he would probably replace Willcox and then slide up the depth chart from there.
B: Agreed. But back to Wotherspoon, yeah I guess he could be first up in the probable vet rotation. Unless they take one of the forwards out first. There’s going to be a lot of movement, and then when Welinski is back it gets even more complicated. Once he joins the team they’ll have seven veterans on the roster and can only play five.
M: There are just entirely too many. I have a feeling we see Brennan sitting a few games, so that opens things up in the top four.
B: Yeah, that seems likely.
M: So, the goalies! They have too many again! If you had to guess, who gets the start?
B: Night one? I’d guess Felix Sandstrom. If Alex Lyon wasn’t overseas with the Flyers right now I would pick him since he’s the only goaltender returning, but alas, he’s over there.
M: That would be my guess too. And then I’m going to say Kirill Ustimenko is the backup. I don’t have a good reason for that. Just a gut feeling.
B: Oh yeah? I’m definitely leaning towards J.F. Berube backing up and Ustimenko starting the year with the Reading Royals. Who do you think ends up with the most starts across the whole season?
M: Spicy! I also had figured Ustimenko would be the one sent to Reading, but I also kind of thought they would have done that by now? So now I guess I don’t know anything. But to answer your question, I think Lyon will get the most starts. It feels like he’s established himself as their starter, so barring injury *knocks on wood*, I think he holds onto that role.
B: That’s where my head is at as well, though if Sandstrom has a hot start maybe he just runs with it. I’m not sure what they plan on doing with the three main guys, I believe they said that they don’t want to carry three goalies?
M: I certainly wouldn’t count that out. And they did say they didn’t want to carry three, but I’m not even going to pretend to know what they’re doing on that front. Too many goalies. What a mess.
B: Yeah, that seems a bit pointless to guess at.
With that, here are the maybe, possibly, most definitely not happening, but what we created, lines for opening night:
Andreoff - O’Reilly - Aube-Kubel
Carey - Frost - Ratcliffe
Vorobyev - Rubtsov - Sushko
Strome - Fitzgerald - Gabriel
Brennan - Prosser
Bigras - Friedman
de Haas - Willcox