The first wave of young defensemen have finally hit the NHL, with Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers making their NHL debuts over the last two seasons and establishing themselves as more or less regulars in the lineup, and it’s pretty easy to get caught up in all of the excitement over that. And it is exciting! But it’s also not as though the defensive prospect pipeline is tapped out, either. Mark Friedman also made his NHL debut in the Flyers’ last game of the season after taking a substantial step forward in his second season in the AHL. He may not be the biggest name in the Flyers’ prospect pool, but he isn’t far away from knocking on the door for an NHL job.
No. 19: Mark Friedman
Age: 23 (12/25/1995)
Size: 5’11”, 180
Acquired Via: 2014 NHL Draft — Round 3, Pick 86 (Pick acquired from Boston in exchange for Andrej Meszaros on March 5, 2014)
2018-19 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 5 G, 21 A in 75 GP
Ranking in BSH Winter 2019 25 Under 25: 17
By all counts, Friedman had himself a solid sophomore season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He more than doubled his goals total from his rookie season (when he registered two), and increased his overall points total, as well, improving from 16 points to 26. Indeed, he was one of just a few Phantoms players who were able to increase their scoring totals from their last season. His underlying numbers were also respectable enough—per Brad’s tracked data, through his first 51 games he registered a 45.60 CF%. And that number, on its own, isn’t stellar, but the team as a whole really struggled to drive play last season, increasingly so as the season went on, so relative to his teammates, this figure is slightly above middling. So, overall, not too bad of a stat line.
One of the big ideas that I keep coming back to regarding Friedman is that we still may have only scratched the surface. This season he played almost exclusively with T.J. Brennan, who isn’t exactly known for his defensive acumen, so Friedman had to pick up a lot of slack to make sure that there were still some units of defense being done during their time on the ice. And he was certainly steady and pretty dependable in that role, but it didn’t leave him with a lot of space to build on the offensive side of his game.
We saw flashes of that offensive upside when he had the chance to activate and contribute in this way, but it did only just come in flashes. In a perfect world, we’d get to see him spend some time playing away from Brennan next season, alongside a partner who can pick up some of the defensive workload and, at the very least, make things a bit more equal. And then it would be a nice bonus if he got a bit more space to work with, to activate offensively.
This is the model they followed with Myers this season, letting him play alongside the more steady defensively Philip Samuelsson, and giving him the chance to be let loose offensively, and as such, we saw his offensive numbers improve. The Phantoms seem to emphasize this, rounding out a player’s defensive game before they give them even more opportunities to shine offensively. And we’re not the coaches, so we don’t know what’s going to happen, but the Phantoms did bring in a good amount of veteran depth on the blue line this offseason, so it isn’t difficult to imagine them pairing Friedman with one of those steadier partners and just letting him loose. It would fit the pattern.
The numbers game on the Flyers’ blue line will have him starting with the Phantoms this season, but this may not be the worst thing. We’re used to the Flyers’ defensive prospects hitting this point where they just flat out look too good to be in the AHL anymore. And while Friedman has taken big steps forward in his game and continues to develop well, he just hasn’t quite hit that point yet. It may not be far away, but he still has a just bit more to go before we can feel one hundred percent confident that he’s ready for a regular NHL job.
There will be openings again next season—and it might not even be that long before we see Friedman with the Flyers again, because injuries do happen, and he seems to be first on the list for a call-up—and if Friedman continues to round out his game and really solidify himself as a dependable player, he can move himself even closer to future roster lock status. He likely won’t be getting the same minutes as he would be in the AHL, but he could prove a very good 3 RD for the Flyers in the future, if things continue to click for him.
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2019 Top 25 Under 25: