The Philadelphia Flyers are in an interesting position with the NHL trade deadline quickly approaching. They are on the playoff bubble in the extremely competitive Metropolitan Division and have limited options due to the salary cap.
The Flyers are already a pretty deep team both at forward and on defense. Looking at the lines for the last few games, James van Riemsdyk – a top-six talent – is playing on the third line, and the bottom six is full of players that are proving they belong. On defense, Robert Hagg has played well recently with Shayne Gostisbehere still out, giving the Flyers seven defensemen to work with.
On top of that, the Flyers also have a few other players that still may be able to make an impact this season.
One of the only gaps in the Flyers’ lineup is at center. Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes have proven to be a strong one-two punch down the middle, with Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton also seeing some time at center this season. However, both Giroux and Laughton seem to play better on the wing. That has resulted in a carousel of forwards rotating up and down from the AHL with mixed results.
While Connor Bunnaman has played better recently as the Flyers’ fourth-line center, it’s still only been a small sample size of strong play. Even if Bunnaman does stick, there is a need for a third-line center if Giroux and Laughton are on the wing. Laughton has slid over to center for the last two games with Joel Farabee back and Morgan Frost out, but that might not be an ideal long-term solution.
That ideal long-term solution could be the aforementioned Frost, however. The rookie forward is now in his second stint with the Flyers this season. He impressed early on in his first call-up, with goals in each of his first two games (and an assist in his second game as well), but then slowed down with a seven-game point drought and just four assists in his next 16 games.
Not only was Frost quiet on the scoresheet, he wasn’t producing many shot attempts either. He had 38 shot attempts and 27 scoring chances at 5-on-5 play in his first 10 games, then just seven shot attempts and six scoring chances in eight games before being sent down.
Frost was primarily sent down to work on the little things that matter a lot at the professional level: winning battles for the puck, making the right decisions with and without the puck, and reacting quicker to the game around him. He was able to use his talent and skills to dominate the Ontario Hockey League, but that time and space is a lot shorter and smaller at the AHL and NHL levels.
”He’s done it for stretches at a time but needs to do it with more consistency. Morgan is a very teachable and bright young man in addition to being a highly skilled one. He’s very honest with himself and self-aware,” Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said at the break. “It’s a work in progress, but we’re confident that he’ll get back up here at some point and succeed up here as things click for him. How soon that will be is up to him.
Frost immediately made an impact back with the Phantoms, picking up two points in his first three games. In total he picked up eight points (three goals, five assists) in 13 games – including six points in his last nine games – before being recalled.
After the Flyers’ loss to the Devils, they wanted to move Giroux back to wing and therefore, needed someone to fill in the hole at center. Andy Andreoff was up for one game, but he gave way to Frost.
Playing on the third line with van Riemsdyk and Tyler Pitlick, Frost had his ups and downs against the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers.
On the positive side, Frost went an impressive 9-for-10 on faceoffs against the Capitals. That was one area where he struggled previously, so it was great to see. He also rang a shot off iron late in the game, which could’ve been a big confidence boost for the rookie. On the downside, there were a few shifts where he looked overmatched. His line was the only Flyers line to have a Corsi-For below 50% against Washington.
Frost looked much more comfortable against the Panthers. During his first few shifts he was knocked off the puck and also turned it over a few times, but then he settled in. This time around, Frost helped his line to be one of the two lines with a Corsi-For above 50%. The bottom six really carried the Flyers against the Panthers, and Frost had a part in that.
Frost has now been a healthy scratch for two straight games with his status up in the air after Saturday. He is on the road trip, but then Alain Vigneault and Chuck Fletcher will reassess where he stands when the team comes home.
That could be a big conversation with the trade deadline looming.
The Flyers may be more apt to standing pat at the deadline if they believe Frost has shown enough that they’re comfortable with him as an NHL center – whether it be now or later in the season. However, if they think he needs more time and there are options available on the trade market, they could go that route.
Brad Keffer took a look at a few of the potential targets at the deadline, and if they can be acquired for a reasonable price, that buys more time for Frost to develop. But a reasonable price isn’t always guaranteed – especially in a thin market at the center position.
With 20 NHL games under his belt, Frost should be given a real shot at sticking on the roster. He has shown that he can hold his own for the most part and it costs absolutely nothing to add him to the lineup. On the other hand, a center like Jean-Gabriel Pageau would likely cost at least a relatively high pick and player of value.
Fletcher has done a good job of using assets to improve the team, primarily in the offseason with trades for Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, and Pitlick, but the cupboard is thinning out. The prospect pipeline is still relatively deep, but do you really want to give up a potential top-six forward or top-four defenseman for a rental? Even if it’s just a pick and favorable roster player, they traded their third-round pick in this year’s draft, giving extra internal value to their second-rounder.
Frost could also get a crack at the lineup again and set the world on fire, easing the front office’s mind if they choose to not make a move at the deadline. Even if he doesn’t, and he needs more time in the AHL, the Flyers still have plenty of forward depth without giving up any assets.
No matter what, Frost is a big part of the Flyers’ future plans. The only question if that starts as this season ends or as next season begins.