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Lehigh Valley Phantoms report cards: Forward prospects (part two)

More prospects, let’s go!

Heather Barry / SB Nation

We’re back, and we’re still talking forward prospects! We’ve got another group today that’s pretty heavy with first year (or effectively first year) professionals, and that should be pretty exciting to talk about... right? We’re going to assume that you said yes. Yes! So let’s talk about them.

Connor Bunnaman

29 GP. 6 G, 3 A, 9 P. 47.32 CF%. Grade: C-

Maddie, C-: What a weird season it was for Bunnaman, and what a weird feeling it leaves me with, because I’m coming away from it feeling good about his time with the Flyers, but distinctly less good about his time with the Phantoms, which feels a little off. He certainly struggled during the first half of his time with the Phantoms—after being sent down initially he seemed to be in a bit of a funk, then missed time in November with an injury, and then seemed to take more time to get back into the swing of things after his return. Credit to him, as he did seem to be picking up some steam in his ten or so games before being recalled again, and looked solid once he was sent back down after the trade deadline, but his grade does take a bit of a hit as he wasn’t a huge factor in the first half or so of the season. The scoring was down, the underlying numbers aren’t stellar, and while he did show some flashes, overall, it just didn’t seem to be clicking for him. We know he can do better, we’ve seen him do better, so it’s a bit of a disappointment, but his last handful of games (as well as his NHL play) at least leave room for optimism.

Brad, D+: After having such a strong second half last season, I felt that Bunnaman was a bit underwhelming this year. And maybe it has to do with role — he wasn’t seeing first line time this year — but it still feels like a bit of step backwards, at least in AHL effectiveness. The interesting thing is that I, like Maddie, thought he did well in the NHL this year, specifically during his second call up. That stint was the best he played with either team this past season. So for that reason, it feels more like his, in my opinion, poor season was a product of the team struggling, not a problem with his play as an individual. It was tough for anybody to shine this season.

Isaac Ratcliffe

53 GP. 6 G, 9 A, 12 P. 47.05 CF%. Grade: C-

Maddie, C: It’s been well documented that Ratcliffe certainly had something of an up and down rookie season. He was bad through the first half, full stop. He was really struggling with the adjustment and learning the pro game, and this translated to him just not being very effective. But! The Phantoms gave him space to work through his struggles (and even gave him some time on both the power play and penalty kill to see what he could do), and eventually, the results started to change. The offense started to come a bit easier for him, but more importantly, all of the other details of his game, he seemed to be fighting them less than he had been. He was bringing a bit more physicality, showing some stronger defense, it was just all trending in the right direction. And, despite the optimistic note it leaves us on, it does still work out to something of an average season (thus, the average grade), but still, there is indeed a lot to be excited about when he picks things back up next season.

Brad, D+: Out of all of the prospects, Ratcliffe showed the most growth throughout the season. And while some of that has to do with just how ineffective, to be blunt, he was at the start of the season, it’s still very encouraging. It’s not hard to imagine him following Nic Aube-Kubel’s progression, and having a substantially stronger year two.

German Rubtsov

42 GP. 2 G, 11 A, 13 P. 45.62 CF%. Grade: C-

Maddie, C: This is the grade that, I think, I struggled the most with. Considering the fact that Rubtsov only played 14 games during 2018-19, I’ve been considering this as an extension of his rookie season, and as such sort of adjusting my expectations. And he’s been something of a weird case because I have a lot of feelings and they don’t really fit together all that neatly. The scoring numbers aren’t stellar, but he did still show some really nice offensive playmaking flashes. I really liked his defensive work on the penalty kill, but the underlying shot metrics don’t show the same strength at 5-on-5. Those shot metrics aren’t great, but his exit and entry numbers are solid. There’s a lot at odds, here. And what do we do with all this? I don’t really know. But what we do know is that Rubtsov remains very skilled, and has shown some flashes, and is only still coming off of his first “full” season. It’s early, still.

Brad, D+: As we continue going through these grades, the word “underwhelming” keeps coming to mind. I just expected a more obvious step forward this year, and that did not occur. I’m not one to harp on point production, but 13 points in 42 games is way below the mark that I thought he was capable of putting up. I did enjoy his play on the penalty kill, especially when he was paired with Mikhail Vorobyev. The two are great penalty killers individually, and work really well together as a duo.

Matthew Strome

19 GP. 2 G, 2 A, 4 P. 48.40 CF%. Grade: D+

Maddie, D+: We didn’t get to see a ton of Strome this season, as he spent more time in the ECHL with the Royals, but his time with the Phantoms was something of a mixed bag. I think what it comes down to is that Strome is definitely still trying to figure out playing at the AHL level, but unlike as was the case with Ratcliffe, he wasn’t given the same leeway to sort of work through his issues on the fly. He showed occasional flashes (one of which was the fact that, when he got time on the power play, he was distributing from behind the net and I’m obsessed with that), but also had stretches where he looked a little out of his depth. This is all understandable for a rookie who only played 19 games, but the on-ice product still leaves quite a bit to be desired. There’s lots of room to improve though, when he presumably gets a longer look next season.

Brad, D: It’s been five months since we last watched Strome play a game for the Phantoms now, and I’ve got to say, I remember very little. The behind the net work on the power play does stick out as the main positive/interesting tidbit from his 19 games, but beyond that there’s just not much to talk about. Hopefully he can stay in the AHL longer next season.