At long last, Wade Allison made his season debut this weekend. After being sidelined with a high ankle sprain since the Flyers’ second rookie game in September, and then with the Phantoms seeing a handful of their games postponed due to their opponents dealing with Covid outbreaks, it’s been a long road back to action for Allison, and his first pair of games back with the Phantoms were good ones.
He picked up one assist, 10 shots on goal, and scored in yesterday’s shootout, and all in all had himself a pretty productive weekend. His excitement was palpable, and he was buzzing through each of these two games—which, we should add, both ended in wins, bringing the team’s season total up from three to five.
We couldn't help but kick this off with a classic Hartnell down/Allison down clip. In case anyone needed a bit of a laugh.
Jokes aside, Allison came into this weekend’s games and immediately started doing what he does best—shooting the puck. As we mentioned in the introduction, he got a lot of looks this weekend, and was certainly one of the Phantoms’ most dynamic players, and really injected some life into an offense that has looked a bit anemic at time this season. We’ve seen him doing damage with the shot at the college and professional levels, and he certainly hasn’t lost that with all of the time off. His teammates were looking for him in this one, and while he did see each of his shots stopped in these two games, he really didn’t miss by much. He was robbed a few times, but it feels like only a matter of time before he breaks through, the work overall has been so good.
And even if it wasn’t always paying off, Allison really was trying to score anyhow and from anywhere, even if it manifested in a bit of a weird sort of spin-o-rama attempt. He’s a scoring threat from everywhere, folks! Or at least he’s trying.
But for as often as Allison was knocking on the door this weekend, he couldn’t find a way to break through for a proper goal. That said, it’s no surprise that when the Phantoms ended up in a shootout yesterday, Allison was the first player called upon to shoot. And this time he did break through! It was a nice bit of stick handling to lead up to the shot, but it was that quick release that allowed him to beat the Hartford goalie.
It feels a little strange to say of a player coming off of a high ankle sprain, but the strongest impression coming out of Friday’s game against Cleveland was that somehow this might just be the fastest we’ve seen Allison look, at the very least in his professional career. Rarely if ever do you see players coming back from a lower body injury like this one and looking like they’ve gained a step, but that’s exactly what we got from Allison this weekend. We see him flexing some good speed in the first clip (that’s at the end of a shift, mind you), and that in and of itself is enough to flash, but the second is the real difference from “okay, he’s moving well out there” to “oh he’s flat out beating guys.” And for a player like Allison who’s always had decent speed but never been a true burner, that stands out.
But it wasn’t as though this was a case of him being fueled by some crazy adrenaline rush and excitement to be back in action for his very first game, we saw the same impacts carrying through the second game of the weekend, even when we might have expected a bit of fatigue to be setting in. His conditioning is right where it needs to be—maybe all of that bonus practice time with the team paid off—and he’s added another gear. The way he’s been able to not just beat opponents but to do it and create some separation was pretty remarkable, and it was a real asset to the Phantoms’ attempts to create more off the rush.
And we saw that paying off in a pretty tangible way as well. He came up with some good chances on the rush for himself that didn’t end up going, but we also saw that speed contributing to the Phantoms’ first goal of the game on Saturday (the teddy bear toss goal, we should add!). He picks up a pass from Cam York who’s already moving through the neutral zone with some speed, gets past the Cleveland defender for a shot on goal, and while the goalie makes the stop, it does create the rebound that Gerry Mayhew was able to put away. Couldn’t really have drawn that one up any better.
Allison’s also built up some nice chemistry with Phantoms captain Cal O’Reilly already, and they've even had some time to work a set play to benefit from that into their game plan. They were trying to cash in on this quick shot from Allison after a faceoff win by O’Reilly all weekend, and while they didn’t get a goal out of it, they did still get a couple of nice looks. They’ve been missing having someone with this quick of a release to really execute these kinds of quick strike plays since Tyson Foerster took his shoulder injury, but Allison has certainly slipped into that role well.
But what also stood out about his weekend is how wide ranging his impacts were. There’s obviously a ton of offense in his game, and he’s a real scoring threat all over the ice, but we also saw him chipping in elsewhere. Whether it was playing hard on the forecheck and being the first player to go into the corners to dig for a loose puck, or just making a subtle play like we saw in the first clip, winning a puck battle after a long shift in the defensive zone, and making a quick, decisive play to start up a breakout and settle things down. No coasting or cheating for offense here, he was playing the right way.
And, if there were ever a sign that a player is fully bought in with the team, even if he isn’t figuring to spend a ton of time with them, it would be Allison dropping down to block a shot and sticking out his freshly healed ankle to block said shot.
Of course, the immediate impacts they saw on the Phantoms shouldn't come as a surprise—we saw the same thing happen with Allison injecting some life into a Flyers team that looked dead in the water at the end of last season. But it wasn’t just him competing hard on every shift and dragging his teammates into the fight (though that was certainly a significant factor), it was injecting positive energy just about everywhere he went, from stick taps and fist bumps for his teammates to taking a moment to smile at a little kid along the glass. Allison was a real breath of fresh air on a team that has struggled mightily so far this season.
He’s still working to get his timing all the way back, but even with that taken into consideration, there really isn’t a better weekend you could have hoped for from Allison than this one. He’s playing to get back in the NHL right now, and if he keeps this up, it won't be long before we see him back up with the big club.
Previously on the prospect film studies series…