It’s been something of a strange season for Morgan Frost, and it seems to be getting even stranger.
To recap quickly, Frost had a decent training camp but was still sent down to the AHL to start the season with the Phantoms—understandable, given the amount of time he missed after taking a shoulder injury at the start of last season—and that meant a bit over a month spent in the minors polishing his game (and finding good results). And then at the end of November, he was recalled to the Flyers and played 26 games for them, before being sent back down to the Phantoms for the All Star break. The assumption was that he would be right back up after the break, but that didn’t happen, and he stayed with the Phantoms… until the Flyers were struck by injuries again and he was called back up two weeks ago.
Now, though, he’s found himself in a bit of limbo. With Derick Brassard primed to make his return to the lineup (again) today, Frost is going to sit, and a determination has to be made whether he’s going to stay up with the Flyers and given a limited role, or sent back to the Phantoms again to get more minutes. But that’s still a big question mark.
And all of this bouncing around of him, frankly, is exhausting. It’s exhausting to watch unfold and surely it must be even worse for Frost, who can’t seem to get settled in anywhere before he’s uprooted and bounced to a new team. And what’s more, it’s puzzling, because the team doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of how they want to be handling his development right now.
Morgan Frost will come out with Derick Brassard's return. Mike Yeo said he thinks Frost is in a good place with it. He seems like he's on the right track. They'll decide whether it's better for him to stay up and play maybe 10 minutes or go to the AHL and play a lot.— Giana Han (@giana_jade) February 25, 2022
His place remains up in the air, and the team is at a bit of a crossroads with how they want to proceed in Frost’s development track.
The Flyers seem to like a patient approach with their top prospects. Here’s AGM Brent Flahr from a chat with Charlie O’Connor of the Athletic just this week, talking about how the team is approaching developing Cam York, and their decision to keep him parked in the AHL for the foreseeable future:
I think he just needs a run (in the AHL) — that’s what we’re talking about, with where we are in the standings. He can play in the NHL right now. We’ve seen that he’s fine. But our expectations for him going forward and what we’re hoping to see in years to come is the most important thing.
So we feel that the best place for him to grow his game and generate offense, do all the little things, and work on the little details in this game is there for now. So I think you may see him take a run here and knock on wood — every time we try to keep guys down, we get 12 injuries and we’ve got to call someone up. But for Cam, he obviously wants to be in the NHL, we just think he needs a run (when he plays) a ton of minutes, plays all the situations. I think he’ll be better for it at the end.
And that’s a big reason why he’s down there right now to play these minutes, play all situations and again, hopefully grow his game. But I think he has the talent level, he’s shown that he can play. We don’t want him to just be “a player,” we want him to be an impact player. We’ve just got to make sure we develop him the right way.
There’s a cautiousness here but also a consideration for the long term, and if they want to follow this same model with Frost, fine, so be it. There’s certainly a case to be made that at this point in his career, he could hang at the NHL level and should be able to get adjusted to that level, but it’s not definitive. That player vs. impact player point may be key here too.
So there’s something to be said for sending him down again, that if the team feels that Frost is unproven and they still want him to work on some things, that they can send him to the AHL to be given a ton of minutes to do just that. As Flahr alluded to, the best thing for a developing player is to play. So it’s not a bad philosophy on its own, but here’s the thing—the Flyers have already played that card. When they didn’t like his training camp enough to keep him with the NHL squad, even in a limited role, and preferred to let him get more reps with the Phantoms, they played this card. And when they sent him down for the All Star break and opted to leave him down with the Phantoms even after the Flyers returned to action, they played this card. And now they’re staring down playing it a third time in a single season, until when? He gets settled in enough with the AHL squad to start producing again, and then they yank him back up? This may be an approach that’s coming from a good place, but how long before it starts to become a hinderance?
Because for as important as playing is, just as important is continuity, and being put in the best position to succeed, and the onus is on the team to provide that. And certainly they can’t be bending over backwards to accommodate one single player, but surely there’s a middle ground to be found here. Because the Flyers don’t seem to be overly pleased with the results they’re getting from Frost in the situation that he’s in (playing with AHL wingers) but, we should note, they’re the ones who manufactured those conditions for him.
Yeo made a point of saying how sharp Frost looked when bumped up to the Flyers’ top power play unit on Tuesday (when he was given more skilled players to work with), and it stands to reason that to get the most out of him, you would try to replicate those conditions going forward, but instead it’s a step back and Frost is out of the lineup.
Has Frost been dominant in his time with the Flyers? No. That would be a tough expectation to put on him anyway, but it’s still a no, and that’s okay. What he has proven, at the very least, is that he is an NHL player. And just as there is a case to be made for sending Frost down, there is one to be made that he’s earned the chance to prove he can stick and pick up steam at the next level.
We’re getting away from our point here, so we’ll circle back.
The Flyers are swiftly approaching yo-yo levels in their handling of Frost, and they’re doing him a disservice in it, just as they’re doing themselves a disservice. Frost isn’t a finished product, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to go so far as to assert that at present, but he’s a highly skilled player, and that’s something that certainly could help them at the NHL level. But if the Flyers would rather follow their own advice and take the patient approach, that’s fine, but they have to commit to it. Wherever they decide they want him to be for his next game, he should stay there for at least the bulk of the rest of the season. It’s time that the Flyers be more intentional about finding what is going to help Frost the most, what is the most optimal position for him to succeed, and letting him get established there.
Frost has the potential to be a very good player for this team for a long time, and while it’s going to take some time to fully get there, his potential hasn’t changed. But the door is still open for that development to be stalled or derailed completely.
The Flyers have to get this right, for Frost and for the others behind him that they’re also trying to develop. Dramatic as it may sound, there’s a lot that’s at stake here, and with a retool looming, they’re going to need to figure it things out quick. And this is where it starts.