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2021-22 Player Review: Morgan Frost is still learning to fly

But what goes up (to the Flyers) must come down (to the Phantoms).

Morgan Frost skates towards the camera alongside the bench, his left arm up to fist-bump the teammates on the other side of the bench wall. His teammates are mostly all turned with their backs to the camera, arms also up for fist-bumps. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It’s alright if you love him, it’s alright if you don’t, because Morgan Frost at this point in his career has become a highly polarizing player for the Flyers. It’s not a debate that came out of thin air. At 23 years old, Frost has now played three seasons of professional hockey, and his future doesn’t look clear. In a season that saw many blows to the center depth of this team (Kevin Hayes and Sean Couturier suffering injuries, the deadline trades of Claude Giroux and Derick Brassard, etc.), this should have been the perfect opportunity for Frost to show that he could be a bona fide NHL player.

It didn’t happen.

Frost started the season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, not playing his first game with the Flyers until November 24. He put up a modest showing while he was there, but his game soon stagnated, leading the Flyers to send him back down to the Phantoms in February – twice. After his third call-up in March, Frost was able to stick around for the rest of the season. This especially made sense after the trade deadline, when the Flyers were left with little choice but to let the “kids” play. In doing so, it seemed like Frost was starting to find chemistry with Owen Tippett and Noah Cates.

If Frost wants to keep running down a dream of carving out an NHL career, he needs to keep building on how the tail end of the season went, but it’s not a given that he can do so.

Some numbers

In 55 games played with the Flyers this season, Frost put up 5 goals and 11 assists for a total of 16 points. Most of these points were split between his first month up in the NHL and his last month. He went on a nine-game pointless streak between January 8 and January 25 for perspective of his mid-season slump.

Of his advanced stats, the one that primarily stands out to me is his 46.62% Corsi-For percentage (CF%) (Natural Stat Trick). I’ve mentioned this stat in a few other season reviews, but it’s especially crucial to focus on when evaluating the performance of centers. Not only does a forward want to be shooting more than the competition, more often than not, centers are being asked to take on a much more defensive role. A well-rounded center should be outshooting while also suppressing shots against. To have a CF% that’s under 50% can point to a need for Frost to improve on both ends of the ice.

A waist-up shot of Morgan Frost in a Flyers orange home jersey standing on the ice during a pause in play. He’s looking towards the right side of the frame, and he’s holding his stick in both hands horizontal to the ground, with only the upward pointed blade truly visible in the shot. Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Did he live up to expectations?

Expectations surrounding prospects are always tricky, because you want to see a player do well while also understanding that not everyone transitions into the NHL with ease. With Frost, though, he’s been in a limbo between NHL and AHL status for much longer than I think was expected given how his talents were sold. This should have been a season for Frost to shed the prospect label entirely.

This expectation only grew as the season went on due to the nature of the injuries between Hayes and Couturier. With each subsequent call-up to the Flyers, the question became whether this would be the time Frost put it all together.

Instead, faith in him to ever do so is free falling amongst the fanbase. Is that the right attitude to take towards him, though? Is he really turning out to be a draft bust or is the reaction one of a jaded fanbase that’s been raked through the coals one too many times?

What can we expect from next season?

The Flyers have signed Frost to a one-year contract at $800,000 AAV, and this needs to be a prove-it season for him. I would expect that Frost will come to training camp ready to say he won’t back down, but it needs to translate to results. If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if at this time next year, we’re writing a version of this article that includes a farewell. I’m sure some team that is actually committed to the idea of a rebuild (instead of deluding themselves that they don’t need one) will be happy to take on a project like Frost.

However, the Flyers also need to commit to keeping him up in the NHL. Frost is not going to prove himself as worthy if he languishes in the AHL for the majority of the season. Whenever he slipped last season, he was sent straight to the Lehigh Valley. He should be telling his coaches “Don’t do me like that,” if they try to do this again to him. This is a sink or swim season, and making him play with the Phantoms any time he fails to live up to expectations doesn’t give Frost the ability to show he can overcome adversity and slumps in his game.

Maybe the Flyers have been trying to over-correct from how the development of fellow 2017 first-rounder Patrick went – where the second-overall pick never spent a single second in the AHL – but it seems just as flawed. In fact, a common evaluation of Frost throughout the season was that he was lacking confidence. Constantly being sent up and down between leagues like a yo-yo will do that to anyone! It says there is no trust in how his game is developing, that he needs to keep going down a level. When a player’s confidence becomes destroyed it’s like learning to fly when you ain’t got wings. You have to give Frost his wings back to let him succeed.

I want to believe that a more permanent spot on the team combined with some guidance from a healthy Couturier and Hayes will help Frost take the necessary leaps in his game, but I’m also too jaded in the Flyers’ ability to properly develop the talent of any of their players. It’s not too late for Frost to become a good third-line (or even second-line) center, but I don’t believe it happens here in Philadelphia.