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

Prospect talkin’!

We’ve just about hit the midway point on these season grades, and it’s time that we pivot to talking about the forwards! The Phantoms were pretty well loaded with forward prospects this season, and that was certainly an exciting thing to have going for them. We’ve got our first grouping on deck (remember, only those who played 15 or more games with the team this season!), so let’s dive right into these grades.

Morgan Frost

41 GP. 13 G, 16 A, 29 P. 51.12 CF%. Grade: B+

Maddie, B+: Morgan Frost is very good, folks. It probably wasn’t fair to expect him to come into the AHL and immediately positively light it up (which he didn’t, not completely), but all the same, I think he had a very solid rookie season. Scoring numbers are very solid (tied for second in scoring, tied with Cal O’Reilly and behind Greg Carey, despite playing 11 and 15 fewer games than them, respectively), underlying numbers are strong as well, and I think he had a positive impact on an otherwise pretty lackluster power play. It wasn’t a perfect season for him—his details and play away from the puck weren’t always consistent—but it was still a really strong rookie campaign, and he really did adjust well and pretty quickly to the pro game, and I think that certainly counts for something. And I don’t think it will be too long at all before we see him playing in the NHL full time.

Brad, B+: As Maddie said, all of Frost’s numbers are very good. Counting stats, shot metrics, goal results, and microstats all agree: he’s good! Truthfully I have nothing to add here, Maddie really hit on everything that I was going to — adjusted to the pro game relatively quickly, good on the power play, some of the details, mainly defensively, weren’t always there ... but that’s not a surprise for a rookie. That pretty much covers it. I wouldn’t be surprised if his days as an AHLer are over.

Maksim Sushko

53 GP. 11 G, 10 A, 21 P. 45.04 CF%. Grade: B-

Maddie, B-: Overall, I’m pretty pleased with Sushko’s season. He’s one who, when the season started, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from him, and while it did take him a little bit to get adjusted to playing in the AHL, I think he ended up being something of a pleasant surprise for me. He played a pretty solid defensive game and I liked him on the penalty kill when he got looks there, and the offensive contributions (seventh on the team but second among rookies in scoring) were solid as well. The shot metrics aren’t great (thought the exit and entry numbers are), and that’s something worth keeping an eye on, but I’m willing to be forgiving about that for a first year player. But, all in all, though he didn’t receive the same fanfare that some of the other prospects did, Sushko had himself a quietly pretty solid season, and I’m excited to see how he builds on that (and, taking it a step further, if he does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him wind up in the mix for a look with the Flyers next season).

Brad, C+: Sushko had a solid rookie campaign. He showed that he has a good base to build on as his game continues to develop. There was a bit more of an adjustment period for Sushko than Frost, but that’s not exactly a surprise given where the rounds in which they were drafted. One of the specific skills that stood out to me was his ability to protect the puck, whether it be along the boards or in open ice. And while there isn’t a number to back this up, at least not one available to the public, it seemed that he caused opponents to turn the puck over a lot. There’s a little bit of what I like to call “pass lurking” to his game, where instead of always attacking the carrier, a player will to sit back and prepare to jump on multiple potential passing lanes. While I would be surprised to see him in the mix next year as far as NHL opportunities go, I am excited to see his progress in year two.

Carsen Twarynski

31 GP. 7 G, 5 A, 12 P. 52.08 CF%. Grade: C

Maddie, C-: I really struggled with this grade, to be honest, because looking at Twarynski’s stat line, it seems like there should be a lot to like, and yet I’m coming away feeling pretty lukewarm about his season. I think part of that is the consistency element—the scoring numbers look pretty good, but he definitely was streaky (two two-goal games and then a weekend where he scored in back-to-back games accounted for almost all of his goal scoring for the season, and then there were some longer scoreless stretches). And I think the other piece is that, while there were other forwards in the bottom-six who I think really jumped out as being effective in a more traditional energy role, I didn’t come away feeling the same way about Twarynski (and indeed there were games and stretches when I didn’t find him terribly noticeable at all). There were pieces of his season to like (credit to him for improving his underlying numbers), but I think he’s still very much a player who’s working on figuring it all out. It just hasn’t really come together for him in a super meaningful way.

Brad, C+: When I went to add my commentary here I had a hard time figuring out why I felt that a C is the grade I want to give when looking at the numbers. They’re really good, yet while watching the games it just didn’t seem that he was making as much of an impact as they suggest he was — and it sounds like Maddie and I both came away from the season with that feeling. Maybe it has something to do with playing time, as he was mainly a bottom-sixer and spent some time on the fourth line. He produced a good amount for his role, had solid underlying numbers, and is strong forechecker. Oh, and also killed penalties. So why do we feel this way? I don’t know, but I’m going to bump him up by one to a C+ now that I’m done with this section.

Max Willman

24 GP. 3 G, 6 A, 9 P. 47.06 CF%. Grade: B-

Maddie, B-: I should note here, before we get too deep into the evaluation, that Willman isn’t technically a prospect, as he isn’t actually signed with the Flyers and in their system in that way, he’s on an AHL contract through next season, but he was still a first year pro and a developmental player in the AHL, so we’re lumping him in here, rather than with the vets (who we’ll talk about later this week).

But the grade! Overall, I liked Willman’s season. He had a tough task of coming in midway through the season from Reading, when the team was really beat up and struggling, but I think he fit in quickly and served as a really useful energy player (and as something of an ideal energy player, for me). His grade takes a bit of a hit because the underlying numbers aren’t stellar, which is worth acknowledging, but at the same time, I think what it comes down to for me is that Willman was effective in the role that was asked of him, and that’s big. And I’m excited to see what he’s able to do next season.

Brad, B-: Willman became a surprising favorite of mine as the season progressed. His speed pops out at you immediately, and he was able to create a good amount of scoring chances this year. Like many speedsters, he seems to have a knack for drawing penalties — seven in just 24 games — and I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again mention that he had one of the best single-game performances back in January. While we haven’t seen him a whole lot just yet, I think that he can be a lot more than just a depth option for Lehigh Valley.