Young players make their mark at Lehigh Valley
So far, the 2019-20 season has been one for the kids on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roster.
An offseason that saw the roster somewhat remade left plenty of opportunities for young players, and they produced right from the season’s first puck-drop.
Some of them – Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Phil Myers – found a fast track to Philadelphia, thanks to their early production with the Phantoms.
Farabee was with Lehigh Valley for just four games before getting the call to head for Philadelphia and he hasn’t looked back. Frost had a short learning curve before he found the net for Lehigh Valley, but once he did, the floodgates opened and he posted 12 points in 16 games, which got him a ticket to join the Flyers.
For Myers, the path was a little different. He opened the year with the Flyers, was sent back to the Phantoms and found his stroke, putting up four assists in six games and playing near flawless defense, which got him back into a Flyers uniform.
Mikhail Vorobyev was recalled by the Flyers last week and has been back-and-forth between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia. He’s played seven games with the Flyers this season and 22 games in the NHL overall between last season and this season.
The good news is that the Phantoms still have young players in Connor Bunnaman, German Rubtsov and Carsen Twarynski, who are playing well and have also seen some time with the NHL club just down the turnpike. “You have to be excited, because so many of our young players are taking steps forward this season,” said Phantoms coach Scott Gordon. “We work to get them prepared to go up or help them to get back to Philadelphia, and it’s a good feeling when they go there and produce the way that they have.”
Meanwhile, several veteran players are struggling for Lehigh Valley. Perhaps the two most notable are Nicolas Aube-Kubel and T.J. Brennan.
Brennan has been a fan favorite through his four seasons with the Phantoms and has been productive every year, racking up 148 points in 202 games with Lehigh Valley coming into the season.
Brennan was playing in his 21st game of the season with the Phantoms when he notched his first goal of the year, but he did pick the right time to do it, making it a game-winner against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last week.
Aube-Kubel, 23, is in his fifth season in the AHL and has regressed off his past two seasons, where he combined to put up 76 points in 126 games with the Phantoms. In his first 24 games of the season, Aube-Kubel has just seven points for Lehigh Valley.
“Nic has had some chances this season, but has either put them just off the mark or had someone make a big play on him to stop the shot and that kind of gets in your head after a while,” said Gordon. “He’s one of those guys, though, that could find some points and turn things around in a hurry for us. He’s young and going through a tough time; you just have to be patient and keep sending him out there.
“I think when some young players get going early and see others going to the NHL, it gets contagious and they all see that opportunity ahead of them. They know that if they produce at this level, they’re going to get noticed and have a chance to play in Philadelphia.”
BEARS ON ICE ... The annual Teddy Bear Toss, one of the more highlighted promotions of the season, takes place Saturday night against Hartford. Fans are invited to bring stuffed animals of any kind to the game, or purchase one at the game, and then throw them onto the ice when the Phantoms score their first goal. The animals are then collected and distributed to local children for Christmas presents. Last season, fans threw over 7,000 stuffed animals onto the ice.
BRUINS AND A PACK OF WOLVES ... After having a solid grip on first place in the Atlantic Division for much of the season, the Providence Bruins have caught the Hartford Wolf Pack for the top spot. Both teams have 35 points, and stand five points ahead of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Phantoms are 10 points back and in sixth place in the division with 25 points and a 10-10-1-4 record.