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Look Out For The Lehigh Valley Phantoms

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (formerly the Adirondack Phantoms) are the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. The club has had some down years and will look to start winning in their new home.

The Phantoms have not made the Calder Cup playoffs since the 2008-2009 season, when they were the Philadelphia Phantoms. Ever since then they have finished between 10th-15th in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. Why have they been so bad? There area  few reasons.

First, the Flyers are notorious for their “win-now” philosophy. Their blockbuster trade for Chris Pronger in the summer of 2009 was especially catastrophic to the farm system. The Flyers gave away their 2008 1st round pick (Luca Sbisa) and their next two 1st round picks. Throughout the years since then they have given up mid-round picks for average defensemen like Nicklas Grossmann, Pavel Kubina, and (more recently) Andrew MacDonald.

Second, the top young players within the Flyers organization have  immediately played for the NHL club upon arrival, or shortly thereafter. Drafted players like Sean Couturier and Luca Sbisa immediately made the Flyers roster after being drafted. The young forwards who came to Philadelphia in the Jeff Carter and Mike Richards trades, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Brayden Schenn, were too old to spend time with the Phantoms by the time they got to Philly. Both Claude Giroux and Matt Read spent a short time in the AHL, but only a combined total of 49 games.

Finally, the facilites in Adirondack left much to be desired. In a wonderful piece on the Flyers official website, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said this about the location:

Paul Holmgren wanted to have better teams in Adirondack, but I know it was hard to get good veteran AHL players to go there because of the facilities and the distance

So why will the Phantoms be better next season? A few years ago, the Flyers began to become more patience with their prospects. At the time, most of the prospects were in either juniors or the NCAA. However, this season, many of the Flyers top prospects will be in Lehigh Valley.

Let’s look at the projected forwards. Nick Cousins (68th overall, 2011) and Petr Straka (55th overall, 2010) were both rookies last season. Although they put up relatively disappointing numbers, they both turned it on at the end of the season. I’ve expressed my confidence in Cousins before, and I fully expected him to have a great season.

Joining those two forwards will be Scott Laughton (20th overall, 2012) and Taylor Leier (117th overall, 2012). Both players played for Team Canada at this years World Junior Championships and they both put up huge numbers during their final junior season. Laughton had 40 goals and 47 assists through 54  games this past season while also earning 11 points (4G, 7A) in nine playoff games. Leier scored 37 goals and added 42 assists through 62 regular season games while earning 26 points (6G, 20A) in 21 playoff games.

Ron Hextall has also signed talented and veteran AHL forwards to help the Phantoms. New signings Andrew Gordon and Blair Jones have spent the majority of the past few seasons in the AHL. Gordon scored 23 goals and added 34 assists in 76 games last year and added 19 points through 21 Calder Cup playoff games. Jones split time between the AHL and NHL last season, playing in 14 games for the Calgary Flames and scoring two goals.

The Flyers also signed AHL enforcer Zack Stortini and veteran Chris VandeVelde. Both will see time in Lehigh Valley.

Now, let’s look at the projected defense. Last season, the Phantoms defense was ravaged by injuries. This season, they will have an injection of speed, mobility, and youth to the lineup. Mark Alt and one of Oliver Lauridsen/Brandon Manning will be the veterans on the blueline. Alt (53rd overall, 2010) had an up and down rookie season last year with the Phantoms, but the 6’4″ right handed defenseman looks very promising. Lauridsen and Manning are both AHL veterans by now and one of them will likely be the 8th defenseman for the Flyers, while the other will be a leader in Lehigh Valley.

The most anticipated rookies on the team will be defensemen Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere. Hagg (41st overall, 2013) played in 10 AHL games last season after coming over from Swden. He earned a goal and three assists. Gostisbehere (78th overall, 2012) played in two AHL games after having an amazing NCAA season. Neither player is a stretch to make the NHL in the near future, but both will likely be in Lehigh Valley this coming season for the sake of their development.

A top four of Alt, Hagg, Gositsbehere, and Lauridsen/Manning at the AHL level is a force to be reckoned with.

Joining these players will be a solid goaltending tandem. Cal Heeter did a great job for the Phantoms last season, but the duo this season looks to be an improvement.

Anthony Stolarz (45th overall, 2012) just finished his final junior season by posting a 25-5-1 record, a .926 SV%, and a 2.52 GAA. Stolarz is far and away the Flyers best goaltending prospect. The Phantoms have also signed goalie Rob Zepp. Zepp is a 32 year old who has been playing in Germany. He has experience in the AHL and will be a solid mentor for Stolarz.

These are not your typical Phantoms. This team will be competitive, and they will only get better as the season progresses. They have a great mix of youth, age, speed, size, skill, and potential. The rest of the AHL better look out for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Tags: RObert Hagg Scott Laughton Shayne Gostisbehere

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