We are really excited to offer fans an in-depth look at the Phantoms through our interview with reporter Tony Androckitis. If you are not familiar with his work, he one of the best reporters out there.
Make sure you are following him on twitter at @TonyAndrock and also @InsideAHLHockey.
@InsideAHLHockey is a site created by Tony to give fans updates on prospects and teams in the AHL. Also mentioned in the article, another Phantoms insider, @TimRiday, is another must-follow!
Q: Which player has been most impressive through the early parts of this season and what has made him standout?
A: I think the obvious answer here is forward Danick Martel. He’s always been a streaky scorer, and the jury is still out as to whether or not these first 15 games are just another goal streak or whether Martel is turning the corner on being a consistent offensive weapon at the AHL level. The good news on Martel is that just four of his 14 goals on the season have come on the power play. His ability to score goals at even strength is an obvious plus. He’s always been an energetic, agitator but now that he’s starting to consistently produce offense so far this season he’s definitely got the attention of many around the league.
Tim Riday recently featured Martel in a ‘Prospect Profile’ story on Inside AHL Hockey. (http://insideahlhockey.com/article/prospect-profile-danick-martel)
I’ve also liked what I have seen from rookie defenseman Mark Friedman so far this season. It’s typically a longer learning curve for first-year defensemen in this league, and while Friedman certainly still has a lot to learn about the pro game (he’s currently a team-worst minus 11) I think he’s a smart two-way player that has shown flashes of brilliant play in all three zones in the first month and a half of the season. There will be rookie mistakes, and learning moments for him along the way this season, but he’s taken on a much larger role than initially expected early on due to all the callups and injuries on the blue line throughout the organization.
Q: If the Flyers were to lose a bottom-six forward, who is most deserving of a call-up?
A: I know Flyers fans are clamoring for Oskar Lindblom to be called up immediately, but I think Colin McDonald has proven he can step in and be effective in a bottom-six role without much of a drop off (if any) from what is currently employed in the Flyers’ bottom six. McDonald started the season on the injured list, but now that he’s gotten back into game shape he could handle NHL work if an injury arises up top.
Q: From a goaltending standpoint, who has been more impressive this season?
A: I hate to be a pessimist, but neither Alex Lyon nor Dustin Tokarski have been all too impressive so far this season. Both have had stretches of strong play in net, but both have also been wildly inconsistent. It doesn’t help that the defense in front of them hasn’t been consistent either, not to mention in constant flux due to injuries/call ups, but they’re looking to get back on track during their current road trip.
Q: Flyers fans would love to get an update of Lindblom and how he has adapted to the North American game, how has his game developed, and what would need to be worked on to improve even more?
A: Lindblom is another prospect that Tim Riday featured on Inside AHL Hockey a few weeks back (http://insideahlhockey.com/article/prospect-profile-oskar-lindblom). By the way, if you’re not familiar with Mr Riday I strongly suggest following him on Twitter (@TimRiday) for some great insights on the Phantoms and prospects in the Flyers organization across all levels.
Getting back to Lindblom, here’s the skinny for those of you not subscribed at Inside AHL Hockey (another recommendation I have, and you can get details on subscriptions for access to all of our premium content here: http://insideahlhockey.com/subscribe).
He was a bit snake-bitten offensively early on, but has shown throughout the season all the good traits he has come into the season possessing. He’s strong on the puck in the dirty areas of the ice, wins a majority of his puck battles and gets to the net. His first goal of the season, in fact, came with him driving to the net and a centering feed bouncing off him and in.
Transitioning to the pro game in North America from that of the game he’s played in his native Sweden for quite some time comes with a major adjustment to a smaller rink where things happen quicker and the decision-making aspect of the game is vastly intensified. You can already tell he’s becoming more comfortable with each passing game, and it’s only a matter of time before he takes his game to the next level in the AHL like he did last year when he was one of the top scorers in Sweden’s highest pro league. If it’s sooner rather than later, he could find himself in the NHL with the Flyers at some point this season.
Q: Who are the top 5 players on the Phantoms and who should the fans start to get more familiar with?
In terms of prospects, here are a few guys (in no particular order) that fans should be paying closer attention to.
- Nicolas Aube-Kubel – the second year forward is night-and-day better in all three zones and is taking a shoot-first mentality that the Phantoms’ coaching staff has instilled in him. Playing a much more confident and also reliable two-way game this season, so far it’s paying off – with nine points (four goals, five assists) in 15 games. Last season, Aube-Kubel managed 18 points in 71 games. He’s halfway to matching his offensive production from his rookie season and not even a quarter of the way through the 2017-18 season.
- Danick Martel – On a line with Aube-Kubel and Mike Vecchione, Martel leads the entire AHL in goals with 14 and it’s not even a close race right now as the 2nd leading goal scorer has just nine. Martel has been downright explosive offensively, combining speed and skill with a confidence and swagger about himself that has been quite a treat to watch through the first six weeks of the season. His six-game goal scoring streak came to an end last weekend, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to having a game where he was unable to puck the puck in the net. Interesting to note Martel has recorded at least one shot on net in all 15 Phantoms’ games this season to date.
- Mike Vecchione – Along with Martel and Aube-Kubel, Vecchione centers the line that has shined for Lehigh Valley in the early going. In fact, it’s the only trio that hasn’t been tinkered with by head coach Scott Gordon to date due in large part to their on-ice chemistry and success. In a recent interview, Vecchione talked about just going out there and having fun playing alongside Martel and Aube-Kubel – using their speed and skill to out-work opponents and play in the offensive zone. Vecchione’s ability to win face-offs has allowed his speedy wingers to start with the puck and get a full head of steam going up ice through the neutral zone.
- Mark Friedmann – Mentioned him above, but just think the Flyers might have a diamond in the rough with Friedman – a rookie coming out of the NCAA ranks formerly of Bowling Green State University. He’s a bit undersized, but plays bigger and more physical than his size might suggest. He will need some seasoning in the AHL to figure out the pro game and how to make it all work on the ice, but with the current crop of young defensemen reaching the NHL level this season there’s no need to rush the development of this potential complimentary defenseman who appears capable of playing a two-way game with puck-moving abilities.
- Alex Lyon – With goaltender Anthony Stolarz out long-term after re-injuring his knee and undergoing another knee surgery heading into the season, all eyes are on Lyon this season to see if he can replicate his impressive rookie season in Lehigh Valley a second time. So far, Lyon has had a rough go of things but the former Yale University standout has a good head on his shoulders and should have no trouble fighting through some early season adversity to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
We thank Tony for his input and his great work providing fans with updates on everything Phantoms related!