For the first time this preseason, the Philadelphia Flyers took the ice for some actual game action in their rookie game against the New York Islanders in Allentown, PA. Hopefuls such as Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Isaac Radcliffe, Felix Sandstrom, Karill Ustimenko, German Rubstov and Phil Meyers had their first chance to make an impression on the Flyers brass in their bid to make the team.
The Flyers rookies lost to the Islanders rookies 5-4 in a shootout but, with this being preseason, the result wasn’t what was important. What was important was observing the development of the Flyers young prospects. Below are my observations of what I saw from the Flyers hopefuls.
Phil Meyers is ready for the NHL
This isn’t exactly earth shattering news. Meyers already has 21 games of NHL experience under his belt and although he struggled at times in the in big league, he didn’t look totally out of place during his brief tenure last year.
As a result of having two years of experience in the American League and a brief stop in the NHL, and playing against teenagers who were mostly fresh out of junior hockey, Meyers was a step ahead of everybody else in last night’s game. He looked a lot more decisive with his game than he did last year. Last year he seemed to struggle with whether he wanted to be a defenseman who was an offensive defenseman who liked to carry the puck up the ice, or if he wanted to be a stay-at-home defenseman. He seemed to struggle finding that balance.
That wasn’t a problem last night. Meyers showed no hesitation with carrying the puck up the ice and he was solid in his own end. He made a great pass on German Rubstov’s first goal where he faked a slap shot and then turned and fed Rubstov with a perfect pass who then proceeded to one-time the puck into the net. It’s a pretty safe bet that Myers will be playing for the Flyers this year.
Rubstov picks right up from where he left off last year
Rubstov has had an up-and-down start to his career. He started out only getting fourth-line minutes in the KHL. Then after coming over to North America and playing in the Canadian Junior Hockey League, he struggled with injuries and point production. Last year, in his first professional season , German Rubstov finally started to show why the Flyers had been so excited about him. He got off to a strong start with the Phantoms, scoring 10 points in 14 games. But his season ended after having shoulder surgery as a result of a hit against the Providence Bruins.
Rubstov had two goals last night. The one timer off of the feed from Meyers and a nice tip in goal on a pass from Michal Vorobyev. He also played the penalty kill and was solid in his own end. He displayed all the tools of the complete 200-foot player that the Flyers envision him as at the NHL level.
The thing that stood out for me though was a play that Rubstov made in the first period that didn’t show up on the scoreboard. He carried the puck up to the Islanders blue line and was one on three. The Islanders defensemen relaxed a little bit thinking he would just dump the puck in to the offensive zone for a line change. And that’s exactly what a player who wasn’t playing with a lot of confidence would do.
Rubstov instead accelerated, cut to the middle of the ice getting himself into scoring position, and got off a hard wrist shot that was a difficult save for the Islander goaltender. A play like that shows that a player has confidence and that he is ready to take his game up another level.
Sandstrom stellar in Net
The Islanders badly outplayed the Flyers in the first period of last night’s contest. The Islanders very easily could have had a one or two gold lead if not for the stellar goaltending of Felix Sandstrom. He was able to keep the Flyers in the game until they finally scored two quick goals to take a 2-0 lead. He made all the saves he was supposed to make and some that were ten bellers. He twice stopped the Islanders on clean breakaways.
Ustimenko struggles at first but then comes on strong.
Goaltenders almost always split time in preseason games. So Karill Ustimenko took over in net about halfway through the second period. He got off to an inauspicious start, giving up a goal on the very first shot that he saw. He gave up three goals on his first seven shots. Some of which were stoppable.
Ustimenko came on strong after that though. Two of the goals he gave up were on screenshots. He seemed to make up his mind that this wasn’t going to happen again and that mindset seemed to help him pick up his game. On a shot from the point with two Islanders standing in front of him, Ustimenko pushed them both aside and came well out of his net so he could both see the shot and cut down the angle.
Ustimenko wouldn’t give up another goal until the shootout. He made some great saves on point blank shots. One a blocker save right from the slot, and a pad save on another shot from the slot where he quickly flashed out his pad to keep the puck from going into the corner of the net. He also made a key save on a breakaway that kept the game tied at 4 . It’s good to see that he is a goaltender that doesn’t wilt when facing some type of adversity.
Goaltending had been a Flyers weakness for so many years. But with the emergence of Carter Hart at the NHL level last year, Felix Sandstrom and Karill Ustimenko having strong camps, and Samuel Errson putting up ridiculous numbers in Sweeden, former GM Ron Hextall has left the cupboard full at the goaltending position.
Frost Farabee and Radcliff show why they are so highly touted.
It’s probably safe to say that the thing that most Flyers fans were looking forward to seeing in this game was watching the three above-mentioned players playing on the same line together. All three players gave glimpses as to why they have a chance to be special players in the NHL.
Isaac Radcliff is 6’6 210 pounds, can skate, can score goals (50 goals last year in juniors) can kill penalties, is smart and has leadership qualities. He was named the captain of his junior team last year. He showed why it is that he is an intelligent hockey player last night.
During a scrum in front of the net where Radcliff had come to the aid of his teammate, an Islander player started to give him a face wash with his glove . Instead of fighting back thus causing offsetting minors , Radcliff showed restraint. The result was a two-minute power play for the Flyers. Radcliffe showed his leadership qualities and his intelligence by drawing the Islander player into the penalty.
It’s hard not to get excited about Radcliffe’s future when you watch him play. When you see this mountain of a man who can skate the way that he can and who has the skills that he does, there’s definitely a good chance that he will develop into a top end NHL player.
Joel Farabee is a glue hockey player that all winning teams have. Going into his draft year his detractors would try and say well he played with Jack Hughes and that’s why he did so well. But then during the World Junior tournament last year, playing on a line different than Hughes , he was a point-per-game player. He also averaged close to a point per game with Boston University last year, winning the Collegiate Rookie of the Year award.
Farabee is a player who cannot only light up the scoreboard but does all the little things that you need to do in order to win games. Last night he showed time and again his patience with the puck. He’s great at backing off the defender and then stopping on a dime and making a great pass to one of his linemates. He did that several times last night. He also had several great chances in last night’s game. He was stopped on a breakaway where he was at the end of his shift and was running out of gas and he hit a post in overtime. And even though he’s not the biggest player in the world, only around 6’1 180, he showed a willingness to go into the corners. Farabee is just a flat out winner.
One of the things that made Wayne Gretzky so great was the willingness to hold on to the puck for that one extra second in order to wait for a play to open up. With as fast as the game moves, the natural inclination is to try and make a play as quickly as possible. The great ones are able to slow things down and wait the extra second.
By no means am I saying that Morgan Frost is the next Wayne Gretzky. Not even close. But the one quality that he does have that is similar to Gretzky is a willingness to be patient and hold on to the puck for that one extra second in order to make a play. He did that twice last night. Once when he was behind the Islander net and found Phil Myers at the point with a perfect pass. And another one where he had the puck on the right-wing boards and he hit Joel Farabee in stride for a great scoring chance. It’s no accident that Frost is coming off back-to-back 100-point seasons in junior hockey.
At most, the Flyers will have two spots open for some of these young players. So don’t expect to see many of them on the big club this year. But, the cupboard is full. And as long as the Flyers braintrust is smart with how they handle these young players, the future will be bright.