Morgan Frost, arguably the Flyers’ best prospect, has torn apart the Ontario Hockey League the last two years and hopes to make the huge leap from the junior level to the NHL when the season rolls around in October.
How close is the 20-year-old forward to reaching The Show?
“I don’t know. It’s a lot of factors in that,” Kjell Samuelsson, the Flyers’ director of player development, said after Frost helped Team Orange defeat Team White, 3-2, in a scrimmage Saturday that ended the organization’s five-day development camp. “You should probably wait a little bit, a couple months, to see how the free agency turns out.”
The wait may not be that long because the NHL’s free-agent period starts Monday at noon. The Flyers will be in the market for a third-line right winger, but may not have enough cap room to get the player they desire. If they don’t sign a player, that might increase Frost’s chances of making the team during training camp, though it seems the brass would prefer he start the season in the AHL.
A natural center, he has played some right wing in juniors. Frost, who excelled at development camp, said he feels more comfortable at center, but that he could “definitely adjust" to shifting positions.
There are plenty of quality right wingers who will be in the unrestricted free-agent market. The problem is, the Flyers don’t know exactly how much they can spend because they still need to sign restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Scott Laughton.
The Flyers, after a minor move Sunday, have $65.8 million committed to 18 players, and the cap ceiling is $81.5 million. If the three restricted free agents combine for, say, a $13 million annual cap hit, that would leave the Flyers with just $2.7 million.
Asked if he felt he had enough money to add a right winger, Fletcher said his “priority” was signing his restricted free agents.
“We were fortunate to get Travis (Sanheim) on a two-year bridge deal, which I think will work well for both parties,” he said earlier last week. “We have plenty of cap space to bring our players back; whether we have enough to go add another player, I’m not sure about that. Going into the summer, we had certain priorities -- obviously re-sign our own RFAs, find a goaltender to play with Carter (Hart), get a No. 2 centerman, and add one or two quality defensemen. We were able to achieve a lot of things.
“Whether we’re able to add another winger or another forward, certainly we’re going to have to add some forwards here for depth and to compete in our bottom six,” Fletcher added. “But whether we go after another high-end player, that wasn’t a very big priority for our team. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I think our wings are right at the top of the league in terms of production. And even with the way young Oskar (Lindblom) came on at the end of the year, we have five real good wingers, certainly better wingers than any team I’ve been a part of. To me, that wasn’t an area of weakness. But we’ll see.”
The Flyers’ top six wingers combined for 126 goals last season. By comparison, the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues got 101 goals from their top-six wingers. The Blues won because of their defense, their goaltending, and their physicality. The Flyers will rely heavily on their rebuilt defense and goaltending this season.
At the Flyers’ development camp last week, Fletcher seemed to open the door a bit for the possibility of players like Frost, left winger Joel Farabee, or center German Rubtsov to make the team in training camp.
“It’s a deep group of prospects and many of them will be playing pro hockey this year” with the Flyers or Phantoms, he said. “At some point, there’s certainly players in this camp right now that could impact our roster in a positive way. … When you come to training camp, inevitably there’s players that surprise you and there’s players that are maybe a little disappointing. So you don’t always know the holes you may end up having.”
It appears most of the UFA right wingers will be too expensive unless Fletcher makes a deal (unlikely) and frees cap space.
Brett Connolly, Micheal Ferland, Joonas Donskoi, and Alex Chiasson are among the right wingers who become UFAs Monday.
The UFA-signing period is “not really a front-burner issue for us at this point,” said Fetcher, who, by signing center Kevin Hayes before he reached free agency, made his biggest offseason splash.
Was that signing and the deals for veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun enough to transform the Flyers (37-37-8 last season) into a playoff team?