Two years ago, as the Flyers prepared to open their season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague, rookie winger Joel Farabee was dazed and despondent as he sat at his locker after practice.
Farabee wiped away tears and choked up as he talked about his next stop. A short time earlier, he had been told he was being sent to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and he was still digesting the news.
“Just that whole scenario was tough for me, mentally,” Farabee said recently. “I thought I had a pretty good shot to make the team, and then you get cut and I kind of had to sit in Prague and watch the team play while I couldn’t. As a 19-year-old, it was pretty tough, mentally, but I think in the end, it will only help me in the long run. … It helped to push me, helped to motivate me.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault told him if he went to the Phantoms and had the right attitude and work ethic, he’d “soon be back” with the big team.
Vigneault was true to his word. Farabee went to the Phantoms, scored three goals over five games and was quickly recalled by the Flyers. He showed glimpses of promise that season, scoring eight times in 52 NHL games and setting the stage for his coming-out party.
Second to Lindros
That breakthrough came last year, when Farabee, at 21, became the second-youngest player in Flyers history to lead the team in goals, behind only Eric Lindros. Lindros was a month younger than Farabee when he scored 44 in 1993-94.
Used at both right and left wing, Farabee had 20 goals in the 56-game season — prorated, that would translate to 29 in 82 games — and looked like a budding star.
Now he is trying to build off that impressive season, trying to join the NHL’s elite.
“I firmly believe we haven’t seen the best of Joel yet,” Vigneault said. “There’s obviously been significant improvement in his game, and a lot of that for me is due to two reasons. One, he’s an extremely hard worker. Two, in hockey, one very important attribute that a player has to have is hockey sense. He’s got great hockey sense. That’s why he plays five-on-five, plays power play, and kills penalties.”
Vigneault recalled then-Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon and then-assistant Kerry Huffman “telling me he was one of the smartest young players that they had ever coached”
Student of game
Some of Farabee’s hockey instincts come naturally. Some come from being a student of the game.
“I’m pretty big into video and I like to watch my shifts,” he said. “I’m always trying to improve, and hopefully I don’t take a step back; that’s not something I anticipate. I feel like mentally and physically, I’m really ready for this year. It’s nice to go a full 82 [games] this year, so I’m definitely excited to get that going.”
In early September, the 21-year-old was rewarded with a six-year, $30 million contract, which starts in 2022-23.
“The organization has shown, obviously, major confidence in him by signing him to his extension,” Vigneault said.
Farabee built some strength in the offseason and “tried to get bigger legs” to help him win more puck battles. He said one of his goals is to improve his play down low and be able to shield the puck better. The early returns have been good, too, as he has scored two goals in his first three preseason games.
“I definitely feel really good at this camp,” said Farabee, who has been playing right wing on a line with veteran left winger James van Riemsdyk and center prospect Morgan Frost. “I’m excited to see what we can do. … Like our shirts say, we definitely have something to prove.”
He was referring to the team’s new motto that the players have on their T-shirts: SOMETHING TO PROVE.
Linked with Frost
Farabee and Frost were both drafted by the Flyers in the first round. Farabee was taken 14th overall in 2018, and Frost went 27th overall in 2017. In 2017, then-Flyers GM Ron Hextall traded Brayden Schenn to St. Louis, and as part of the deal, the Flyers got a pair of No. 1 picks that they turned into Frost and Farabee.
Frost, who had shoulder surgery in January, did not score any points in the preseason -- though he contributed in other ways -- and was surprisingly sent to the AHL Phantoms on Wednesday. If Frost is going to have a breakthrough year like Farabee did last season, it won’t start happening for a while.
In the offseason, the Flyers added five players who have previously been alternate captains: Ryan Ellis, Derick Brassard, Cam Atkinson, Keith Yandle, and Rasmus Ristolainen.
“I think we have a bigger leadership presence now,” Farabee said. “From what I’ve seen in camp, it’s looked really good. This camp is a lot different than my first two in terms that guys came in in a lot better shape [this year] — the test scores showed that.”
The Flyers hope the added experience will help them rebound from a 25-23-8 season in which they finished sixth in the eight-team East Division and missed the playoffs.
“Everyone wants to prove to their teammates what they can do, and with the older guys coming in, they’ve been great so far,” Farabee said. “They’ve been vocal and AV’s been vocal, too. As a young guy, I think it’s really good to have this many older guys to look up to.”
If Farabee’s game keeps growing, those “older guys” will be looking up to a grounded, 21-year-old winger whose career seems on the verge of taking off.