After the puck found its way from Morgan Frost’s stick to Rasmus Ristolainen’s to Gerry Mayhew’s to the back of the net, the Flyers’ third line collided in a giant group hug filled with smiles.
It was the line’s third goal in five games. Mayhew has scored all three.
But Mayhew, who made his Flyers debut on Dec. 29, was not the first player called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He wasn’t the second, either, or even the third. Once he was finally called up, he got sent immediately back to Lehigh Valley. But since he played his first game, Mayhew has been making a case that he can be a part of the solution as the Flyers try to get healthy.
Now, Mayhew has earned a spot on the third line as well as on the second power play unit. In interim coach Mike Yeo’s eyes, Mayhew’s showed the tenacity and compete he wants to see from the rest of the team, he said.
The Flyers currently have nine injured players and have had two losing skids that hit double digits. They’ve been forced to turn to the Phantoms to fill in the gaps in the lineup. And as their latest losing skid went on, the Flyers brought up new faces in a search for a spark.
Mayhew is one of 12 players from the Phantoms who have had the chance to play with the Flyers. It’s a chance many would never have gotten if not for the number of injuries.
“It’s a tough matchup, but ... this is an unbelievable opportunity,” Yeo said Thursday.
Unlike others, Frost had already played up with the big club. He made his debut in the 2019-2020 season. After training camp, Flyers management determined he should start with the AHL so that he could get more time on the ice than he would in the NHL. They also wanted to give him more time to come back from injury.
When the Flyers first needed to call up a forward for the season opener, they turned to Max Willman rather than Frost. Willman made his NHL debut that night and has now played 25 games with the Flyers.
Frost didn’t get the call until Nov. 24. Since then, he has stayed up with the Flyers. He struggled for a while, and Yeo spoke about Frost’s lack of confidence. But in the last few games, he, alongside his linemates Mayhew and Willman, have started to find their rhythm and build momentum. Neither Frost’s nor Willman’s name is listed on the Phantoms roster anymore.
Defenseman Cam York was in a similar situation to Frost. The Flyers wanted him to develop more at the AHL level but were forced to call him up when they headed to the West Coast so they’d have someone to step in if something happened. When Ivan Provorov tested positive for COVID-19, York got his chance.
York has now played on all three defensive pairings. All of his partners, as well as his coach, have spoken well of him. Yeo rewarded York by putting him on the top power play unit, and in recent games, they’ve performed better than they had through most of the season. York has played in 12 NHL games this season and has not returned to the Phantoms.
Other players haven’t been able to stick like Frost, Mayhew, Willman and York, but the Flyers have had the chance to see how they’ve progressed since rookie camp and how they look compared to NHL opponents.
Linus Sandin, for example, played just one game with the Flyers. Yeo was able to analyze Sandin’s performance and determine that there were positives but that he needs more time to develop and return from injury.
Isaac Ratcliffe was the latest Phantom to get called up. Like the others, he hoped to provide the “spark” that would help break the streak. He played hard, with four hits and three shots, and at the end of the game, the Flyers finished on top. The team spoke highly of his contribution, as did Yeo, who said two of those three shots were high-quality chances. It remains to be seen if he will play the next game.
The rotation of Phantoms through the Flyers’ lineup was a major factor in the Flyers’ 13-game skid. The bottom lines have struggled to compete and have placed a heavy burden on the top six. But the silver lining is that it’s given the Flyers an idea of what they have to work with in the future, what needs to be done, and who deserves to stay up.