With the prospect of making the team out of training camp looming at his fingertips, 22-year-old Flyers center Morgan Frost played in his preseason debut against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night like he felt the heat.
By the final buzzer of his first game against NHL regulars since he dislocated his left shoulder on Jan. 19, Frost put one shot on net, won just three of nine faceoffs and was a minus-1. After the game, Frost lamented his lack of playmaking and acknowledged he didn’t put himself in the best positions to have the puck on his stick.
“I think I probably put a little bit too much pressure on myself in that first game and was probably overthinking things a little,” Frost said. “But I’ve done these camps before. I’ve played in preseason games. I’ve played in NHL games.”
No, Frost isn’t the new kid on Broad Street — last season, he competed to stay with the big club throughout training camp and ultimately won a spot as the 13th forward on the Flyers’ roster. This year, however, Frost faces unprecedented opportunity to take on a middle-six role with center Kevin Hayes still recovering from abdominal surgery and slated to miss the start of the regular season.
Now, in the Flyers’ third preseason game against the Washington Capitals, Frost looks to take a page from his last name and just chill out.
“I think it’s definitely a mental battle for sure for me,” Frost said. “Just trying to stay calm and poised and do my thing out there. I obviously want to make this team and want to make an impression, but I don’t want to be gripping my stick too tight or overthinking things. So I think just calm everything down and do my thing.”
In pregame phone calls with his parents, Andy and Dana, Frost finds that sense of calm. Those conversations help temper the intensity of game day and serve as a reminder for Frost to avoid succumbing to the pressure.
“[We talk] about life and everyday things,” Frost said. “I kind of like it that way. I don’t like to talk to them too much about hockey. I have enough of that when I’m at the rink. It’s kind of this lifestyle when you’re here, it’s hockey, hockey, hockey. I think it’s important for me to take a little bit of time once in a while to give my mind a break and reset.”
Skating on a line with experienced players such as left winger James van Riemsdyk and right winger Joel Farabee helps Frost settle down, too. Van Riemsdyk’s “super smart” play and goal-scoring tendencies, Frost said, is the perfect complement to his own role as a facilitator.
“He’s a very calming person on the bench,” Frost said. “He just tries to keep me focused. He helps out a lot and he knows the game so well, so it makes it really easy to play with him.”
Given the fact that Frost hadn’t played a game against NHL-caliber talent in 254 days, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault expected him to feel nervous in Boston. Against the Capitals, Vigneault aspires to see Frost use his playmaking abilities and prove that he’s made developments since his last regular-season game.
“Right back at it tonight and [he’s a] skill player who’s gotta show that he’s got skill, that he can play in tight areas, make plays in small areas,” Vigneault said. “There’s not a lot of room on the ice in today’s game. That’s hope that today, he can go out there with two good players and show his skillset.”
After doing most of his rehab from shoulder surgery throughout last season, Frost returned home to Aurora, Ontario for the offseason with the goal of strengthening his shoulder and adding muscle. Coming into training camp, Frost was up to 190 pounds from 186.
Not only does the added weight improve Frost’s prospects of not getting shoved off the puck, but he also said he feels less cautious going into battles. As Frost continues to get reacclimated to the NHL game against the Capitals, he looks forward to using the added muscle to his advantage.
“I feel strong,” Frost said. “I feel confident going into battles and that I can play against big, strong guys and the best defensemen in the world.”
Veterans getting back in the groove
After the young Flyers went up against what could look like the Bruins opening-night roster on Thursday, the Flyers will ice their own veteran lineup against the Washington Capitals. The lines and defensive pairings that have practiced throughout training camp are likely to remain intact at the Wells Fargo Center as head coach Alain Vigneault continues to evaluate chemistry among players.
“We’re in a sequence now where we’re playing three games in four nights and we have a lot of new players to the Flyers organization,” Vigneault said. “Thinking about forming as quickly as we can, good chemistry and the best way to form good chemistry is put the guys together. You’re working on things in practice, but in a game, when there’s something on the line, when you’re playing against the opposition, it’s real.”
Sean Couturier will center the top line alongside Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny. Oskar Lindblom, Derick Brassard and Cam Atkinson comprise the second line, van Riemsdyk, Frost and Farabee make up the third, and Scott Laughton, Nate Thompson and Nicolas Aube-Kubel round out the fourth. Left winger Matt Strome is the odd man out and will not play.
“I think to get the whole team together, build chemistry right away, it’s preseason but at the same time, you want to be firing on all cylinders,” Thompson said. “To have our full team in tonight will be a good test for us.”
On defense, Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis will likely remain the top pairing, followed by Travis Sanheim-Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle-Justin Braun. Like Strome among the group of veteran forwards, defenseman Logan Day is unlikely to play.
“Every [defensive] pair that we have right now is different than what it was last year,” Vigneault said. “So it takes a little bit of time. You’ve got to be patient with players. It takes that time to form that chemistry, to know where they are in certain situations.”
By rolling out a realistic opening-night roster, save for a few players, against the Capitals, the Flyers have an opportunity to execute special teams scenarios with their probable regular-season combinations.
Against the Bruins, the Flyers started out the first period slow on the penalty kill and allowed two power play goals. As the game went on, the units grew more comfortable and stopped the Bruins from scoring on three additional man-advantages.
“It was a preseason game,” Thompson said. “I thought there was some mistakes being made. But I don’t think it was for lack of effort. I think that like everything in the preseason, feeling things out, feeling each other out, playing off each other, I think tonight we’re gonna have our lineup in and our penalty kill combinations. Hopefully we can get some momentum going through that.”
Although Vigneault canceled morning skate for the game group, starting goaltender Martin Jones spent some time on the ice in the morning with goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh. Jones is slated to play the entire game against the Washington Capitals after playing the first half against the Bruins on Thursday night. ... Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov is expected to play the entire game against the Flyers, according to The Washington Post. ... The Flyers loaned three players to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms: goaltender Kirill Ustimenko and defensemen Quinn Schmiemann and Jackson van de Leest. The roster is currently at 52 players and must be trimmed to 23 by the start of the regular season. ... Flyers prospects Zayde Wisdom (shoulder surgery, out indefinitely) and Cooper Zech (upper body, out four and ½ to six and ½ weeks) got some skating work in with skills coach Angelo Ricci on Saturday morning as they continue to rehab their injuries. Zech also performed some stickhandling drills.