WINNIPEG, Manitoba — An injury to Sean Couturier is one of the reasons the Flyers recalled Phil Varone from the AHL’s Phantoms before they started their five-game road trip.
New general manager Chuck Fletcher also wanted to send a message to those playing for his top minor-league affiliate: If you deserve a promotion and someone on the parent team isn’t producing, you will get your chance — regardless of your age.
Fletcher asked Flyers coach Dave Hakstol to confer with Scott Gordon, the Phantoms coach, before Varone was recalled. Varone sat out the first game of the trip, then played nearly 9½ minutes in the second game, replacing the struggling Jordan Weal as the fourth-line right winger in Sunday’s 7-1 loss in Winnipeg.
Varone, 28, the AHL’s MVP last season, was one of only a handful of Flyers who played well Sunday, taking three shots, exhibiting responsible defense, and playing with energy.
“I think it’s so important that you call up the right guy,” said Fletcher, whose inconsistent team plays in Calgary against the Pacific Division-leading Flames on Wednesday. “By that, I mean if somebody is clearly the best player down there, it’s really important to reward that. You want a meritocracy, you want the players in Lehigh Valley to think, ‘Hey, if I play well, it doesn’t matter my age or what round I was picked in, I have a chance to get called up.’ I saw Phil play last week and he played really well. He’s had a great start to the season, and Scott couldn’t say enough good things about him to Dave, so for us, it was a very simple decision.”
It is not known if that means there could be a call-up for Phantoms goalie Carter Hart, 20, if he continues his hot streak.
As for the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Varone, before Sunday he hadn’t played in the NHL since the 2016-17 season with Ottawa, and he had five career goals in 50 NHL games.
The Ontario native had 28 points, including 11 goals, in 22 games with the Phantoms this season, and said he wasn’t stressing about whether he would get another NHL shot.
“I wasn’t really worrying about it,” Varone said. “It’s a privilege to play in the NHL, and you try to play the best you can to get that call-up, but when I’m in the AHL, all I’m worried about is winning. I’m at the age now where winning is the most important thing to me. If that means I’m called up, great.”
Varone says he is a different player than when he last played in the NHL.
“Big-time,” he said. “I was viewed mostly as just an offensive player before. I think I’ve rounded out my game a lot. I feel it, and just getting feedback from a lot of guys in the organization, my 200-foot game [has improved]. That goes hand-in-hand with winning. You have to play the full length of the ice. I’m eager to show that up here, whether it’s on the power play, the PK, five-on-five, or faceoffs, that I can contribute. Hopefully I can turn some heads.”
Fletcher, meanwhile, is getting settled into his job and is in the process of replacing the fired Chris Pryor, the invaluable assistant GM and a man who keyed strong draft selections for numerous years.
Fletcher said he has had “good conversations” with some candidates and “something could break pretty quickly.”
Improving the defense seems to be on Fletcher’s radar.
“Our defense corps is a little bit young and that’s always a challenge, particularly when you play top teams on the road,” he said. “Having said that, it’s great playing experience for them.”
Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (6-3, 210) and Colton Parayko (6-6, 230) are both believed to be available. Both played for the Flyers’ new defensive coach, Rick Wilson, when he was an assistant in St. Louis.