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Flyers need to figure out Manning

Brandon Manning said he tried not to pay attention to the NHL’s trade deadline last week.

NEWARK, N.J. — Brandon Manning said he tried not to pay attention to the NHL's trade deadline last week.

It'd be hard to blame him if he was watching and wondering. There had been a logjam of healthy defensemen in front of him - with Luke Schenn sitting as a frequent healthy scratch - clogging his route to the NHL.

That was cleared up some with the trading of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn.

There is also a glut of defensive prospects coming behind Manning, including Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Phantoms teammate Robert Hagg is already in the system.

"You can't control it," Manning said. "You find out when you're coming up that's all you can do."

Manning was re-called on Saturday afternoon and skated in his fourth game of the season on Sunday night in New Jersey. He was one of the few bright spots on the Flyers' defense. Yes, New Jersey scored a power play goal with Manning in the box for holding, but he was mobile and quite steady with the puck.

He seemed more sure-handed while making plays than most of the Flyers' blue line corps.

Michael Del Zotto is out for at least the next week. Nick Grossmann hasn't skated with the team since he was clunked in the back of the head by a Rick Nash shot on Feb. 28.

And with the Flyers all but officially out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture, now is the perfect time to figure out what they have in Manning.

Manning is 24. He is 7 months younger than Luke Schenn and has played in 474 fewer NHL games. He is definitely not considered a "prospect" anymore. He is also set to become a restricted free agent.

Is Manning a "AAAA" player? An elite AHL player who isn't quite good enough for the NHL? The undrafted Prince George, British Columbia, native is a two-time AHL All-Star.

Or is he is a full-time, third-pairing NHL defenseman who we just haven't seen enough games from to make that call? He has 14 career games under his belt now.

"I felt good," Manning said Sunday night. "I feel better every time I'm here. Playing another ful year in the American League last year, and then the year I'm having down there (now) is giving me some confidence. Every time I come up here, I'm feeling more comfortable, so hopefully I can stick around here a little bit longer."

Manning was excellent in the Flyers' 2-1 win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 20. He was so-so in Florida and Tampa Bay on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1. It's tough with a player like him, with such a limited sample size, to go after any possession stats. On Sunday, for instance, he was tied for the team-lead among defensemen in unblocked shot attempt ratio at even-strength.

Manning said he was "happy" with him his game - aside from the penalty. But that's just one game.

The Flyers owe it to him - and themselves - to take these next few weeks to run inventory on Manning. The next logjam is quickly approaching - and he could be lost in the shuffle again.

On Twitter: @frank_seravalli