JUST A FEW days after John Stevens spoke about how well Andreas Nodl was playing in the NHL despite not having success scoring, the rookie forward was sent down to the Phantoms to get some consistent playing time.

"His minutes have been dropping as other guys move up, and [general manager] Paul Holmgren thought he would be better off if we sent him down for a while and get him some big minutes," Stevens said. "I don't think he'll be down there long-term. It's just that when a young player's minutes drop and they don't have success, their confidence wavers."

Nodl had been playing on a line with Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell and then moved to the third line and finally the fourth. Arron Asham has taken his spot on the third line and is surprising Stevens with his ability to contribute offensively.

"I didn't realize [Asham] is as talented as he is until he got here. Right away, he skates well, he handles the puck well," Stevens said. "He sees the ice. I think he's starting to get to the point now where he's skating better, he's getting in better shape. He's a guy that can clearly move up and play on your third line and do a heck of a job."

But he has plans to bring Nodl back up.

"We have a big trip [six games, post-Christmas] and I expect him to come along. The message to him was you're doing all the little things right but we want him to go down and play some big minutes and get back up to speed."

Called up in Nodl's place was Josh Gratton, his second stint with the Flyers since being traded back to the organization. He will play on the fourth line with Riley Cote and Darroll Powe.

"I think [Gratton] just fits into the fourth-line role," Stevens said. "He gets pucks deep. He establishes the forecheck. He doesn't just throw it away.

"I thought he played very well last time he was here, when we needed him, and he's gone down with the right attitude. I just think he fits the mold of a fourth-line guy that can allow that line to do things that he can do."

One thing Gratton adds is toughness, a role he excels in. He's happy to have a chance to show he belongs.

"I look at it as more of an opportunity to keep showing that I belong in the NHL, and it's just an extra chance, another chance for me in my career," Gratton said.

"I don't want to put any added pressure on myself. I just come up here and I'm comfortable. I've been around the guys and that definitely makes it a lot easier. The coaching staff knows me pretty well, so that way it's pretty easy."

Snap shots

Goalie Marty Biron was back to work yesterday after missing the last two games with the flu. He was sent right home, however, because he wasn't ready to practice full out, according to John Stevens.

Stevens said Biron will most likely be ready to play this weekend, but it is more likely that Antero Niittymaki will start today against Washington. *