By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
The Flyers are nothing short of a major disappointment this season. The fans know this. There’s no benefit in continuing to beat this dead horse.
Of course, there are plenty of opinions on how exactly the Flyers can improve for next season, seeing as there isn’t a lot, if any, hope left for a postseason berth. Some believe in utilizing trades, getting rid of everyone and building an entirely new team from the ground up, changing the head coach, and so on. These are all valid arguments, and absolutely any of these could be the answer to the Flyers’ current problems.
But what if the answer was about 90 minutes away in Allentown?
To put it simply, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have been on fire this season. They have a roster chock full of talent, and it’s talent that the Flyers could definitely take advantage of. We’ve seen glimpses of players like Alex Lyon and Tanner Laczynski, but Alain Vigneault hasn’t given them a solid run of games that would allow them to truly showcase their talents. That needs to change down the stretch.
There are a number of young players on the Phantoms that should be given looks this season, and should begin their integration into the main Flyers squad as early as next season. It seems risky to place the burden of this current Flyers team on such young shoulders, but the main players for the Phantoms aren’t looking as though they would crack under the pressure.
When Tyson Foerster was drafted 23rd overall last year, he seemed like a pretty perfect fit for the Flyers. He’s physical, solid, offensively-minded, and is great on the power play. He’s also ambitious — he expressed a desire to make his NHL debut come the start of the 2021-22 season. It’s definitely shooting for the moon, but right now, who are the Flyers to turn down a potential offensive reinforcement?
Now, we can’t ignore Foerster’s biggest drawback — albeit one that has been beaten to death — his skating. It’s a labored stride, one that greatly hinders his explosiveness and ability to get involved in plays starting in the defensive end. He skates more with his shoulders than his legs, and while it’s greatly improved since he first got drafted, it’s still not doing him any favors.
There’s also the fact that Foerster is still largely unproven on the professional level. He did well with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, and he’s certainly not slacking off for the Phantoms, but he’s no wonderkid. He’s a talent, but not a prodigal one.
However, one has to consider the fact that the Flyers, to put it nicely, are lacking in offense right now. They are without any real aggressiveness or determination in front of the net, a void that Foerster could easily fill. He’s got the size, the shot, and the hunger that could really be an asset to this team. He might be only 19, but what Foerster lacks in experience and purely natural talent can be made up for in his admirable work ethic and constant desire to improve. A clutch forward that’s good on the power play and has a shot likened to the one and only Alex Ovechkin? Sign this team up!
On the other side of the ice, the Flyers need to hand Cam York his spot on the main team sooner rather than later. York is one of the best pieces of draft business has done within the last decade, and it would be a crime to keep him in Lehigh Valley longer than the duration of this current season.
York comes from the elite USNTDP program, and was a part of the best NTDP squads in recent memory – even captaining the team to a gold medal in the 2021 World Junior Championships. He currently holds the record for points by a defenseman in that team, and had a stellar two seasons with the University of Michigan. At just 20 years old, York is a mature, consistent, and unshakeable defenseman.
A surprising, but also deserving, choice for a call-up is Zayde Wisdom. Wisdom was drafted with much of the attention surrounding him focusing on his incredible against-all-odds journey to the draft rather than his actual playing abilities. But ever since he first stepped on the ice for the Phantoms, Wisdom has taken the AHL by surprise. Even in games where he doesn’t collect points, Wisdom puts on an impressive display of skill. He might not be completely ready for a long run in the NHL, but it can’t hurt to give him a few looks.
With the abundance of postponements the Phantoms have been facing recently due to COVID protocols, it would be valuable to at least get some of the young players into practice with the main squad just to see how they fit in. After all, the veterans are only getting older, and if the Flyers going to turn over some roster spots this season, you might as well see what you have internally as the easiest and most stress-free option.