FFR 2019 Rookie Game: NYI 5, PHI 4 (SO) - Young Guns Blazing
The important thing to remember about Wednesday night's rookie game, training camp, and the preseason is that they do not define a player's career. For youngsters, making the transition from juniors, overseas, college, or the AHL can be daunting and is rarely made seamlessly, especially for teenagers.
That being said, many of the Flyers big names showed their stuff in front of a decent crowd at the PPL center (home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms). Though the home team lost, blowing a 4-1 lead thanks to some defensive mistakes, a lack of discipline, and imperfect goaltending, there were still plenty of positives to take out of the contest.
Since the focus of the rookie game is on the individuals playing it rather than the team as a whole, this recap will be formatted a bit different than normal, taking the extra minute to breakdown the big name prospects (as well as some guys lower on the depth chart) that stood out in Wednesday's exhibition.
All three members of the Flyers top line, which featured Frost centering Isaac Ratcliffe on the left and Joel Farabee on the right, looked good in this game. It's uncommon for players to develop chemistry in rookie camp, because of how little time they have to get used to players they have very little experience playing with. But that was no problem for Frost and his linemates.
In particular, Frost showcased his elite speed and playmaking, which will make him stand out at the NHL level. His biggest weakness last year was his pace, and the early signs are positive. Frost is beginning to think one step ahead of the opposition, which is what the best players in the NHL do. His decision making is quicker, allowing him to create space and maneuver around defenders with ease. He remains my personal pick to win the 3RW job.
While Farabee may not have the eye-popping skill as Frost, the 2018 1st rounder's impressive hockey IQ and relentlessness make him the ideal "low risk, high reward" prospect. The latter trait was particularly on display tonight, as Farabee was a beast on the forecheck early on.
It's also worth noting that for the moment, Farabee is playing on his off-wing. Left-handed shots usually play the left side, and while Farabee has spent most of his career there, the Flyers are trying him out on the right for the time being. It's actually a complement to how close they see Farabee to being an NHLer - right wing is more wide open than left in the short term, otherwise, the Flyers wouldn't be pushing him as hard. Farabee does have a little experience playing on the right side, but he's a tremendous prospect regardless of where he plays.
There's something to be said for making the most of your chances, and to his credit, the Germ (a nickname I fully support) did just that. Rubtsov scored two goals Wednesday night. The first was a one-timer from the right circle, set up by a gorgeous move and pass from Phil Myers. The second was a JVR/Wayne Simmonds esque tip on another great pass, this time by Mikhail Vorobyev.
Rubtsov got off to a strong start with the Phantoms last year, scoring 10 points in 14 games before a shoulder injury ended his season. But his solid two-way play is probably his best attribute, and Rubtsov flashed it too, playing a key role in the Flyers killing 5 of 6 penalties.
Perhaps no one exceeded expectations as much as the Flyers starting netminder, who played just over the first 30 minutes. Sandström was sharp, flashing excellent rebound control and poise between the pipes. He wasn't necessarily the super-athletic goalie he's been hyped, but there's no reason to think that trait has left him. Sandström will likely begin the year in the AHL, and if he keeps playing like that, he will receive plenty of opportunities to prove himself as an NHL caliber goaltender.
Myers was expected to dominate this game, and he was clearly the best defenseman on the ice for the Flyers. Granted, the Flyers defensive core was largely made up of fringe prospects and camp invites. But Scott Gordon, who coached the game, was certainly justified in saying that Myers is "an NHL player."
In the offensive zone, Myers showed off his confidence and slick skating. The move and pass that lead to Rubtsov's first goal were jaw dropping. The rest of the night, Myers played a smart, less is more type of style, rarely making mistakes and looking like one of the best players on the ice all game.
While things may have played out well for Sandström, the Flyers second goalie didn't have nearly as great of a start. Ustimenko, who is expected to begin the year in the ECHL after turning pro over the summer, struggled early on. The first shot he faced from the left point beat him through a screen. Two of the next six shots also found the back of the net, as the Flyers coughed up a 4-2 lead in spectacular fashion.
To be fair, Ustimenko held down the fort for most of the third period, overtime, and went 1/2 in the shootout. Ustimenko's reflexes were his strong point, flashing quick pads consistently.
The first year pro out of Everett (Carter Hart's old junior team) the second best Flyer defenseman on Wednesday evening. Known as a solid two-way defenseman in junior who played smart defense and could point up points, the former point was apparent.
Notable examples included a great backcheck on a Kieffer Bellows breakaway bid, tying up Bellows' stick without committing an infraction. Later, Wylie aggresively challenged the puck while defending a 2-on-1, poking the puck away from the pick carrier (though the trailing forward beat the other Flyer backchecker and still got a good chance). Overall, it was a solid showing for Wylie, giving him positive momentum heading into training camp and his first AHL season.