Flyers Demote Connor Bunnaman to AHL
I've been hinting at this throughout the week, and on Friday, my thoughts became reality. The Flyers have officially sent forward Connor Bunnaman down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Bunnaman was an easy feel good story coming out of camp. The former 4th round pick had a solid first pro season last year, but no one gave him any chance to make the team. However, a couple of injuries up front combined with strong play earned Bunnaman the right to come to Prague. The Flyers deemed him worthy of surviving final cuts, and so Bunnaman began the season on fourth line left wing.
But after a respectable showing against Chicago, some concerning flaws began to appear. Playing against teams comprised entirely of NHL caliber players, Bunnaman was consistently being beaten in board battles, which was one of his stronger areas in preseason. Bunnaman also seemed to struggle with pace - in the NHL, you don't have much time to make a play, and Bunnaman was learning that the hard way.
The writing was on the wall Tuesday, when Bunnaman was healthy scratched for the first time in his career. Though he did draw back into the lineup Wednesday, aside from drawing a penalty, Bunnaman didn't look much better. Alain Vigneault said Bunnaman was sent down so he could get more playing time, but that will also allow him to become faster and stronger, so that when another NHL opportunity comes, Bunnaman is ready to take it for good.
Perhaps the bigger story is what the Flyers will do to fill Bunnaman's void. No immediate recall was made, and it was confirmed that Chris Stewart will play Saturday. However, it seems unlikely Stewart will be an everyday player going forward. With only 12 forwards active (and Nolan Patrick still week to week, per Fletcher), there's a decent chance someone is called up this week. It could be a veteran for depth (Gabriel, Andreoff), a youngster for the bottom-six (Rubtsov, Vorobyev, or NAK - who has been struggling), or maybe, just maybe, a top prospect (Farabee, Frost). The latter is the least likely though.
Whatever happens, it's good that Bunnaman got to learn what it takes to succeed in the NHL firsthand. While this stint certainly didn't go as hoped, Bunnaman is still a solid prospect with a future in the NHL if he puts in the work. But for now, as the saying goes, it's next man up.