Frost Warning: Morgan Re-Called, Conflicting Signs on Patrick's Status
It really was only a matter of time.
A month and a half after a fairly surprising reassignment to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the City of Brotherly Love just became a little bit frostier. 2017 1st round pick Morgan Frost, one of the Flyers top prospects, was re-called to the NHL on Friday afternoon, with veteran Andy Andreoff sent back to the Phantoms after a brief call-up to replace an ill Joel Farabee.
Whenever the Flyers performance has dipped to unacceptable territory, Chuck Fletcher has usually made a move. The Flyers had lost four straight when Farabee was called up in mid-October. They had been embarrassed by the Penguins and beaten handily by the Islanders in consecutive contests before Phil Myers got the call in November. And after losing four straight, including a gut-wrenching 3-goal collapse against the Isles in late November, Frost made his NHL debut.
Frost's first NHL stint really couldn't have started any better. He became the first Flyer since Jason Akeson in April 2013 to score in his NHL debut, beating Sergei Bobrovsky with a beautiful top-shelf backhander. In his very next game, Frost took a face-off win from Claude Giroux and sniped it top corner for the only short-handed goal this season scored by a Flyer not named Kevin Hayes. The young center wouldn't score another goal in that stint, but did record 5 assists over his next 16 games. Frost appeared to be developing well in the NHL level.
However, Frost's game wasn't perfect. It's difficult for anyone to adapt to playing center in the NHL, especially a 20-year old in his first year as a pro. Centers have to place a much greater emphasis on defense than wingers, and Frost was having a little bit of trouble making that adjustment. At 5'11'', 170 pounds, Frost was also taking his fair share of hits, which can grind any player down over time. And while the Flyers were winning the shot quantity battle with Frost (per Natural Stat Trick, a 51.85% Corsi at 5-on-5), but losing the shot quality by a similar margin (48.96% Expected Goals For at 5-on-5).
Because of these deficiencies, Frost was returned to the Phantoms, as the Flyers opted to develop the former OHL star conservatively. Frost has held his own and then some in the AHL, scoring 20 points in 30 games for the Phantoms, per Elite Prospects (6 in 14 games since the demotion). Frost's underlying numbers have also been great; per Brad Keffer's work on Phancystats.com, Frost has an impressive 51.97% Corsi at 5-on-5, which is 3.66% better than the average Phantom.
The Flyers have been pretty mediocre offensively since demoting Frost. Philly is a perfectly mediocre 16th in the league in goals for per game (2.94) since demoting Frost. Their power play has been atrocious. Claude Giroux has struggled to score this season, in part because he's had to play a handful of games at center. With Nolan Patrick out, the Flyers need another skilled forward in their lineup, either by trade or internally. Frost will have about two weeks to show the Flyers he can be that before the Flyers have to make a decision at the February 24th trade deadline.
But what if the answer to replacing Nolan Patrick is Nolan Patrick himself? The Flyers other 2017 1st-round pick (#2 overall) has been out for the entire season with migraine disorder. The Flyers and Patrick have stated that they both expect him to return this season, but there haven't been many updates lately. With just 28 games remaining, it's fair to question if Patrick won't be ready in time.
And then Patrick practiced with the Flyers on Wednesday. Alain Vigneault made that practice a "skill day," which Patrick saw as an opportunity to get on the ice with his teammates. And then he took part in the morning skate on Thursday. And then he was a part of Friday's practice, playing defense with Shayne Gostisbehere. He has not officially had a change in his medical status, but this is the first time Patty has practiced three straight days since his diagnosis.
However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows regarding Nolan Patrick. Alain Vigneault told Sam Carchidi of the Inqurier, "“My expectations are that Nolan is not coming back. In my mind, he hasn’t been here since the beginning of the year, and I’m moving forward. I work with the guys that are here." That obviously does not seem like good news. Granted, AV isn't a doctor, and if cleared, I'm sure he would be happy to have Patrick in the lineup. But it's clear that Patrick's situation is far from clear as the 21-year old battles to attempt to return to the lineup.