Which Phantoms do you think are NHL ready at this point and have the potential of winning a job with the big club?
I think the two obvious candidates are Ben Holmstrom and Erik Gustafsson. Holmstrom is the guy I feel could help most immediately. He’s strong on faceoffs, reliable on the penalty kill, and his offense has been coming along, although he’ll probably never score a ton of goals at the NHL level guy. Just a mature guy who can handle the grind and has an NHL body.
Overall though, I thought there were going to be more holes the Flyers would try to fill with Phantoms. At most I see about one forward spot and maybe a seventh defenseman, at least to start the season.
The Flyers lost their best penalty killer in Mike Richards and another penalty killer when they traded Powe. Which Phantoms could fill a defensive/penalty killing role at the NHL level?
I mentioned Holmstrom above and he’s probably the best candidate. Won a lot of faceoffs down here and blocked a lot of shots. Tireless.
Another name you don’t hear much anymore but is good in that role is Jon Kalinski. He played some with the Flyers a couple of years ago. He’s strong on the puck and good at skating it out of the zone. He was a restricted free agent and I didn’t expect the Flyers to qualify him, but
they did, so they must have some plan for him.
You were kind enough to share your thoughts on Erik Gustafsson last October. Since then he has emerged as the Flyers best prospect on defense. Do you see him as top four defenseman in the NHL?
I do, but not right now, at least for a team that considers itself a Stanley Cup defender. One of the reasons I’d like to see Gustafsson play another season with the Phantoms, besides the selfish ones, is that I think it’s kind of a waste to have him as a sixth or seventh defenseman. He’s a guy who needs the puck, who thrives on the power play, and is best when he’s allowed to create offensively. If they’re looking for someone to play a more limited, defensive-minded role, Kevin Marshall is probably a better candidate.
Gustafsson is known for his offense, but how is he defensively?
Gustafsson’s stats from last season are a little hard to figure. In the first half, he put up a ton of points (many on the power play) but was a team worse at more than minus-20. In the second half, he put up far fewer points, but his plus-minus numbers were much better. Some of that, of course, was the team being much better overall. But I also thought he took fewer risks and was more solid on the puck and took care not to turn it over from the point. Defense will never be a strength of his game, but I don’t see any reason why it’d be a liability either after another year of seasoning. If he can’t out-physical guys, he’s smart enough to have a plan to win one-on-one battles.
Matt Read was very impressive in his short stint with the Phantoms. What can you tell us about his game?
Read has tremendous vision. He sees the ice so well. He created a lot of easy goals for his linemates. The game just sped up when he was on the ice. He’s a creator, for sure. He’s not a flashy, dangle-through-a-whole-crowd kind of guy. He lets the puck do the work. Read also has a deceptively hard shot and quick shot, usually helped by the fact he’s in the right place on the ice.
The Flyers are very high on Zac Rinaldo which is puzzling to some fans. They shocked everyone when he got in the lineup in the playoffs. What does he bring to his game besides fighting and agitating?
When he’s at his best, hitting. Rinaldo is a better skater then you might imagine and covers a good amount of ground. He can effectively take the body and keep guys heads on a swivel. He just needs to learn to get there a half-second quicker. I think that is something that can come with time — remember, he was only 19 last season — and better discretion on what’s a good hit opportunity to take. When Rinaldo focuses on playing hockey, he shows more skill than his reputation would make you think. That’s one of the reasons I’d like to see him focus more on those hockey skills this season.
Marc-Andre Bourdon was rated as one of the worst skaters in the entire 2008 draft class by a scouting service. How is his skating now?
Bourdon has had a couple of up-and-down seasons, some of it due to injury problems, but I’ve never thought is skating was a particular issue. I think decision making is a bigger issue for him.
Do you expect Joonas Lehtivuori to return to Adirondack this upcoming season?
That would be just ugly. I can’t see how it happens. If they wanted him back in the fold, I suspect they’d loan him somewhere. Lehtivuori was struggling badly here on the ice, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it.