When the Flyers took the ice for their Thanksgiving week home-and-home set with the New York Islanders, the lineup featured six rookies, two second-year NHL players and two players in their third season in the league. There were 13 players overall age 25 and under.
Not all of these players saw action with the American Hockey League's Lehigh Valley Phantoms before graduating to the NHL - Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick all cracked the Flyers' NHL roster while still below the American Hockey League age restriction for players drafted out of any of the three Canadian Hockey League junior circuits (Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). Nevertheless, the majority of excelled in the AHL with the Phantoms before being promoted to the NHL.
Every player's path, of course, has been different. Start with the three rookies on the Flyers' current blueline group.
Drafted by the Flyers in the second round of the 2013 Draft, Robert Hagg came over from Sweden at age 19. He played 202 regular season games for the Phantoms and then earned an NHL roster spot out of training camp this season. The first season and three-quarters of his AHL development time was spent learning to simplify his game. Initially hoping to be a power play defenseman and aggressive breakout passer, Hagg eventually embraced more of a defensive oriented role, stepped up his physical game and parlayed it into his current NHL niche.
Travis Sanheim, selected by the Flyers in the first round of the 2014 Draft, spent his pro season with the Phantoms in 2016-17. After starring as an offensive defenseman in junior hockey, he worked primarily on the defensive side of his game in the AHL. Eventually, the points started to come, too. Goalless through Dec. 8 of last season, he went on to post 10 goals (nine at even strength) and 37 points in 76 games despite veteran defenseman T.J. Brennan receiving the bulk of duties as the power play trigger man from the point. In all, Sanheim played 80 AHL games (11 goals, 40 points, plus-7) over parts of two seasons before earning a Flyers' roster spot out of camp.
2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin spent two-plus seasons with the Phantoms (160 regular season games in all through his current NHL recall). In the AHL, the enthusiastic and naturally athletic 6-foot-7 defenseman worked to simplify his game. Morin worked to play a more under-control game to reduce needless penalties and avoid having over-aggressive attempts for big hits leave him out of position, take full advantage of his size, reach and straight ahead skating ability, smooth out his footwork and refining other details needed to turn his collection of raw skills into being an NHL-ready player.
Now in his third NHL season, Gostisbehere was slated to spend the 2014-15 campaign with the Phantoms. Unfortunately, a November knee injury (partially torn ACL) ended his rookie pro year prematurely. The next year, Gostisbehere opened the season with the Phantoms before an injury suffered by veteran Mark Streit opened an opportunity for the offensively gifted Florida native. He's been in the NHL ever since. Overall, Gostisbehere played 21 games for the Phantoms: two games for the club in the spring of 2014 before the franchise relocated from Glens Falls, NY to Allentown, PA, five games in 2014-15 prior to the knee injury and then 14 games in 2015-16 before his NHL regular and subsequent Calder Trophy finalist run.
Now a 27-year-old veteran of 160 games in the NHL, Brandon Manning was originally signed by the Flyers as a free agent after a stellar over-age season in the WHL in 2011-12 as the captain of the Chilliwack Bruins. Manning spent 244 games in the AHL with the Adirondack/Lehigh Valley Phantoms before sticking full-time with the Flyers. He played in the AHL All-Star Game in both 2012-13 and 2014-15.
Previously, this season, the Flyers plugged 26-year-old Phantoms veteran defenseman, Mark Alt (250 AHL games to date) into their NHL lineup as an injury fill-in for six games. He performed solidly if unspectacularly in limited minutes. Twenty-nine-year-old AHL veteran Will O'Neill (353 AHL games to date) filled in along with Alt in the Flyers' 2-0 road win in St. Louis on Nov. 2.
Up front, four Flyers players in their early-to-mid 20s saw extensive time with the Phantoms.
Drafted by the Flyers in the first round of the 2012 Draft, Scott Laughton's handling of a 60-game stint back in the AHL with the Phantoms last season - after spending the entire 2015-16 season and roughly half of the 2014-15 campaign in the NHL with the big club - was pivotal to getting his career back on track. Laughton embraced the challenge of becoming more of checking-oriented (both forecheck and back pressure) center at the pro level, and propelled himself into more regular ice time than he received in his previous NHL stints.
Overall, Laughton played in 105 American Hockey League games across his various stays with the Phantoms.
Laughton's linemate in both Allentown and Philadelphia, left winger Taylor Leier, was originally drafted by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft. Now 23, he is playing his first full NHL season after short stints with the big club in 2015-16 (six games) and 2016-17 (10 games). While with the Phantoms, Leier played an all-situations role - he is more of a checking forward with the Flyers - and dressed in 192 regular season games plus five playoff tilts this past spring.
Acquired by the Flyers in the deal that sent the now-retired Vincent Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn to the LA Kings, Jordan Weal played very sparingly with LA and Philadelphia in 2015-16; a total of just 14 games despite spending the entire season in the NHL. Weal cleared waivers at the end of training camp with the Flyers last year and returned to the AHL, where he'd previously starred with the Manchester Monarchs. Weal quickly became a major impact player for the Phantoms, racking up 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) and earning a callup to the Flyers. Now 25 years of age, Weal earned a two-year contract extension and NHL roster spot with the Flyers this season.
Unselected in the NHL Draft, the speedy and feisty but pint-sized (5-foot-8) Danick Martel was signed to an entry-level contract by the Flyers after a stellar over-age (48 goals, 102 points) Quebec League season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Martel posted 22-goals, including 20-goal seasons with the Phantoms in his first two pro seasons. This season, the 22-year-old left winger turned his game up another notch, racking up a league-leading 14 goals and 19 points through 17 games before earning his first NHL recall. To date, Martel has played 157 career American Hockey League regular season games and five Calder Cup playoff games.
Even two-thirds of the Flyers' vaunted top line paid some dues in the AHL with the Phantoms.
As a rookie pro in 2008, Claude Giroux failed to earn an NHL roster spot out of training camp after posting otherworldly offensive stats in his final Quebec League season (including a staggering 51 points in 19 playoff tilts). After a 33-game, 34-point stint with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Giroux graduated to the NHL for good.
Top line center Sean Couturier, following his rookie year in the NHL, was assigned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. He notched 10 goals and 28 points in 31 games before rejoining the big club when the NHL season finally got underway.