Frost, who celebrates his 21st birthday on May 14, is a player with a very high ceiling offensively. If it were strictly a matter of skill level or innate hockey intelligence, he would not have needed time in the American Hockey League. It has been the translation of his all-around game from that of a junior standout to that of a pro that was still a work in progress when the 2019-20 NHL season was paused and the AHL campaign was recently canceled.
Things came very easily to Frost in the Ontario Hockey League. Centering the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' top line, Frost racked up 112 points and a plus-70 rating in 67 games during his draft-plus-one season. In 2018-19, despite having less surrounding talent than he did the previous year, Frost posted 103 points and a plus-33 rating in his first 52 regular season games on his way to 109 points and a plus-33 in 58 games. A prime scoring threat no matter the manpower situation, Frost even posted a combined 19 shorthanded points across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
Frost's combined +103 over his final two seasons in the OHL was more reflective of the extensive puck possession edge that his team enjoyed with him on the ice than a statement on the maturity level of his defensive prowess. In the Ontario Hockey League coaches' poll, Frost was a two-time winner of the Best Stickhandler category, a Best Playmaker winner and twice placed in the top two in selections for the Smartest Player category.
Correspondingly, Frost was often able to stickhandle his way out of trouble. He could slow down the play at will, study his options, and then make a play. When he needed a burst of speed, the former 2016-17 Top Prospects Game Fastest Skater skills competition winner (in both the with-puck and without-the-puck races), could turn on the jets. Generally, though, Frost played a more deliberate style as a junior. As a player who is neither big nor especially strong physically, Frost relied on his other gifts to excel.
The pro level has been an eye-opener for Frost. While it's his playmaking skills and high-skill goals like the one below that make Frost a high-profile prospect, it's the smaller details that will determine the timeline for when he ultimately graduates from AHL player to NHL regular.
Frost started the 2019-20 season in the AHL with the Phantoms. After being held without a point in his first three games, he rattled off a seven-game point streak (4g, 5a) although he was still working on game-in and game-out consistency in terms of his risk management decisions, avoiding "glide mode" in his skating (in other words, making sure to keep his feet moving), getting better on faceoffs and making the correct reads in the defensive zone.
One of the biggest adjustments was realizing that he had to work harder as a pro than in junior hockey not only to get initial possession of the puck but also to keep it rather than getting quickly separated. There was clearly room for improvement in 50-50 battles and in not getting outmuscled in positional battles with bigger, stronger and more experienced centers opposing him.
The progress was not strictly linear -- there was some missteps along the way -- but Frost showed a willingness to put in the work on the ice and in video study.
From Nov 19 to Dec. 27, Frost was promoted to the NHL. Initially, he was installed as the center on a line where he had Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny on his wings. He was also given an opportunity to play the bumper (slot shooter) role on the power play; a first for him as he was used to setting up on the half-wall in his previous power play experience in the OHL and with the Phantoms.
Frost made an immediate impact on the Flyers lineup. He scored a nifty goal, stepping out from behind the net and elevating a backhander against Sergei Bobrovsky in his NHL debut in Florida. In his next game, Frost scored again and also beautifully set up what proved to be the game-winning goal.
The youngster experienced his first bit of adversity in his home debut; a Saturday matinee against the Calgary Flames. Early in the game, Frost elected to pass rather than shoot (with a open lane) on a 2-on-1 rush. Later, he had another 2-on-1 opportunity and, this time, made an early decision to shoot rather than taking advantage of an open passing lane. Early in the third period, a Frost turnover in the defensive zone ended up in the Philadelphia net.
With young players especially, confidence can be fragile and fickle. Frost's assertiveness and effectiveness hit a rough patch. He was moved down to the third line, and his power play role was reduced as well.
Finally, after 18 games with the big club (2g, 5a), Frost was returned to the Phantoms following the Flyers' first loss of a brutal post-Christmas trip that saw the club go 1-4-1. Upon his return to the American Hockey League, Frost was named to the AHL All-Star Game.
Frost had quite a whirlwind of activity over the AHL All-Star break. For him, it was no break at all.
On Wed, Jan. 22 and Friday Jan 24, Frost and the Phantoms played a pair of road games in Providence. On Jan 25, the Phantoms were in Hartford to play the Wolf Pack. While the rest of the team was then able to start its All-Star break in the game and practice schedule, Frost had to fly to Ontario, California, for the AHL All-Star skills competition and All-Star Game over the next two nights.
Frost competed in three events at the Skills competition. He narrowly lost his race in the one-on-one phase of the Puck Control Relay round that opened the evening. Later, Frost made nice passes that resulted in two goals during the 3-on-0 pass-and-shoot breakaway rush event but missed the net looking to shoot short-side high when it was his turn to be the shooter in the third and final rush. During the closing individual breakaway competition, Frost made a nice move to his backhand and had former Phantoms/Flyers goaltender Anthony Stolarz beaten but missed the net as the 20-year-old tried to finish off the play. Frost then wiped out in the corner and skated back to center ice, smiling sheepishly.
At the 2020 AHL All-Star Game, Frost collected a combined three assists for victorious Team Atlantic in the 3-on-3 mini-tournament series. Each of the games consisted of two five-minute halves, with a round-robin phase pitting each of the four divisions against one another (three games each), followed by a championship game.
Returning to the Phantoms, Frost had some high highs -- a three-game goal streak, a stretch of seven points in seven games -- and some setbacks as well. There were a few particular games (or specific shifts within games) than neither Frost himself nor Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon were pleased in terms of risk-taking that backfired or too infrequent puck touches.
The rookie set about working the rough patches. He received another two-game callup to the Flyers, centering a line with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Pitlick. He also played the right-side half-wall on the second power play unit.
Frost did not record a point -- he hit the post in a win over Washington and was involved as part of two eventual JVR goal sequences in which others earned the assists -- but generally tried to keep things simpler. He won 9 of 10 faceoffs in Washington on Feb. 8. At home against Florida two nights later, Frost had a pair of turnovers -- one in the neutral zone and one in the defensive zone -- on his very first shift of the game but then settled in thereafter.
The Flyers returned Frost to the Phantoms again on Feb. 14, 2020. During the NHL and AHL pause, Frost focused on working out with gym equipment that his mom, Dana, provided from the gym she owns in Aurora, Ontario. He's also taking regular bike rides.
On May 11, the AHL canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Frost has continued to work out in the hopes of being added to an expanded Flyers roster if and when the NHL reconvenes to complete its own season.
FIVE KEY FACTS
1) At the NHL level, Frost has averaged 11:34 of ice time (including 11:34 at even strength and 2:11 on the power play).
2) Frost has averaged 1.63 points per 60 minutes of ice time this season; third among Flyers rookies this season and 10th among all NHL rookies who played in at least 20 games this season. Frost would still qualify as an NHL rookie for the 2020-21 season.
3) Combined between the Flyers and Phantoms this season, Frost has posted 15 goals and 36 points in 61 games as a 20-year-old rookie.
4) Frost had an on-ice 51.55% Corsi/ 50.64% Fenwick at five-on-five in his 20 games with the Flyers. He was on ice for 116 scoring chances for and 97 scoring chances against at 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick. Perhaps most notably, and reflective of his quick hands and stick, Frost pickpocketed opponents for 10 credited takeaways (versus five charged giveaways of his own).
5) Two analytics that point to areas where Frost needs to improve: High-danger chances and faceoffs. With Frost on the ice, the Flyers yielded 46 high danger chances to opponents while generating 40 for themselves (a 46.51 percent share) and gave up 11 opposing goals on such plays while scoring seven. In terms of faceoffs, even with his 9-for-10 game on Feb. 8, Frost has won only 42.86 percent of his NHL draws as a rookie.
1) Nov. 19 @ FLA (14:20, 2nd period): Not much went right for the Flyers in a 5-2 road loss to the Panthers in Frost's NHL debut. However, Frost provided one of the most scintillating goals of the season for the Flyers. He gathered the puck behind the net, quickly stepped out in front and lifted a backhand shot under the bar against two-time Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
2) Nov. 21 @ CAR (2:51, 2nd period and 11:16, 3rd period): Frost's second NHL game saw him score his first pro-level shorthanded goal and record his first NHL assist. The goal came right off an offensive left circle faceoff win by Claude Giroux one tick before the expiration of a Flyers penalty. Frost received the puck from Giroux and fired it off in one quick motion, beating Petr Mrazek. Later, Frost earned the game-winning primary assist on a deft backdoor feed to Giroux for a tap-in. The Flyers won the game, 5-3.
3) Jan. 15 vs. SYR (3:19, 3rd period): While playing for the Phantoms this season, Frost has been either on the setup or finishing side of some the team's prettiest goals in a year where goals in general were hard to come by in Allentown. On Jan. 15, Frost had a two-goal game in a 5-4 home win against the Syracuse Crunch. The first goal wasn't anything fancy but was more of the type that he'll have to score more of in the NHL; battling his way to the slot and getting rewarded. The latter was a sheer dazzler, as Frost went end-to-end on the rush to score a power play goal.
THEY SAID IT
"I saw a lot there. He's a very skilled young player. Definitely a ton of potential. In talking to Chuck about his play and his development, we just thought for now the best thing for him to do is go Lehigh Valley and get a little bit more ice time. We feel we've got a real good prospect, but he needs to play and I wasn't sure that I'd be able to give him the minutes....I'm really confident that in the near future he'll be able to help the Flyers."
-- Alain Vigneault, Dec. 29, 2019
"He's done it for stretches at a time but needs to do it with more consistency. Morgan is a very teachable and bright young man in addition to being a highly skilled one. He's very honest with himself and self-aware. But there's a lot of things he could get away with in junior hockey because his skill level was so high that he has move away from in the pro game. It's a work in progres."
-- Brent Flahr, Jan. 24, 2020
HE SAID IT
"I think I've learned a lot since camp. There's definitely adjustments. Putting myself in position to get more puck touches, make more plays. It's more off-puck, competing every shift. Making sure I move my feet. Being engaged on the plays with the puck, too. Things happen faster [in the pros]. On faceoff, it's getting lower and not relying mostly on winning draws with my hands."
-- Morgan Frost, Feb. 8, 2020