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Phase 2: Getting Frosty at the Rink

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

Quite literally, Flyers rookie center Morgan Frost had the key to staying fit during the self-quarantine period of the National Hockey League's pause during the coronavirus pandemic. His mom, Dana, owns a gym in their native Aurora, Ontario. She gave him access to the exercise equipment for his use when the opportunity presented itself.

"The first month was kind of hard to do much; couldn't really leave the house. So [I did] just a little stuff at home. When I was able to get out a little bit and the town where I live opened up a bit, I started to branch out and do a little bit more stuff," Frost said to Flyers senior director of communications Zack Hill.

"She gave me a key and my trainer would kind of meet me there. We could just do one-on- one stuff. Keep it safe, keep a bit of our distance but it was good. It was nice for my mom to do that for me."

On May 14, Frost celebrated his 21st birthday. He had fun, but tried to do it with social distancing in mind.

"I had a couple buddies over. I think the limit was like five or six people, so I had a couple buddies just coming out to my garage and we just hung out for the night and, you know, kept our distance," Frost said.

Frost took regular bike rides as one of the ways he stayed in shape during the pause. As with most players, skating was one thing that, until recently, Frost was unable to do during the NHL pause. With a chuckle, he admitted that his normally smooth puck handling skills were particularly rusty at first.

"Just pretty much the week before I came [to Voorhees], I was out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So you know, that was nice to kind of get my hands back the first date or two. I chopped the puck up a bit, but it was nice to get out a little bit before I came here," Frost said. 

Now that he's back at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, Frost has begun to accelerate his on-ice training. Wednesday was his second small-group session on the ice. When Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL's return-to-play plan are reached, Frost will be part of the team's expanded roster. He may not dress for any Stanley Cup playoff games this year, but he is focused on getting ready to challenge for a permanent NHL spot after two recalls to the Flyers during the 2019-20 regular season.

In many subtle ways, Frost feels that he has improved over the course of his first professional season. 

"You know, it's a lot of little things, but I think generally, it's learning to be a pro, just being around older guys. You see how seriously they take their bodies and, and their training. I just tried to learn as much as I could and, and soak it up as much as I could. So you know, hopefully I can get to that level one day," he said.

After back-to-back seasons of dominating the Ontario Hockey League and posting eight points in five games for Team Canada at the 2018-19 World Junior Championships, Flyers 2017 first-round pick Morgan Frost turned pro this season. There were many highlights for the young center at both the NHL and American Hockey League levels, but also his fair share of bumps in the road.

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.

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. 

"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," Frost said on Feb. 8.

The Flyers returned Frost to the Phantoms again on Feb. 14, 2020. On May 11, the AHL canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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