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The Frost Report

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

As with scores of fellow hockey players, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost finds himself in an unfamiliar situation amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although he took part in pre-playoffs training camp practices and scrimmages and he was among the Black Aces the Flyers took the Bubble in Toronto, that's not the same thing as playing in a bonafide game. By the time next season starts, he could be 10 to 11 months removed from his last competitive match.

On Wednesday of this week, Frost was Jason Myrtetus's guest on Flyers Daily on the Flyers Broadcast Network. Among other topics, Frost discussed the prolonged lack of games, what he's doing to be ready for training camp and challenge for an NHL roster spot, what he learned from the experience in the Bubble.

"It's very weird. That's the longest I've gone in my life without a game," Frost said of the protracted wait to play again.

During the offseason, Frost has been on the ice as much as local restrictions allow in his Ontario community. He's trying to make the most of what's permitted.

"You can simulate some sort of stuff. At least where I live [in Ontario], there's some limitations right now to how many people can be on the ice. So it's tough to get in like a full scrimmage but I mean, you can do like mini-area games and three on threes and stuff. So just think, right now, it's it's about doing whatever you can and whatever situation you're in, making the most of it," he said. 

In the meantime, Frost has been working out regularly in the gym with a training partner. When Ontario was largely in shutdown mode earlier this year, Frost at least had access to a gym owned by his mom, Dana.

"It's been good. There's been some on and off restrictions here just due to the virus. We're gonna do some workouts outside instead of inside the gym. I really trust my trainer, and he does a good job. It's's just grinding away when not playing games. And, you know, just skating a bit. It's a lot of it's just grinding away in the gym. As much as working out is a great thing. I hope I don't have to do this for much longer. Hopefully, we can get some games going here."

The 21-year-old center believes he'll be "all set" by the time training camp starts in Voorhees. His motivation, of course, is the opportunity to graduate from a call-up option from the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms to a full-time NHL roster player on the Flyers. He knows that tough competition awaits him.

Frost was philosophical about his participation in the Bubble among the Flyers' Black Aces in August and September. On the one hand, he was able to be on the ice to practice and to be around the team amid the most important games of the year. On the other, the Bubble experience was a challenge both emotionally and mentally even for players who were involved in the postseason games much less the ones who were trying to stay ready just in case an opportunity to play arose.

"It was pretty cool. But to be honest, I think, after a little while, it's started to get a bit draining, staying in the hotel so much. But just being around the guys the whole time, and the coaches, and the whole staff was really good about it. So, you know, there was nothing really to complain about, I think I learned a lot, had a lot of fun with the guys. I think that, overall, it was a great experience. It's kind of a once in a lifetime thing, I guess," he said.

In many subtle ways, Frost felt that he improved over the course of his first professional season from training camp last September through the Bubble. He is eager to show that he's fine-tuned the areas that Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault wants to see him improve.

"There was a lot of fun, I learned a lot and, you know, definitely an adjustment period playing against older guys. And, you know, I learned pretty quickly I couldn't do some of the dekes and some of the fancy stuff that sometimes I try to pull off in January [with the Phantoms] that I can't really do it as much up here. So you know, just little things like that," Frost said.

"It definitely opened my eyes even more to the fact that I need to get a bit [physically] stronger. So I'm winning more battles in the corner. Because you can't just [stickhandle]. It's much harder to skate around people and get opportunities. You've kind of got to get on the inside and use your body. And so, yeah, it was definitely an eye- opening season,"

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.

Frost 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 ultimately 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 as points suddenly became harder to come by. 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 Fri. 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 [September 2019] 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 back 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. 

Frost is trying to be patient while awaiting his chance to play hockey again. He knows there are bigger issues than professional sports involved. All he can do is try stay focused and report to camp in to top shape.

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