In Morgan Frost We Trust
In case you haven’t noticed, the general tone of the Flyers has not been overly positive lately. The vibes have been morose. If you dare utter a belief that one of these prospects or young players might be a star, you may be laughed off as a heretic and accused of peddling the drug known as false hope.
Fans have been hurt too many times. Too often, expectations were not met. The pain was sharp and burning. But what the hell is the point of following this team if that’s the attitude people are going to take?
I’ve certainly written my fair share of more dark pieces. I adamantly want them to lose as many games as possible. And I stand by mostly every negative word I’ve written.
But for one article, and possibly more articles after this, let’s snort some hope. Let’s take a massively more positive tone, and let’s do something taboo around these parts: suggest that young players or prospects could become stars.
Not good top-6 or top-4 players, even if that’s a more reasonable outcome. And not a disappointing outcome, either.
But for a moment, let’s stick our head in the clouds without actually raising expectations.
And who better to do that with than the one who everyone forgot? Or worse yet, the one who disappointed everyone? The one who’s been written off, accused of having no competitive drive and any number of physical or psychological limitations.
The one who everyone loves to hate, because he–in many ways–represents the reason why you shouldn’t get too excited about prospects.
“What if they turn out like Morgan Frost?”
But is Morgan Frost really turning out that horrifically? Or is he just now scratching the surface of his immense potential on a delayed schedule?
The Story Until Now:
Morgan Frost was drafted with the 27th overall pick in 2017. At the time, it was viewed as something of a reach. There was plenty to believe in with Frost. His skill level with the puck and his offensive instincts were all high end from that very day.
But he was small, and he wasn’t blazing fast. He didn’t play with enough defensive engagement. So on and so on.
Either way, the expectations that come with that kind of pick are not generally high. But it didn’t take long for Frost to carve himself out as an exception.
Soon enough, the expectations were very high.
After scoring 62 points in 67 games during his draft season, Frost put up 112 points in 67 games in his first season since being drafted.
The underwhelming numbers that barely got him into the first round suddenly became incredible, eye popping numbers that some top-5 picks don’t put up.
There was talk almost immediately after this season of Frost being “the steal of the 2017 Draft.”
He returned to juniors for the next season. In hindsight, one might question if this was actually the best thing for his development after he’d already proven more than capable of tearing up the OHL. But at the time, there wasn’t too much thought about that.
And Frost delivered another absurd scoring season.
In his second year since being drafted, he put up 109 points in 58 games. His 1.67 point-per-game average became a 1.87 point-per-game average. Suddenly, Frost’s status as a top prospect was hard to question and even harder to deny.
His showing at the World Juniors surely did nothing to derail the hype train. He put up 4 goals and 8 points in 5 games. His 1.6 point per game average led the tournament, and the next closest player came in at a 1.3 point per game average.
The Morgan Frost hype train was full speed ahead.
In his first stint with the NHL in the 19-20 season, Frost had flashes of brilliance. But the bottom line is: he had 7 points in 20 games. He wasn’t good.
In his first stint with the AHL in the same season, he had 29 points in 41 games.
You’d be correct in assuming he didn’t light the world on fire, but it’s hardly as if he struggled either. A bump in the road. And not an uncommon one.
A bump in the road for players transitioning from juniors to the pros–either NHL or AHL–is hardly a new or novel concept. Just ask a kid by the name of Jack Hughes. I hear he’s pretty good now.
If there was supposed to be a rebound season for Frost, it never came. Did he continue to play poorly? Oh, no. He didn’t play at all. Instead, he injured his shoulder in his second game with the Flyers.
He didn’t return for the rest of that season. No hockey. No NHL. No AHL. He did nothing. He didn’t return to playing professional hockey until the following year.
Note: we’re now in 2021-2022, this was only last season.
In 24 games with the AHL, he finished with 19 points. On a team hardly flooded with high-end talent, he was not far off from a point per game in the AHL… immediately after shoulder surgery took him out of the sport for a year.
Somewhere along the line, that story got rewritten to not be as impressive as that is. It’s damn impressive.
Injuries that brutal don’t just go away when you’re fully healed physically. From the time to get full strength back to simply getting your timing back in a sport as frenetic as hockey, there’s much more that goes into it than just… healing and getting back to playing.
In the NHL, his 16 points in 55 games were markedly less impressive. The bottom line is, frankly, bad. But there is some context.
8 of those points came in the last 17 games of that season. A struggling team with no room left to contend gave their young players runway, and Frost ran with it. Half of his points in that season came in this stretch, which represented only 30% of his NHL season.
A mixed bag, and this is the moment where Morgan Frost became something of a polarizing figure amongst the Flyers community. This season was the straw that broke the poor camel’s back.
He was, officially, a bust.
But is that fair? Is it even reasonable?
The reason I went back and laid things out like this is because Frost has only ever fallen short of expectations twice in his hockey life leading up to this season.
The first time, a kid used to dominating juniors was introduced to the professional game. He was a good AHL player, but not ready for the NHL. Perfectly reasonable. And again, he’s hardly alone in that development path.
The second time, he was that kid barely adjusting to the professional game… except this time, he was also coming off of an injury that removed him from hockey for a year.
In raw time, it’s been 3 years since Morgan Frost looked the part of a top prospect. But breaking it down? It has not been long at all.
Leading up to this season, Morgan Frost had only ever played 77 games in the NHL. Even in the AHL, he has only ever played a total of 70 games. Which is almost the equivalent one full season with the Phantoms, but even falls short of that.
Owen Tippett had 110 NHL games under his belt on top of 63 AHL games, and everyone viewed him as a prospect with a lifetime of development ahead. They’re the same age. Tippett was picked 10th and Frost 27th in the same draft.
This isn’t to dunk on Tippett, who may just see himself featured in this series eventually, but rather to illustrate how absurd the narrative around Frost has been.
So what about this season?
The first time Morgan Frost has made the NHL team out of training camp and not obliterated his shoulder as soon as he played a game. His first pro season fully with the team.
It started great with 2 goals in his 1st game and an assist in his 3rd game.
From there, he had chances that he didn’t bury.
He got called out by his coach for not scoring on his chances (which, to this day, remains one of the weirdest things a head coach has said that I’ve heard), then demoted to the 4th line and healthy scratched.
After injuries forced him back up the lineup, he was starting to come out of his funk. Soon thereafter, his coach likened his play to a toilet seat (which was supposed to be a way of saying “up and down.”)
Then December 5th happened. A game against Colorado where Frost was moved to the left half-wall on the first power-play unit (his natural PP position). Tortorella himself talked about all the offense he generated in that game, and openly hoped that he would keep that up.
Counting that game, Morgan Frost has 19 points in his last 24 games. Extrapolated out for an 82 game season, that’s a 65 point pace.
18 of those points have come in his last 21 games, which would be a 70 point pace over 82 games.
That’s a pretty long run to just be a fluke, and he has the underlying numbers to back up that level of production.
Since December 8th, Morgan Frost has produced 2.79 expected goals for per 60 minutes of ice-time. Some centers around his level of offensive generation since that time? Matt Duchene and Anze Kopitar.
For Kopitar, that would be the third highest mark on record through his career. His career which has seen him hit 60 and 70 points routinely, as well as top out at 80 and even 90 points.
Frost is producing offense like a 60-70 point player, and he’s getting points like a 60-70 point player.
But why does that need to be the ceiling?
Frankly, Frost has flashed the kind of skill package that could lead to generating significantly more than 2.79 expected goals per 60. And assuming his puck luck/finishing remains stable, that would mean he’s scoring significantly more than 70 points in a season.
Will that happen? I have no idea. I don’t have a crystal ball. But why is it beyond rational belief?
I mean, look at some of the stuff he can pull off.
I’ve posed this question to some of my cohorts here at The Liberty Yell
How many players can you name with Morgan Frost’s combination of hands, skating, and IQ that aren’t stars?
I pose the same question to you.
I’m sure they exist, but they don’t exist in large numbers.
And that’s why I believe in Morgan Frost. Because I believe in his skillset, which we’ve seen translate to the NHL countless times. And when it does translate, it doesn’t just survive. It thrives. It changes games.
I believe in Morgan Frost, because the stories of his myriad disappoints are greatly exaggerated, and in only his first full NHL season, he’s already turning the corner.
I believe in Morgan Frost, because he’s given me very little reason not to.
The truth is: everyone declared a bust far too soon, because they were bitter and resentful towards a franchise that has spent the last 3 seasons struggling to the point of drowning.
And why did they struggle so mightily?
Because they lacked exactly the kind of talent that Morgan Frost can bring.
Mandatory Credit: NHL.com