While the Philadelphia Flyers have yet to take the ice in the Wells Fargo Center, the foundation for a 2012-13 season is still developing in upstate New York.
The Adirondack Phantoms are the only official Flyers' affiliate where you can find NHL-level players playing together, and while fans in Philly certainly miss the proximity and success of the Philadelphia Phantoms, who won the Calder Cup during the 2004-05 lockout, there is no denying the importance of Philadelphia's farm team.
Overall the Phantoms are struggling, sitting in a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference (though, it should be noted that the Phantoms are a mere two points out of a playoff spot). But for the Flyers, the Phantoms' record is of less importance than the development of players who will be crucial to the NHL team once the season begins.
No story is bigger in the Flyers/Phantoms world than the success of Brayden Schenn.
Schenn was the supposed crown jewel in the trade that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles, but his early-season struggles with the Flyers made Schenn look like a potential bust.
He would eventually break out beginning in the Winter Classic, but Schenn's development was seen as a difference-maker for the Flyers in a potential 2012-13 season. Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski identified Schenn as a potential breakout star for the Flyers.
Stuck with the Phantoms for the duration of the lockout in 2012-13, Schenn is doing everything he can to prove he is ready to thrive at the NHL level by proving that he is simply too good for the AHL. Schenn has eight goals and eight assists in 14 AHL games this season, tying him for eighth in the league.
Whose AHL stint are you most interested in?
He sits behind good company, including Nino Niederreiter, Gustav Nyquist and what feels like half of the Edmonton Oilers' roster.
After netting a hat-trick (via The Saratogian) in a 4-1 victory over the Manchester Monarchs, it is becoming more and more clear that Schenn is like an NHL 13 player who would rather run up the score than increase the difficulty level. He needs out of the AHL desperately.
Five For Fighting For Four
The Phantoms followed up Schenn's spectacular performance with a 5-2 loss to the Binghamton Senators that saw the Phantoms wear their frustrations on their sleeves.
Four fights broke out at the 18 minutes, one second mark of the third period, and Marc-Andre Bourdon, Mike Testwuide and Garrett Roe all got game misconducts (Tyler Brown, ever the gentleman, received only a fighting major).
The brawl was a throwback for Flyers fans who recall the infamous late-game antics of the Flyers and Ottawa Senators in 2004, when the two teams racked up a combined 419 penalty minutes and depleted their own benches before the final horn sounded.
Bourdon's fight is also an encouraging sign for Flyers' fans, as Bourdon is one of the team's potential starting defensemen for the 2012-13 season, and his ability to use his size is a major question mark for the team.
Once the NHL campaign begins, the Flyers would like to see this kind of physicality from Bourdon in the third defensive pairing.
The Flyers followed up the game with another chippy effort in a 5-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch the next night. Among others, defenseman Brandon Manning found himself engaging in fisticuffs.
Somehow, Zac Rinaldo's gloves stayed on in both games.
Game recaps provided by broadstreetbuzz.com.
Trouble in Trenton
Moving on to the Flyers' ECHL affiliate, the Trenton Titans, goaltender Niko Hovinen is proving to be an Ilya Bryzgalov prodigy without ever playing on the same team as Mr. Universe.
Hovinen, the gigantic Finnish goaltender whose signing got the attention of those who cannot wait to see Bryzgalov replaced, is 2-4-1 with a 2.96 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage.
Those numbers are...Bryzgalov-esque. Except Hovinen is playing in the ECHL.
Likewise, forward Jason Akeson, who before the lockout I considered a dark-horse for cracking the Flyers roster at some point in 2012-13, is having his own struggles in Jersey's capital. Akeson has managed to amass 10 points in 14 games, but his 4.8 percent shooting percentage is cause for concern.
If he's having trouble beating ECHL goalies, I don't know how this feisty forward can expect to baffle the likes of King Henrik and Marty Brodeur.