He scored 42 goals, amassed 112 points, and finished with an unconscious plus-70 last season — which Flyers prospect Morgan Frost concedes is a little misleading.
“We had a really, really good team,” he said of his junior team in Sault Ste. Marie. “But I think all of it combined is kind of where my game is at.”
Here’s where it’s at. On a team that finished with 116 points in 68 games, he played on the power play, on the penalty kill, and in late-game situations. On a team loaded with future NHL players, he was the first-line center, a go-to guy on the ice, an emphatic endorsement of Ron Hextall’s belief that he was a steal as the 27thoverall pick of the 2017 draft — and not the reach many believed him to be at the time.
“I’ve always been hard on Morgan in the sense if he’s going to be committed defensively he’s going to create more offense for himself and his teammates,” Drew Bannister, his coach for the last three seasons, was saying over the phone Thursday. “I think we saw a lot more consistency to his game. And I think that’s why he probably had more offensive success this past season than he had in his draft year.”
A surprise keep when he tried out for the Soo at 16, Frost finished with seven goals and 20 assists in 65 games that season – and was a minus-6. The following season — the one that induced the Flyers to swap Brayden Schenn to the Blues and jump over Chicago to the 27thspot — he had 20 goals and 62 points and was an admirable plus-15.
But this past season … Frost found a gear that may have surprised even him. Even when players left to compete in the World Juniors (including linemate Boris Katchouk), even when players were hurt, or travel became particularly arduous, his effort did not dip.
“I think I’m a lot stronger,” Frost said. “And I have a better understanding of the game. I think I just feel a lot more comfortable. Being a leader and one of the older guys on the team, it gave me a lot of confidence. And it made me a better player.”
Which raises this question: What more does he need? Frost, who turned 19 on May 14, can wow all he wants in development camp over the next few days – although the format makes that hard to do. He can have an impressive training camp, too, even realize his dream of finally making Canada’s World Junior team, for which he was not invited to try out last summer.
Those invitations are anticipated in a few weeks. But even if all those dominoes fall, he still is unlikely to avoid a fourth season with the Greyhounds, whose graduations leave them, on paper at least, much less formidable than the team that finished 55-7-3, outscored the opposition by 131 goals, and churned their way through the OHL playoffs before being upset by Hamilton in the finals.
The rules are simple: At 19, you are either promoted to the big club or head back to your junior team, unless you are from Europe. There is no AHL option.
And he’s OK with that. Because there is actually more to be gained back in Sault Ste. Marie. More weight, more muscle, more leadership. After finishing the season and long playoff run at 174 pounds, Frost has literally eaten his way to 184 pounds. But he tells you this sheepishly, aware that it’s more the offshoot of downtime than any summer-long training regimen.
Still, it is part of his next stage, putting 180 pounds-plus onto his 5-11 ½ frame. Not much of a gym rat when he arrived in Sault Ste. Marie a few years ago, he’s a more regimented and focused athlete nowadays, Bannister said. Literally growing up around older, stronger players, Frost is now a captain candidate if he returns to the Soo in his final eligibility year.
“Obviously, as an older guy, embracing that leadership role is something I want to do,” he said. “And that’s a part where I think I can develop my game. Get a letter on the sweater and lead the guys.”
He will have to do it with a new coach. After three seasons of being Morgan Frost’s hockey compass on and off the ice, Bannister took a job with the AHL San Antonio Rampage after the Soo finished their season.
Frost will be leaned on in a way he wasn’t before.
“I think that comes with maturity and responsibility, and Morgan needs that in his game to sort of round out,” said Bannister. “His off-ice in gym, his practice habits on a daily basis. I think Morgan needs to take that to another level for himself and for his teammates. Because, whether he likes it or not, all these 16-year-olds coming into the league are going to be looking up to him. He’s an elite player and a first-round NHL draft pick. He has to make sure he endears himself to those players and treats them properly. And gets them going in the right way.”
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