With Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson out of the lineup for the entirety of the 2022-23 regular season, newly-minted head coach John Tortorella really had to play around with different combinations to fill the void. It wasn’t easy, at times it was downright deplorable, but a lot of fringe players were plucked from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and given the opportunity to skate with the big club.
With both Couturier and Atkinson returning into the fold and with the Philadelphia Flyers having acquired Garnet Hathaway and Ryan Poehling in the off-season, the chances for certain fringe players to crack the opening night roster became slim to none. Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison, Olle Lycksell, Elliot Desnoyers, and a few others had to start the season with the Phantoms after stints with the big club last year.
The bigger omissions were Laczynski and Allison – who many believed could and should have cracked the bottom-6. However, Allison’s inconsistencies and health rued his opportunity, while Laczynski has also dealt with a myriad of injuries but was almost a non-factor last year. If I had told you that he played in 32 games in 2022-23, would you have remembered anything from that cluster of games?
While Allison has not been able to turn things around with the Phantoms, Laczynski took the opportunity to make a name for himself in short order. While Lycksell was the first one to get the call-up, Laczynski is not far behind and he brings about the two-way game that Tortorella loves. To round out the trio is a more intriguing name that has popped up in recent weeks, former 2nd round pick Samu Tuomaala.
The trio represents the Phantoms top-3 scorers and most potent part of their balanced attack. Lycksell leads the way with 12 goals and 19 points in 21 games, Laczynski is right behind him with 12 assists and 18 points in 19 games, and Tuomaala has a team-high 13 assists to go with 18 points in 21 games.
Lycksell might be one of the more underrated and under-appreciated prospects in the pipeline. The former 6th round pick who drafted with the 168th pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has had to work his way up to the top but he has found a way to produce at nearly every stage of his young career.
In his draft+1 season he scored 22 points in 26 games in the J20 SuperElit for Linköping HC J20 before adding 5 goals and 7 points in his first taste of the SHL. He struggled the following season with just 12 points in 51 games for Linköping HC in the SHL but improved to the tune of 21 points, 21 points (in 5 less games), and then 34 points in the next 3 years, respectively.
His final season came with Växjö HC. where he finished the year with 14 goals and 34 points in 47 games before making the jump in 2022-23 with both the Flyers and Phantoms. He scored 14 goals and 45 points in just 53 games for the Phantoms, was 2nd in points behind only Tyson Foerster’s 48 – in 13 more games – and led the club in assists. In 3 different stints, he played for the big club and recorded 1 assist in 8 games.
Lycksell is currently 4th in the AHL in goals with 12 and is just trailing Logan Stankoven’s 14 and Adam Gaudette’s and Jiri Kulich’s 13. He has added a whole new facet to his game and his 12 goals are just 2 behind his total from last season in 32 less games.
Laczynski had NHL aspirations heading into training camp but with the glut of forwards in front of him in the depth chart, it was almost impossible for him to crack the lineup unless he had an outrageously great camp and the others faltered. Nevertheless, the most important thing Laczynski didn’t do was sulk – as Allison might have done – as he has taken full advantage of his opportunities to put his name back on the map.
Laczynski spent 4 seasons with Ohio State University where he put up 48 goals and 143 points in 138 games, including a career-best 17 goals and 47 points in 41 games in his second year. He dealt with a few injuries during his time in the NCAA but they ramped up when he made the jump to professional hockey.
In parts of 3 seasons between 2020-21 and 2022-23, Laczynski played in just 38 games with the Flyers and another 44 for the Phantoms. He tallied 2 goals and 4 points at the NHL-level, while putting up 14 goals and 30 points in the AHL.
With his injuries woes currently in the rear-view mirror, Laczynski has taken the role of being the alpha on a Phantoms team that needed someone to take the bull by the horns. Implanted on the top line since the early goings of the season, Laczynski hasn’t looked back and will continue to pace the offense especially with Lycksell away.
His two-way game, the fact that centre is his natural position, and his defensive acumen will give him the leg up on some of the other options the Phantoms carry. His goal scoring and accumulation of points is just a boon at this point but the 26-year-old desperately needed this kind of start to the 2023-24 season.
Tuomaala is a different case because after a rough draft+1 season, many pegged him as a bust and he nearly fell off the face of the Flyers pipeline. The inclusion of Cutter Gauthier, the growth of Tyson Foerster and Bobby Brink, and the emergence of Samuel Ersson, among others, pushed Tuomaala further down the pecking order.
The first selection for the Flyers in 2021 after they traded their first round pick to Buffalo for Rasmus Ristolainen, Tuomaala was a surprise pick and a name that had not garnered much traction. One name that many were looking at was Logan Stankoven who was drafted by Dallas with the very next pick as well as Aatu Räty, who dropped down to 52 to the New York Islanders. Even Matthew Knies and J.J. Moser were taken well after Tuomaala.
The sharp-shooter scored 15 goals and 31 points in 30 games in the U20 SM-sarja for Kärpät U20, while recording no points in 5 games for Kärpät in Liiga in his draft year. He wound up playing 2 games for the Phantoms before being loaned back to Liiga where he split 21 games between Sport and Jukurit but only scored 1 goal and 3 points.
2022-23 was a big year for the youngster as he scored 26 goals and 46 points in just 29 games in the Mestis – 2nd ranked league in Finland – for Ketterä after a pointless 14-game stretch for Jukurit of Liiga. His loan to the Mestis was needed on all fronts and not only did he succeed and finally put his name on the map for the Flyers management group, but he did so with style as he scored 26 goals in just 29 games for Ketterä before adding 19 points in 17 playoff games.
It’s almost no surprise that he has taken the Phantoms by storm this season either with his 18 points through 21 games. He made his presence known throughout the summer and into training camp. Although he isn’t quite ready for the NHL just yet, he is well on the way of getting a longer look as the season continues to roll.
With Lycksell currently accompanying the Flyers on their 3-game road trip, the Phantoms are going to need Laczynski and Tuomaala to continue to pace the offense in his absence as they look to made inroads in a tough Atlantic Division where they are currently in 6th place.
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