READING, PA– After a long summer, hockey season is upon us which has fans everywhere rejoicing. For the Royals, they’re about to enter year four of an affiliation with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. With the Flyers quickly becoming a team with one of the best farm systems in the National Hockey League, there will be a logjam of players trying to make the team. For those who come up short, they will be sent to the Phantoms which can help them be one of the best teams in the American Hockey League and could result in a trip back to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
But what about the Royals? Will they end up with some of the Flyers prospects in hopes to reach the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the ninth consecutive year? Probably not. However, with more players on entry-level deals possibly ending up in Allentown, that opens the door for players on AHL contracts to end up in Reading which could help make the Royals a force to be reckoned with in the eastern conference.
During the off-season, the Royals lost several veteran forwards to overseas which made head coach Kirk MacDonald go out and sign ten forwards on ECHL deals for the upcoming season. Looking at the Phantoms roster, only three players on AHL deals could spend some time in Reading.
One of those players in Steven Swavely. The hometown hero played in 40 games last season for the Royals, collecting 39 points. Out of those 39 points, 18 of them were goals, two of which were scored in overtime. Swavely is entering his third season as a member of the Phantoms (second full season) and has played in a total of 31 AHL games with only three points, all goals.
The next player on a contract with the Phantoms that could see some time in Reading is Matt Willows. The former ECHL rookie of the year began last season in the San Jose Sharks organization, splitting time between the San Jose Barracuda and the Allen Americans. The Royals acquired the rights to Willows in December, and he showed the fans his offensive power. His 22 goals split between Allen and Reading were the fourth-highest on the team, and he was tied with Robbie Czarnik for the team lead in assists with 39. While his point totals show why Willows deserved an AHL contract this summer, what might end up hurting Willows, in the end, is his size as he is only 5-foot-9.
The final forward that fans in Reading should get to know is Alex Krushelnyski. The son of three-time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Krushelnyski, Alex spent most of the 2016-17 season in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators where he put up only seven points in 43 games. He also played in 15 ECHL games last year (six with the Wichita Thunder and nine with Allen).
One player not mentioned is Chris McCarthy. The Collegeville native was in attendance for the Royals town hall meeting last month, and it’s unknown whether he’s on an ECHL deal or an AHL deal. McCarthy excelled last season with Reading as put up over a point-per-game with 47 of them in 43 games. Another player that wasn’t mentioned that also spent some time in Reading last season was Tyrell Goulbourne. Goulbourne quickly became a fan favorite with his fighter like mentality. Seeing Tyrell back in Reading wouldn’t be shocking.
The cream of the crop in the Flyers system is the number of talented young defensemen they have. Ranging from guys already in the NHL like Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere to guys like Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg hoping to make the team out of training camp. The Royals only have five defensemen on their roster, so there could be help sent their way.
One player fans should keep an eye on is Frank Hora. The 21-year-old spent the past three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. With 241 career OHL games under his belt and being only 21 years old, would be an excellent player for Kirk MacDonald’s team.
Nolan Zajac is the next name Royals fans should be watching. The Royals acquired the rights to Zajac last month in a deal that sent the rights to Justin Crandall to the Wichita Thunder. The younger brother of New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac had a terrific rookie season with the Toledo Walleye. He appeared in 61 games with Toledo and piled up 54 points (11G, 43A). Zajac also spent some last year in the AHL with three different teams.
The final new defenseman Royals fans might see in purple and black this season is James de Haas. A former sixth-round draft pick by the Detroit Red Wings, James just finished off his college career at Clarkson University. During his senior season, James was named the team captain and appeared in 149 career college games. At 6-foot-4 de Haas would bring size to the Royals defense which would please assistant coach Patrick Wellar.
Now to some players familiar to Royals fans. We’ll begin with Maxim Lamarche, who attended Flyers training camp and has spent portions of the last three seasons in Reading including being the team’s captain during the 15-16 season. The other name that fans should remember from last season is Reece Willcox. The Flyers fifth-round pick back in 2012 played in five games with Reading last season and made an immediate impact on the ice. For anyone looking for Jesper Pettersson’s name on here and wondering where he’s gone. He signed with a team in his home country of Sweden.
Probably the most important position on the team and the Flyers have several young goalies who are going to spend the upcoming season with their respective junior teams. Here are three guys that could be between the pipes for Reading.
Mark Dekanich is the first name to discuss. Royals fans saw a lot of Dekanich last season, appearing in 39 games with Reading while rocking those sweet Royals themed pads from late February onwards. Dekanich will be entering his 10th professional season and would be an excellent veteran leader to have in the locker room.
On to some new players. We’ll begin with John Muse, who is no stranger to the ECHL. The 29-year-old .@SinBwas named the Kelly Cup Playoffs MVP back in 2012 when he helped the Florida Everblades capture the franchise’s first Kelly Cup championship. John signed with the Phantoms back in July and hopes to have a bounce-back season after struggling while in Elmira and Rochester.
The final name we will be looking at is Leland Irving. A former first-round pick by the Calgary Flames spent last season overseas and hopes a return to North America will help him make a return to the NHL. Fun fact: Irving was drafted four spots after Flyers captain Claude Giroux in the 2006 NHL Draft.
While one of these goalies will be backing up Alex Lyon in Lehigh Valley until Anthony Stolarz returns from his torn meniscus, the other two could very well be veteran goalies for the Royals, which could prove to be one of the best tandems in the ECHL.
For anyone wondering what about Martin Ouellette? Ouellette signed an AHL deal with the Charlotte Checkers and will be joining the Carolina Hurricanes organization for the upcoming season. Don’t be surprised if Marty ends up back in the ECHL as a member of the Florida Everblades.