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August 22, 2023

Flyers check-in: Oliver Bonk signs entry-level deal, second-rounder comes back from Jay O'Brien miss

The Flyers signed their first-round defenseman of the future and got a second-rounder back from one of the organization's all-time whiffs.

It's August. 

It's hot. 

Those two things are antithetical to ice hockey.

So on that note, let's talk about the Flyers...

Bonk signs

The Flyers signed first-round defenseman Oliver Bonk to his entry-level contract on Monday, which will cover his first three years as a pro when the time comes. 

Selected 22nd overall by the organization back at the draft at the end of June, Bonk is a right-handed shot who plays a two-way style that could see him develop into a future top-four defenseman. 

But that future is more than likely way down the line for the 18-year old. 

He'll definitely return to his junior team – the OHL's London Knights – for this coming season, and could very well be looking at a full two more years of development down in Canadian juniors, but by then he'll be 20 and eligible to jump into the AHL with the Phantoms rather than immediately into the NHL with the Flyers if the former ends up proving as the right first move. 

And remember, too, that the Flyers are in no particular rush right now. The rebuild just got going, Matvei Michkov won't be here for likely three years, and the team will have a couple more drafts to stock up on with until then. 

They got time. 

O'Brien says goodbye

Flipping the page back to an ambitious...let's put it...first-round choice that backfired quickly, Jay O'Brien's draft rights with the Flyers expired early last week, making him a free agent. 

Since he never signed with the organization, and general manager Danny Brière stated outright back in April that they weren't going to, the Flyers were set to receive a compensatory second-round pick in return. However, because those intentions were made known prior to the 2023 draft in June, it wasn't clear at the time whether that pick would apply then or to the year after in 2024. 

But given that the Flyers didn't suddenly have an extra second-rounder to work with down in Nashville, it became obvious that, yeah, that was a 2024 pick, and the official expiration of O'Brien's rights set that in stone. 

O'Brien was taken 19th overall in the 2018 draft – five picks after Joel Farabee at No. 14 – as a high schooler out of Massachusetts' Thayer Academy by the old Ron Hextall regime. 

And almost immediately, his development went backwards.

Through injuries, on-ice struggles, or a mix of both, O'Brien couldn't find a fit in his freshman year at Providence College and fell back into the British Columbia Hockey League (a lower-tier junior league in Canada) for a season before trying the NCAA level again at Boston University. 

He fared much better there, but injuries persisted, and all the while, the Flyers were falling apart above him. Hextall was fired, Chuck Fletcher came in and tried to salvage what Hextall had left the team, did for a bit, then couldn't and also got fired, and now Brière's in charge with eyes fully on the future. 

The team is so far removed now from any vision that included O'Brien, and at the same time, O'Brien never came anywhere close to matching what his part in that vision could've been.

At 23 years old, he still might have an NHL career, but at this point, Flyers fans will only ever associate his name with how bad of a GM Ron Hextall was.

What's up with Frost?

Training camp isn't too far off, yet Morgan Frost is still sitting there as a restricted free agent without a contract. 

Odd for sure, especially since that's the only of the Flyers qualifying offers still left outstanding, but at the same time, it doesn't feel like there's any real sense of urgency. 

Frost put up 19 goals and 46 points last season on the way to a breakout year and becoming one of the Flyers' more effective offensive contributors – granted, that was on a team that lacked offensive punch. 

He struggled to find a role for himself in the early part of the season, but really started picking up from around December on and settled into the top six from there. 

At this point, he's probably not going to become an All-Star playmaker like his 2017 first-round status once had his ceiling as, but he is still just 24 and finally showed signs that he's on to something. 

He's maybe not a piece for the future anymore, but the Flyers definitely don't have anything to lose from seeing what he still might have to offer, or figuring out for sure if what they saw out of him in the back half of last season was sustainable. 

It's hard to imagine it being too expensive to do so either. Frost only made $800K on a one-year "prove it deal" last season, and the trend this summer has been players everywhere taking low-cost, 1-2 year bridge contracts in anticipation of a salary cap hike next year.

Frost definitely falls into that camp of someone who can stand to gain much more after another productive season on another one of those "prove it" deals, so again, odd that he's not signed yet. 

But, again, oddly no real urgency either. 

The general feeling is that Frost will be a Flyer this season. The contract, somehow, someway, will just work itself out.

To the one who coined "The Cookie Monster"

Maybe not directly connected to the Flyers, but then again, if you were a fan growing up in 2007 and frantically searching for every orange and black blog or rumor you could find after school on your LimeWire-bogged PC (why am I getting nostalgic all of a sudden?), then you know that the story of Danny Brière signing with the Flyers that summer isn't complete without all those months of whispers and speculation wondering if he was going to pick "us."

And all that included keeping an eye on that stacked Buffalo Sabres team he was on leading up to his pending free agency, which leads me to the Sabres' longtime play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret. 

Jeanneret, an iconic voice of the game who was a pillar of the Sabres' franchise for decades, passed away last week at 81. It shook the hockey world. 

Brière, having spent the prime of his career in Buffalo, issued a statement through the Flyers after word broke of Jeanneret's passing.

And one of those Flyers fans that was growing up back in 2007, he got nostalgic, and queued up some of those old Brière Sabres highlights – in all of their low-res glory – trying to remember how he felt when he was hoping to all god that in the summer, Brière was going to pick "us."

Brière flew up and down the ice, and scored in bunches. Jeanneret called him "The Cookie Monster," because he had a knack for netting the puck top-shelf. 

That voice, that wit, that creativity, that delivery, that all stuck, even after all these years, and had a reach far greater than just Buffalo as one nostalgic Flyers fan will tell you. And he'll tell you hockey will miss it too, though Buffalo, by far, will miss it the greatest.

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