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Meltzer's Musings: Akeson Advances, Remembering Roscoe

May 6, 2014, 7:40 AM ET [761 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Akeson Advances His Cause

Players like Flyers forward Jason Akeson often find themselves battling uphill to reach the National Hockey League and having to work even harder to stay there. Akeson has led the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms in scoring in each of the last three seasons. Originally an undrafted free agent signed in 2011, Akeson has demonstrated that he has NHL caliber offensive skills.

The hard part: Akeson needs to produce points at a regular clip in order to hold down an NHL job. Otherwise, the deck is stacked against him.

Strike one: He is undersized at a generously listed 5-foot-10.

Strike two: Unlike most of the smaller players who make it to the NHL, Akeson is an average-at-best skater. He is shifty but lacks pure speed.

Potential strike three: He has often been viewed as too one-dimensional; a good AHL-level offensive performer who is weak on the defensive side of the puck.

These are the reasons why Akeson has had difficulty earning callups to the NHL and also why he was briefly demoted to the ECHL early during the 2012-13 season. To his credit, however, Akeson has kept working to prove he deserves a chance to play for the Flyers.

Akeson made his NHL debut in the final game of the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, scoring a goal in front of friends and family in his hometown of Ottawa. This season, he once again dressed in the Flyers regular season finale, recording an assist in a home shootout loss to Carolina.

Most notably, Flyers coach Craig Berube demonstrated faith in Akeson by dressing him in all seven games of the team's first round playoff series against the New York Rangers. He played on the third line, along with Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

The coach stuck with Akeson after a Game One double minor for high sticking led to New York scoring twice on the power play to turn a 1-1 tie in the third period to a commanding lead. Akeson rewarded Berube and the Flyers by going on to post three points over the remainder of the series. He scored a power play goal in Game Two, set up a Matt Read goal in Game Four and gave Philly some hope with an early third period goal in Game Seven that cut a 2-0 deficit in half.

In a series in which the Flyers had difficulty getting shots through the Blueshirts' wall of shot blockers, Akeson registered 11 shots on goal over the course of the series. Although defensive play will never be his forte, he added a nice dimension to the Couturier line. Akeson also seemed to get under the skin of New York players at times during the series.

Akeson's playoff performance improved his chances of earning an NHL roster spot next season. He will get a long look at camp. However, nothing is set in stone.

Over the course of Flyers history, there have been quite a few players who have come up from the minor leagues to play extensively in the postseason only to find themselves back in the AHL the next year.

One of the most prominent example is former Phantoms coach Joe Paterson. A surprise scoring star during the Flyers run to the 1985 Stanley Cup Finals, Paterson dressed in just six NHL regular season games for Mike Keenan's team but then played in 17 playoff games. In the playoff semifinals, Paterson notched three goals and three assists in the team's series against the Quebec Nordiques. He then dressed in all five Stanley Cup Final games against the eventual champion Edmonton Oilers. The next year, Paterson was back in the minors. He appeared in just five more games with the Flyers.

In 2012, checking forward Eric Wellwood dressed in every playoff game for the Flyers after spending the last quarter of the regular season with the big club. The next year, even before suffering a career-threatening leg tendon injury, Wellwood worked his way out of the NHL mix.

If Akeson is to avoid a similar plight and stay in the Flyers' lineup, he will need to have a strong training camp and then continue to produce points on a regular basis on a regular basis. With an offensive specialist like Akeson, even a few consecutive off games is frequently enough to be dispatched to the healthy scratch list or to get returned to the AHL. It's also worth noting that, now that his entry level contract has expired, Akeson would have to clear waivers to be sent to the Phantoms next season.

I spoke with two NHL pro scouts to get their views on Akeson, and whether they think he has what it takes to become a full-time player at the top level.

"Akeson has NHL hands and vision," said one scout, "but he has AHL game without the puck and AHL strength. His feet, strength and play without the puck all need to improve for him to remain and have impact in the NHL."

Said the other scout, "I have to be honest. I would not have thought he would have made it far as he has. He's not a star. He's a role player whose role is score, and that's tough to do at [the NHL] level. What I will say is that he has some offensive skills that can't be taught and he's gotten better in other areas. He still needs to improve away from the puck and to keep his compete level up where has in the NHL games he's played. If he does that, he's got a chance."

Akeson is a restricted free agent this summer. Per Capgeek.com, his entry level deal paid him $65,000 at the AHL level this season plus a $90,000 installment of his original $270,000 signing bonus. He only spent the final weekend of the regular season on the NHL roster but had he spent the full year in the NHL, he'd have made a $740,000 base salary and have been eligible for up to $160,000 in performance bonuses.

The negotiation for Akeson's second contract should be a relatively straightforward one after the Flyers make their qualifying offer. The player stands to make considerably more in real-dollar money in his new deal, so I would not expect his negotiated NHL cap hit to move much. The main issue will be whether he gets a one-way or two-way contract.

In similar negotiations around the NHL, the two sides ultimately agree to a two-year deal, with a two-way pay schedule in year one and a one-way salary in the second year. Regardless of contract terms, Akeson will get his chance come training camp to show the Flyers that he belongs in the NHL.


Remembering Roscoe

One of the most underrated members of the Broad Street Bully era Philadelphia Flyers was second line left winger Ross Lonsberry. A smart, tough two-way forward who fit perfectly in Fred Shero's system, Lonsberry was the sort of player whose value to the team transcended his statistical output. He could play in all situations and could be relied upon to never get outworked.

Nicknamed "Roscoe" and "Rabbit" by his Flyers teammates, Lonsberry was a mainstay on a line with Rick MacLeish and Gary Dornhoefer when the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups and made three straight trips to the Finals between 1973-74 and 1975-76. He had his career-best offensive year in 1973-74, notching 32 goals and 51 points during the regular season and then posting 13 points in 17 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup.

The Flyers acquired Lonsberry from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28, 1972 in a multi-player deal that also sent Bill Flett, Jean Potvin and Ed Joyal to Philly in exchange for Serge Bernier, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Lesuk. As was often the case with trades made by Keith "the Thief" Allen, the deal provided strong value to the Flyers.

After spending six-and-a-half seasons with the Flyers, Lonsberry was traded to Pittsburgh along with Orest Kindrachuk and Tom Bladon in 1978 in exchange for the first-round draft pick the team used in order to select defenseman Behn Wilson. Lonsberry played the final three seasons of his career with the Penguins before retiring. He finished his career with 968 regular season games played plus 100 playoff tilts.

During his early playing days, Lonsberry was perhaps best known for being one of the few helmeted players on the ice. He wore the bucket more to avoid the risk of losing his toupee than to protect his skull. Once his playing days were over, Lonsberry stopped wearing the wig. The Saskatchewan native settled permanently in Los Angeles.

Off the ice, Lonsberry was known for being a no-frills and honest man with strong opinions. A battler away from the game as well as on the ice, Lonsberry was in ill health form much of the latter part of his life. He waged two lengthy battles with cancer and continued to enjoy life to the best of his ability.

Lonsberry passed away on Sunday at the age of 67. He will be missed.

For more on the life and times of Ross Lonsberry, read the excellent pieces written by Jay Greenberg for the Flyers official Web site and by Randy Miller for NJ.com.
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