|Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Will O'Neill will be on the other side of the Pennsylvania rivalry this season. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis, Twitter/FaceBook
What a difference a year makes.
Last spring, Will O'Neill was putting together a solid performance in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. O'Neill and the Penguins came up short to rival Hershey in seven games and sent the two-way offensive defenseman into the offseason without a contract for the following season.
While his mindset can remain the same about how he feels about last season's finish with Hershey, O'Neill is going to be on the other side of the Penguins' rivalry with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this fall.
"The Flyers showed interest in the offseason," O'Neill answered when asked about his offseason search. "They're obviously an attractive organization to come to, from upper management all the way down. I'm really excited to be here."
O'Neill's playoff run with the Penguins last spring wasn't his first taste of AHL playoff hockey.
Having spent the first three years of his pro career with the St. John's IceCaps, O'Neill was a part of the 2014 IceCaps squad that defeated the Penguins in the postseason on their way to a Calder Cup Finals loss to the Texas Stars.
The postseason experience will be welcomed in Lehigh Valley for a Phantoms franchise that has missed the Calder Cup Playoffs each of the last seven years as an AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.
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O'Neill faced off against the Phantoms last season a total of 12 times in the regular season and played well in the PPL Center, tallying seven assists in six games against Lehigh Valley in the Phantoms' home rink last year.
"It's a great rink," O'Neill said of the PPL Center. "I've played well in that building and it's a fun place to play in."
He's looking forward to facing the Penguins this year, and it looks like his first opportunity to do so will be on November 16th when the Penguins visit the PPL Center. O'Neill will have to wait, however, to play his first game back in Wilkes-Barre. The Phantoms don't visit the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. until February 4th.
"Anytime the stakes are a little bit higher, it's always a little bit more fun," O'Neill explained, adding, "Playing against St. John's last year when I was in Wilkes-Barre, obviously you get a little more in line that game. A couple buddies on the other team, so you want to make sure you play well and obviously that's one you circle."
O'Neill was an elite defenseman last season with the Penguins, not only representing them at the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic but finishing third among scoring defensemen in the entire American Hockey League (AHL) last season with 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) in 74 games. His addition, combined with the addition of T.J. Brennan and the talented prospects coming up the ranks, makes the Phantoms' projected blue line look very deep.
"It seems like with the prospect of having some of these guys in Allentown it could be another really good season like [last year with the Penguins]," O'Neill said of looking ahead to a potential Phantoms roster. "I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works out here."
In Case You Missed It
The Philadelphia Flyers began their main training camp yesterday, which featured two mixed groups of NHL, AHL and prospect players. Here's an update from Day 1 of camp with thoughts from several expected members of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Slipped through the cracks was news of the Phantoms signing signing former Hartford WolfPack forward Chris McCarthy, a Collegeville, Pa native, to a two-way AHL/ECHL contract for the 2016-17 season to further bolster the Phantoms' depth up front.
The second edition of Tuesday's Talk took a look at the AHL's veteran rule in addition to answering your questions. To submit your questions for next week's edition of Tuesday's Talk, you can simply leave your question in the comments section of this or any article on the website. You can also ask your questions via FaceBook or Twitter (links are in the byline of this article).
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