|Jordan Weal is joining the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on the ice Thursday. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis, Twitter/Facebook
The last time Jordan Weal was playing in the American Hockey League (AHL), he was leading the Los Angeles Kings' then-AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs to a Calder Cup Championship - a playoff run that saw him tally 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 19 games in route to being named the 2015 AHL Playoff MVP.
Since the spring of 2015, however, it's been tough sledding for the 70th overall pick in 2010. Last season, he appeared in a total of just 14 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers despite being healthy for the duration of the year.
On Sunday, the Flyers placed Weal on waivers - the final cut from their training camp roster. Weal cleared waivers and while he was watching Wednesday's practice at the PPL Center, he'll join the team officially at practice Thursday and according to Phantoms' head coach Scott Gordon will play in Saturday's regular season opener against the Springfield Thunderbirds.
"They just wanted me to get back to my game to where I was playing in playoffs there in Manchester - the last time I was really playing full time," Weal said of the message from GM Ron Hextall over the weekend. "They just want me to get back to that stage. I think playing the most hockey I can is going to get me there the quickest."
"I'm gonna get down here, play some games," Weal explained. "It seems like a good crew - a good team this year - so it's going to be a lot of fun. Just have to work hard, get to know the guys and win some hockey games."
Weal's last season in the AHL showed he was an elite offensive player. In fact, he tallied back-to-back point per game seasons in his final two years in the minors before beginning last year in the NHL. Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon is aware of the numbers Weal put up in Manchester and is hoping for a similar outcome while the highly skilled forward is playing in Allentown.
"Obviously, Jordan has had tremendous success at the American League level and he hasn't been able to find his niche in the NHL," Gordon said, adding, "I think with him not playing last year, he's got to be chomping at the bit to get back to playing and being a regular and contributing on a day to day basis. This is obviously a great situation for our team and for him given his talent and the expectations of our team," he added, admitting he doesn't know too much about him as a player other than the numbers he has put up in the AHL and the Calder Cup MVP.
"That's quite an accomplish, and hopefully as a player he makes those same types of contributions [here] as he did in Manchester."
While the Phantoms' top line of Greg Carey, Andy Miele and Chris Conner seems pretty set in stone, Weal could find himself centering the Phantoms' second line with Taylor Leier and Colin McDonald.
"Yeah, it's a good group of guys. Just have to come together here," Weal said after watching the team's practice Wednesday. "Everyone is more successful when the team is successful, so if we can focus on winning and putting up some good points in the standings I think everyone will benefit."
Weal has had a heavy workload so far this season, with several of the Flyers' regular forwards participating in the World Cup of Hockey tournament during NHL training camp. He fared decently well in the Flyers' preseason schedule, appearing in five games.
"That was a start," Weal said, adding, "We only play a couple games to start the year here, but once we get into the real flow of things it will be nice to get back into it."
For those unaware of Weal's skill set and what he brings to this already loaded Phantoms roster, he gave a self-scouting report.
"Try to make guys around me better, ya know? I really try to do that through my work ethic, second efforts on the ice," Weal added. "I just like to work hard and be strong in all three zones while creating offense for the team.
As for Weal's mindset while he's back in the AHL? Pretty typical for any player who's trying to make it to that next level.
"Just continue to try to get better everyday. Hockey is one of those games where there is always something you can work on. I'm just going to try to do that, have fun and enjoy it. I play hockey for a living, so there's obviously a lot worse things I could be doing."
In Case You Missed It
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One of the big takeaways from last weekend's Phantoms preseason games is that the Flyers want Travis Sanheim learning the right side on the blue line this season.
Phantoms forward Greg Carey is looking to bring scoring touch to the team following a 26-goal season with Springfield last year.
Kevin Sundher was reassigned to ECHL Reading along with Chris McCarthy and Steven Swavely, but he's thankful for a second chance in the Phantoms organization after a horrific leg injury last November limited his ability to show what he's truly capable of.
In case you missed it, I launched Highland Park Hockey's YouTube Channel. Make sure you subscribe for tons of exclusive AHL content this season!