Flying Under The Radar

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Knight knows his role with Phantoms well

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

The 2016 offseason was a busy one for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

The goal was to bring in some impact veterans in an attempt to build some much-needed depth in the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization. What general manager Ron Hextall probably didn’t expect is that he immediately turned the Phantoms into what appears to be a serious contender in the AHL landscape.

A lot of the credit has to go to Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon. After a few tough weeks in which he had to do some shuffling to the lineup, he's finally figured out how to get the most out of each of his newcomers.

On offense, Greg Carey, Mark Zengerle and Andy Miele are all performing at a high level. On defense, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill are also producing and stabilizing a young back end.

First-year professionals Radel Fazleev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Travis Sanheim and Reece Willcox are gaining more and more confidence with each passing game.

But there is one name that is flying under the radar. When we look back at the summer of 2016, the most underrated signing could prove to be Corban Knight.

Through  19 games, he's played (& played well) in just about every line/role/position on the Phantoms.

After splitting the 2015-16 campaign between the AHL's Portland Pirates and NHL's Florida Panthers, Knight agreed to an AHL-only deal with the Phantoms on Sept. 1.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound center/winger was a fifth-round selection (135th overall) of the Panthers at the 2009 NHL Draft after a successful four-year career at the University of North Dakota, where he played for current Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol.

Hextall had to have been impressed with Knight's resume. He was an instrumental piece in college, has plenty of experience at the AHL level and has also spent some valuable time in the NHL.

What's not to like?
Knight is a guy who can move up and down the lineup, play either center or wing and kill penalties. Versatility goes a long way.

What Gordon couldn’t have predicted was to have Jordan Weal and Scott Laughton in the fold too. So with a plethora of solid forwards, Knight had to slide down to a bottom-six role. That enables him to play a simple game. He’s not the guy, nor does he try to be.

“I think the depth is definitely the strongpoint of this team," Knight said last week. "You look at our lines from one to four and then all of our D and obviously our goalies, it’s pretty solid from top to bottom. I think that’s huge especially in this league as injuries happen, call-ups happen."

Started From The Bottom

Through his first 14 games of the season, Knight bounced back and forth between the third and fourth lines. The majority of that time he skated with Fazleev, a rookie who can also play center or wing.

There was a real chemistry building between the two. It helps that they have a similar style. Both are known to be reliable two-way players with the ability to kill penalties. Knight's sort of taken Fazleev under his wing. Call it a classic case of showing a kid the ropes.

“I think we’re really starting to build some chemistry off the ice," Knight said of Fazleev. "We’re getting to know each other. We have a good bond there. I think that translates on the ice. I love playing with him. He’s a great kid. We kinda feed off each other.”

It’s easy to forget Knight is just 26 years old. He certainly doesn’t play like it. He’s sound at even strength and a real asset down a man.
Gordon has been impressed with his overall game in the early going.

“Corban Knight was a top offensive player in college,” the Phantoms’ head coach said. “Even though, on our team, he’s playing in a fourth-line role, he’s right up there with minutes because of his ability to kill penalties, play multiple positions. Now, I think he’s got four goals. This early in the year, I don’t know that we had, on our fourth line last year, if we had five goals total for the full year. When you’re getting that kind of production, particularly from the guys you don’t expect it from, that makes your team hard to defend.”

Knight is just one of the many Phantoms stuffing the score sheet in 2016-17. He's already registered four goals and seven points, though he wasn't expected to produce at a high clip when he signed.

There isn't a single unit that is not a threat on any given shift. Everyone is in sync and firing on all cylinders.

“It’s definitely a really nice thing," Knight said of his club's scoring ability. "It takes the pressure off some of the top guys. You can’t score every night. When you’re not scoring, I think we have enough depth on this team where other guys can pick it up. I think that’s a huge key. It helps the guys who are expected to score.”

Knight is perfectly content with his job on this team. In fact, he feels he’s thriving because of the pieces around him. So flying under the radar isn’t a concern. It allows Knight to make plays like he did last Wednesday against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

With the Phantoms down a goal late in the second period, Knight made the smart play to get to the middle of the ice and crash the crease hard on a forecheck.

Danick Martel won a race to the puck in the corner before Fazleev swept in to feed a breaking Knight. Knight deked to his backhand but was stoned on his initial shot attempt. The puck bounced up high, he corralled it and deposited his rebound to tie the game at 1-1.

“It was just a really good forecheck by Martel,” Knight said. “I think he was the first guy on the puck. Then Fazleev had a good forecheck too and made a good pass to me. I was fortunate enough to get a rebound and put it in.”

The Phantoms went on to dispatch the Penguins, 4-1.

So you can really say they are the fortunate ones. Especially if Knight can continue to make an impact on a nightly basis.

Top Line Promotion

When Scott Laughton was recalled to Philadelphia and injuries hit the Phantoms' centers - both Andy Miele and Jordan Weal - it was Corban Knight who found himself starting the third period of Wednesday night's Thanksgiving Eve in Binghamton on the top line.

"I think he's picked up where Scott Laughton was and created chemistry with MacDonald and Leier," Gordon said of Knight's recent play while bumped up to the team's top line. "He's certainly making the most of his opportunity. Because of his versatility of being able to play both wings, wins face-offs and kill penalties, you put him on the ice and you know what you're going to get every shift."

While Knight was stowed away in the bottom six and mainly a depth forward - a role player - for Gordon to start the season, the second year Phantoms' head coach is just starting to see his on-ice value now that the team's depth has been tested.

"He's a guy I didn't know a whole lot about before he came here," Gordon admitted after Friday night's win at home against Binghamton. "I spoke to his coaches and maybe a little bit miscast his first few years pro. He's seemed to find his place as far as what type of player he is and knows what his identity is and he's playing to it."

Weal has already returned to game action for Lehigh Valley and Miele is nearing a return to the lineup this weekend against Hershey, so Knight will likely go back to his bottom-six role. At least now Gordon knows he can be moved up the lineup in a pinch.

Edited by: Tony Androckitis


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