It’s too bad that the NHL doesn’t give out an award for the best second-year player in the league each year. Or the most-improved player in the league.
This season, Flyers winger Joel Farabee would be near the top of the list in both categories.
Picking Up Points
Last year, Farabee had a solid rookie campaign. He put up 8 goals and 21 points in 52 games with Philadelphia while playing just five AHL games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
THAT'S SOME BEAUTIFUL HOCKEY pic.twitter.com/3xFKWdXilV
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 3, 2021
In Tuesday’s 5-2 Flyers loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Farabee was a bright spot. He scored both goals to reach 10 for the year in just 19 games — tied with the resurgent James van Riemsdyk for the team goal-scoring lead. And with nine assists to go along with those goals, the Syracuse, NY native who celebrated his 21st birthday last Thursday is producing at a point-a-game pace.
How impressive is that? Check out these comparables:
— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) March 3, 2021
To put it another way — Farabee did not earn a single Calder Trophy top-five vote last year.
Keeping Pace With Calder Finalists
Here’s a look at how the top five vote-getters are faring so far this season. All are still doing well, but not showing the kind of incremental improvement that the Flyers are getting from Farabee.
- Cale Makar – Colorado – last season 50 points in 57 games (0.88 PPG); this season 14 points in 15 games (0.93 PPG); has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury
- Quinn Hughes – Vancouver – last season 53 points in 53 games (1.00 PPG); this season 22 points in 26 games (0.85 PPG); his minus-15 is second-worst in the league through Tuesday’s games
- Dominik Kubalik – Chicago – last season 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games (0.68 PPG); this season only 8 goals but 18 points in 23 games (0.78 PPG); at 25, he’s much further along his development curve than the other sophomores
- Adam Fox – NY Rangers – last season 42 points in 70 games (0.60 PPG); this season 12 points in 20 games (0.60 PPG); has also seen his ice time increase from 18:54 to 24:50 per game
- Elvis Merzlikins – Columbus – last season a 2.35 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and 5 shutouts in 33 games; this season a 2.81 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and 1 shutout in 9 games; has missed the last five games with an upper-body injury
So, is Farabee’s improvement for real?
Skills Over Size
Coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Farabee was named captain of the U18 team in his draft year. He won a gold medal at the 2017 U18 championship, added a silver in 2018, and went on to pick up another silver at World Juniors in 2019, after he was drafted.
The NHL’s Central Scouting brain trust thought enough of his skating, hockey IQ, and leadership qualities to rank him 12th among North American skaters for the 2018 draft, despite being small by NHL standards. Farabee was listed at 6’0″ and 162 pounds on the 2018 final Central Scouting list, and that hasn’t changed much. The Flyers website shows him at 6’0″ and 164 pounds for this season.
The Flyers drafted Farabee with the 14th selection in 2018, the second first-round pick that then-general manager Ron Hextall acquired from the St. Louis Blues when he dealt away Brayden Schenn at the 2017 draft and subsequently snapped up Morgan Frost.
“When I came to the draft, I wanted to go 14 to Philly,” Farabee said. “I think that’s pretty cool that happened. I really liked their interviews, I talked to them a couple of times. My dad is actually from Philly, so I grew up watching the Flyers. It’s just awesome. I’m a really big Phillies fan. I don’t have any words for it right now. It’s really cool to be part of a great organization.”
From there, Farabee spent a season at Boston University. As a freshman, he led the Terriers with 36 points in 37 games and was named the top rookie in the entire NCAA.
The Flyers used their own 19th pick in 2018 on center Jay O’Brien. He has dealt with some injury issues but is tied for the team lead in scoring himself at B.U. this season.
“He’s a real attention-to-detail player,” said Hextall on draft day, just five months before he was let go by the Flyers. “He’s got speed, he’s got skill, he can score, he’s a good player and he has size in his family, so I still think there’s a chance he can grow.”
As it turns out, Farabee is showing that he’s just the right size to excel in today’s NHL.