The Flyers called up Tyrell Goulbourne last week, and it took just one look at social media to see the divided reaction of the fanbase.
There were some that were happy for him, but many others were either confused or frustrated over GM Ron Hextall’s decision.
All of those reactions were understandable. At the time, the Flyers had just come off a 5-1 loss to the Penguins – one where they fell completely flat.
Afterward, Hextall expressed a need for energy when discussing Goulbourne’s call up. However, the energy argument is one that has increasingly fallen out of favor with the larger community of hockey fans, as advanced stats and player evaluations have shifted the focus more towards overall production.
Goulbourne, a 2013 third-round draft pick, has 10 points in 34 games as a bottom-six forward with the Phantoms this season, and spent the bulk of last season in the ECHL.
Combining that with a list of more attractive call up options (both statistically and reputation-wise) and a string of cancelled flights (one due to a frozen toilet?) that led to Goulbourne missing last Thursday’s 6-4 win over the Islanders – where the team looked much more alive anyway – didn’t make the situation surrounding the 23-year old prospect’s NHL debut look any better.
At this point, Goulbourne isn’t expected to become an NHL star, and in fairness, he never really had that type of ceiling even when he was drafted. He’s physical. He’s gritty. He’s a role player.
Still, on Saturday, Goulbourne played against the St. Louis Blues, and he made an immediate impact. First, by delivering a hard check along the boards to Jay Bouwmeester, and then by connecting on another hit that sent captain Alex Pietrangelo to the ice and led directly to Scott Laughton’s first period goal.
Goulbourne saw limited ice time the rest of the way – 5:23 against the Blues and 5:45 the next day against the Sabres – but when he was out there, it was noticeable. No. 56 could easily be seen skating hard, finishing checks, and generally making life miserable for the other team. Nothing flashy, but certainly admirable.
He isn’t going to rack up points, and he isn’t going to make highlight reel plays night in and night out like Flyers fans are hoping for out of the organization’s higher profile forward prospects.
Instead, Goulbourne found his own path to the NHL, and whether fans believed his presence was what the Flyers needed at the time or not, he made it… for two games at least. For that, we should at least be happy for him.