Flyers Young Defense Shaping up for Next Season

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For years people have raved about how deep the Flyers prospect pipeline is and we are finally at the point where these players are being given a shot to prove themselves. Ron Hextall definitely left the Flyers with cupboards full before being fired, but his plan needed to be accelerated. Enter Chuck Fletcher.

It didn’t long for Fletcher to do what Hextall should have done. The first item: firing Dave Hakstol.

It took him two weeks until he had seen enough, and decided to fire Hakstol and make Scott Gordon the interim head coach. Gordon did a great job with the Phantoms and had a lot of time to study now-roster players like Oskar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim, Scott Laughton and Philippe Myers. However, one thing getting in the way of Myers was the logjam of defensemen on the Flyers’ roster, a problem that was solved on February 9th after Christian Folin and Dale Weise were dealt to Montreal.

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With the defense corps finally shaping up, it was Gordon’s turn to play them correctly. He did not hesitate to scratch Andrew MacDonald or give him very limited ice time while increasing Sanheim’s role, which, to nobody’s surprise, is paying off in a huge way. Here is a comparison of the time on ice given under Hakstol vs Gordon.

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What really stands out here?

For starters, the decrease of MacDonald’s overall ice time and presence on the ice have dropped massively and Sanheim has been given over five extra minutes a night on average and it’s been really showing on the stat sheet. He has six goals and 15 assists in 37 games, he only had three goals and six assists in the 30 games prior to Gordon being named interim head coach.

As for Provorov, he has been looking more and more like himself, skating with the puck confidently, making crisp passes and just being solid overall. He still has some defensive zone issues, but those are normal occurrences in a young players game. It is sometimes very easy to forget that Provorov just turned 22 years old and that mistakes are going to happen. He is already seventh among NHL defensemen in average TOI per game, has seven points in his last 12 games and will probably end the season with 30 points.

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Another good thing to see is the increased ice time for Gudas and the decrease in Hagg’s. While they are often paired together, Gudas proves to be a much better overall defender than Hagg, despite the backlash he receives for his reckless play. Once the Flyers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, we will most likely see Hagg subbed out so Samuel Morin can get a look.

Not on this list is Phil Myers, the undrafted right-hand shot defenseman from the QMJHL, who is rapidly evolving into an NHL regular. How? It’s quite simple: He is that good.

Myers dominated the AHL, often looking like a man amongst boys. He is an aggressive defender that skates extremely well for his size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds). He has been very impressive in his short tenure with the Flyers, breaking up plays, making great outlet passes, jumping into the play. He is everything the Flyers hoped he would be and just recently ripped home his first career NHL goal.

 

 

There are several examples of Myers’ excellent abilities. He carries the puck with confidence and has shown very few cracks in his game.

What could we see in 2019-20?

If we’re lucky enough, the first thing we will see is MacDonald be bought out. That buyout will provide a gap for what should be a veteran UFA. An aggressive approach would be going after Erik Karlsson, but that could hurt the team in the long run since Karlsson will likely ask for a long term and a sizeable cap hit going north of 10M a season.

Other UFA options could be Anton Stralman or Alex Edler. If Fletcher isn’t interested in the market, he always has assets to trade for a legit top-4 defenseman. One player that could definitely be moved is Hagg if Morin is good to go. Oh, and let’s be clear: Shayne Gostisbehere is not going anywhere.

Gostisbehere, Sanheim, Myers, and Gudas will all be in the lineup. Here is what we could be looking at:

Provorov – UFA

Sanheim – Myers

Gostisbehere – Gudas

Morin

There are certainly a lot of “If’s” here, but this offseason will be interesting for Fletcher. As I stated previously, he has the resources and the cap space to make a splash this summer and if he doesn’t, it could be a missed opportunity for the Flyers organization, but I highly doubt Dave Scott is going to let that happen. The future is now. This could be the defense corps that leads the Flyers to a Stanley Cup in a few years.

 

Photos by Kate Frese

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