Flyers

After AHL season, Travis Sanheim knows how his offense will come with Flyers

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After AHL season, Travis Sanheim knows how his offense will come with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Travis Sanheim has solidified his place in the Flyers’ lineup. Now the rookie defenseman is looking for his first NHL goal — and he’s getting warmer.

Sanheim had multiple opportunities to light the lamp during the Flyers’ 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday (see observations). The puck just wouldn’t go in the net for the 21-year-old, who was credited with three shots in the contest.

Yet, while Sanheim’s efforts didn’t result in a point on the scoreboard, they did not go unnoticed.

“In the first 20, 25 minutes of the game, he created three opportunities with his skating ability and his thought process coming up ice from behind,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday following an abbreviated practice. “He’s effective when he’s doing that.”

Sanheim is now 13 games into his NHL career, and Thursday marked his 10th in a row. He’s become a fixture on the ice for the Flyers after being forced to spectate from the press box on several occasions in the early stages of the season.

Despite a reputation as a two-way defender, Sanehim’s increased presence has not resulted in a great deal of scoring — only a pair of assists so far.

“The first one will come,” Hakstol said. “I don’t think that’s a concern for anybody.

“He’s working on his game. He’s working to improve the details and the defensive aspect of his game, and as importantly, he’s staying confident getting up ice and in his play with the puck.”

Sanheim found the back of the net 10 times with 27 helpers for the Phantoms in 2016-17, and posted back-to-back 15-goal/50-assist seasons at the junior level prior to his stint in the AHL. Scoring has always been a part of his game.

That’s also not necessarily what the Flyers need from Sanheim right now. First and foremost, they want him to be sound in his own end.

“We’ve got a ton of skilled guys here and guys that can produce offensively,” Sanheim said. “I want to prove to them that I can play that two-way game, and one thing they’ve tried to get on me is, ‘Good defense leads to offense.’ That’s something I’m trying to focus on right now.”

Cliché though it might sound, Sanheim is a believer in the philosophy.

“Last year, where I shot it the most was early on,” Sanheim said. “I was trying to push offense, and we really tried to focus on the defense.

“The funny thing is when I started to focus more on the defense is when my offense actually started to take off. I believe the saying and that’s something I try to take into this season.”

To his credit, Sanheim has been solid defensively. Along the way in his development, there were concerns the young blueliner was maybe too offensive-minded, to his own detriment and that of the team.

That hasn’t been the case as Sanheim has found his footing in the NHL. Since becoming a mainstay in the lineup, he’s been an acceptable minus-2 at even strength.

Hakstol praised the way Sanheim has approached the game on offense.

“For the most part, the offensive opportunities that he creates, they’re opportunities by supporting the play, by using his skating ability to join a rush and come in from behind,” Hakstol said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of risk offensively to his game, and certainly haven’t seen him trying to force any of the offensive opportunities.”

Sanheim has a long way to go, but there have been flashes of brilliance in his play at both ends of the ice.

“There’s still going to be learning experiences,” Sanheim said. “I’m still going to make mistakes and have to learn from them, but I’m just trying to get better every day and try to make those mistakes as few as possible.

“Last year, it took me quite awhile. I think there were quite a few bad habits from playing junior. This year, with playing that year of pro, it’s moved the process along a little faster.”

As for that first goal, Sanheim doesn’t sound too worried about it, either.

“If I wasn’t getting the chances, I’d be a little more frustrated,” Sanheim said. “I’m getting the looks, and hopefully it starts to go in for me.”

Future Flyers Report: Is it time for Samuel Morin, Mike Vecchione call-ups?

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USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Is it time for Samuel Morin, Mike Vecchione call-ups?

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Samuel Morin, D, 21, 6-7/202, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
After Radko Gudas was slapped with a 10-game suspension Sunday, many pointed to Morin as a call-up option to replace Gudas. Here's why that won't happen.

Morin returned just last week after missing a few weeks with an injury. That's one reason. Another is, Andrew MacDonald is nearing a return from his lower-body injury. He could return as early as Tuesday. Mark Alt has played adequately, and if MacDonald is ready to return, the Flyers would need an extra body, not a regular on the blue line.

The Flyers are not going to have Morin sit in the press box. That much is clear. When MacDonald suffered his injury, the Flyers wanted to call Morin up. They announced it but later found Morin was injured himself. Hence the Alt call-up. Tough luck for Morin.

Many believed Morin showed enough to make the Flyers in the preseason. I was among them. I still would like to see the Flyers have Morin with Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim here. But the Flyers were and are not comfortable with three rookies on defense, and the blue line hasn't been the team's wart.

So Morin will have to stay patient for his opportunity. It will come. Unfortunately, Morin's best route to the NHL this season is a long-term injury to a defenseman already here.

As for what Morin did last week. Morin returned Wednesday and had a rough showing in the Phantoms' 6-2 loss to Belleville. But it wasn't a strong game for any Phantom. On Friday night, Morin had an assist and a fight in Lehigh Valley's 5-2 win over Laval.

Mike Vecchione, C, 24, 5-10/194, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
As the Flyers’ scoring woes outside of their top line continue, the noise for shaking up the roster will continue to get louder and louder, and rightfully so. Many are calling for Danick Martel, who is scoring at a ridiculous clip with the Phantoms. But the more realistic call-up is Vecchione, who had yet another big week as he's banging on the NHL's doorstep.

Vecchione had a pair of two-goal games, including a three-point night, in two games. He accounted for both goals Wednesday in the Phantoms’ 6-2 loss to Belleville and then three points in Friday’s 5-2 win over Laval. After collecting five points in two games last week, Vecchione now leads AHL rookies with 18 points. He ranks second on the Phantoms in goals (6), assists (12), points (18) and points-per-game (1.06).

Now comes the question: Could we see Vecchione in a Flyers uniform soon? It’s a fair question to ask, especially considering the Flyers’ scoring imbalance. I’d like to see Vecchione come up because I think he would be an instant upgrade over Dale Weise, a Ron Hextall signing and a player the Flyers continue to put in a top-nine role.

Vecchione is producing at the AHL level, and he appears physically ready for the NHL too. At some point, the Flyers have to try something. It's still early in the season, but there are enough warning signs that this scoring imbalance could be a problem all year long. Vecchione is an in-house option that could provide an offensive spark to this team.

I doubt we'll see Vecchione get a call-up anytime soon, though. The Flyers are committed to Weise. They have Jori Lehtera and Matt Read in the press box. It doesn't seem like they're open to bringing Vecchione, or anyone else, up yet. That could change soon.

It should.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Bunnaman’s four-game goal streak ended last Tuesday, but it was still a productive week for the Rangers’ captain. Bunnaman recorded three goals and three assists in a four-game week. He had a tally in Kitchener’s 7-5 win Friday over Guelph, scored the game-winner and added an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Barrie and then a goal and an assist Sunday in a 4-1 win over Peterborough.

Bunnaman, in his fourth OHL season, leads the Rangers with 14 goals and ranks second with 20 points. During his current 10-game point binge, Bunnaman has nine goals and 12 points, failing to register a point in just one game.

Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
Salinitri continued to ride an offensive wave last week for the Sting, collecting his first hat trick of the season while his point streak reached four games before ending Sunday.

On Friday night, Salinitri led Sarnia to a 6-3 win over Windsor with his first hat trick of the season and his third of his OHL career. He scored the game’s first goal, broke a 2-2 tie and then scored the game-winner. All three of his goals had an impact. Salinitri had an assist Thursday in Sarnia’s 5-3 loss to Flint. During his four-game point streak, Salinitri had six goals and eight points. He has 23 points in 23 games this season.

Quick Hits
Cooper Marody had two more multi-point games for Michigan. Marody now has eight straight multi-point games, compiling 19 points over that span.

• A big week for Carter Hart, who recorded his 21st career WHL shutout last Wednesday, tying him with Leland Irving for Everett’s franchise record.

Hart’s shutout last week was also his second straight. He then turned in a 31-save performance in a win over Seattle. Then on Sunday, Hart stopped 48 shots in a 2-1 loss to Regina.

Wade Allison had an assist Friday and a two-goals Saturday as No. 15 Western Michigan swept UNO. He has 12 goals and 29 points so far in his sophomore season.

Philippe Myers returned last week after missing four games with a groin injury. Myers had an assist Saturday in the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Laval.

• Hamilton’s Matthew Strome is heating up. Strome had three goals, including a two-goal game, and four points in three games. He currently has a seven-game point streak, recording six goals and 13 points during that span. 

Wyatt Kalynuk had a four-assist weekend, including a three-assist game for No. 6 Wisconsin, who beat No. 17 Michigan, 7-3, Friday and tied Michigan, 4-4, Saturday.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa had an assist Friday and a goal Saturday. Amorosa has four goals and 13 points 14 games into his senior season.

Radko Gudas suspended 10 games for slash to Mathieu Perreault

Radko Gudas suspended 10 games for slash to Mathieu Perreault

Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas was suspended 10 games Sunday night by the NHL's department of player safety for his slashing penalty to the back of the neck of Jets forward Mathieu Perreault.​

The incident occurred 9:50 in the first period of the Winnipeg game that saw Gudas receive a five-minute major and a 10-game misconduct as a result of the play.

Gudas has already served one game of that suspension, as he sat out Saturday’s home game against the Calgary Flames awaiting Sunday morning’s phone hearing.

Gudas will forfeit just over $408,000 as a result of his actions. The Flyers defenseman won’t be eligible to return to the lineup until Dec. 12 when the Flyers host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This marks the longest suspension of Gudas’ career. He was slapped with a six-game suspension for his blow to Bruins forward Austin Czarnik in a 2016 preseason game. His first suspension in a Flyers sweater came back on Dec. 2, 2015, when he received three games for an illegal check to the head of Senators center Mika Zibanejad.

The suspension may ultimately help Gudas, who has appeared to be favoring his shoulder in recent games, limiting his ability to deliver his typical bone-jarring hits.