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.”