5 reasons why all 3 rookie defensemen should make the Flyers

5 reasons why all 3 rookie defensemen should make the Flyers

You can safely remove the training wheels now. 

It’s time to ride with three rookies on the Flyers' blue line to begin the season. Sure, they may lose their balance and scrape up their knees along the way, but that’s to be expected. 

Few defensemen have made the smooth and seamless transition to the NHL in their first year without hitting a pothole and flying over the handlebars. Even Ivan Provorov had his wipeout moment in a minus-5 game against the Blackhawks in Chicago last season.

The expectation coming into camp was that two of the three young defensemen would separate themselves from the other guy, but collectively, the open competition has been beneficial and you can make a solid case for either Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg to make this team.

Although general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol are probably very hesitant to begin the season with three rookies on defense, here’s why they shouldn’t:
1. The rookies' ability to bounce back
It’s crucial, if not vital, to have a short-term memory. Make a mistake and move on. One of the most impressive aspects of Sanheim’s camp was the manner in which he handled adversity early on. After a lackluster preseason opener at Nassau Coliseum, Sanheim didn’t beat himself up as he was “demoted” to the Phantoms' practice squad. In a matter of days, the 21-year-old displayed the necessary maturity and work ethic, which left Hakstol impressed.

“Sometimes you learn as much about a player and where he’s at coming off a night like that,” Hakstol said.

Sanheim quickly worked his way back into the main group after stringing together solid back-to-back games. Hagg had a slow start to the game at Madison Square Garden Monday night, but he kept his composure and turned in a solid effort over the final 50 minutes. Part of the seasoning process is escaping those moments that can potentially linger. When playing three games over three consecutive days at the AHL level, you’re forced to move on to the next shift and the next game very quickly.

2. They don't have to play every game
It’s a balancing act. You don’t want your young promising talent to sit for an extended period of time, but as part of the process, there’s a benefit to having a rookie take a step back and assess the situation from a different vantage point.

A coaching staff usually has a sense of when a young player needs to regroup coming off a tough game or tough stretch of games. Watching from the press box for a game or two can help a player gain a much different perspective. The 82-game schedule is a grind and when Shayne Gostisbehere was a healthy scratch, justified or not, for three games last season, he reverted back to the type of assertive offensive defenseman he was during his rookie season, and "Ghost" responded with 17 points in his last 27 games while firing shots more frequently.     

3. What's the alternative?
Are the Flyers considerably better with Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning in the lineup? The Flyers thought so much of MacDonald that they stashed him in the minors in 2015-16, as he played just 28 games at the NHL level that season. He was left exposed during the expansion draft and Vegas elected to go with fourth-line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare instead. Both MacDonald and Manning are serviceable defensemen, but on many teams, they are probably that team’s sixth or seventh option.

Since 2011-12, the Flyers have finished 20th, 22nd, 20th, 21st, 12th (Hakstol’s first season) and 19th in goals allowed. Whether that’s a product of poor goaltending, overall defense or a combination of the two, stopping the opponent from scoring has proven to be a real weakness, even with a veteran lineup. 

4. The future begins now
If the Flyers were one or two pieces away from Stanley Cup contention, then it would make perfect sense to be a little more selective on how you work in young players into your lineup. I’ll contend with Hextall’s assertion that the organization isn’t in a rebuilding phase, but it's undoubtedly in a transitional period. The Flyers are seriously looking at starting a pair of rookie forwards (Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom) in their top six.

Teams vying for championships aren’t making those roster decisions. The Flyers' franchise goaltender appears to be a good two to three years away as well. Once Carter Hart, Felix Sandstrom or whoever it is makes that jump to the NHL, wouldn’t you prefer to have veteran defensemen with several years of NHL experience in front of them to ease the pressure that might come with a first-year player in net?

5. Injuries will lead to the inevitable
Even if the Flyers start with a combination of Morin and Sanheim or Morin and Hagg, it’s only a matter of time before all three will be playing here at some point. How long before the Flyers lose a defenseman to injury and the team is forced to recall a replacement from Lehigh Valley?

Over the past five years, the Flyers have utilized on average 10 different defensemen throughout the course of the season, whether it's been the result of injuries or trades completed near the deadline. The one quirk with bringing up a defenseman from Lehigh Valley is that the player you call up will likely serve as the team’s seventh defenseman and probably wouldn’t play right away, which would seem counterproductive.

In that event, if Hextall elects to recall T.J. Brennan or Mark Alt, then what message does that send to one of those three guys (Morin/Sanheim/Hagg), who are currently on the fringe and capable of making the Flyers' opening night roster?

Here’s how I’d pair the rookies going into the regular season from what I’ve seen so far.

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Sam Morin-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Andrew MacDonald

Flyers call up Danick Martel, Samuel Morin

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Flyers call up Danick Martel, Samuel Morin

Mired in a five-game losing streak and in last place in the Metropolitan Division, the Flyers on Wednesday recalled defenseman Samuel Morin and forward Danick Martel from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Both players are expected to be in the lineup Wednesday against the Islanders in New York. In corresponding moves, the Flyers sent forward Matt Read, who cleared waivers Tuesday, and defenseman Mark Alt to the Phantoms.

The 22-year-old Martel has been on fire with the Phantoms. He leads the AHL with 14 goals in 17 games this season, including a hat trick in the season opener to go along with a six-game scoring streak.

“He’s taken a step this year, for sure,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Tuesday. “He’s been a good player the last couple of years, but this year, he’s clearly taken a step. He’s a dangerous player when he’s on the ice. That’s a good thing. One game in Hershey he must have had six or seven chances. We’re happy with Danick.”

Morin started the season on the Flyers' roster and remained through their four-game road trip. He suffered an injury in an Oct. 28th game against Hartford and tried to play through it in the event he would be called up to rejoin the Flyers. Morin returned to the Phantoms' lineup last week.

“Mark has played well for us,” Hextall said before Tuesday's 5-2 loss to Vancouver. “We like Sam. We kept him on the opening road trip. People, I hope, know what we think of him. He certainly knows what we think of him and right now, he’s playing 20-plus minutes. That’s where he’s at.”

Wednesday’s game at the Barclays Center could mark the first time the Flyers have played much-heralded defensive prospects Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Morin in the same regular season game.

“It’s certainly not a perfect world, but as you get injured, you say, we don’t live in a perfect world,” Hextall said. “Is it necessarily what we want? No, not really. We’ve got five young guys, two last year that are pretty big pieces. We’re pretty young right now with some pretty important players. In saying that if a young guy’s ready to play and he’s our best option then that’s what we’re going to go with.”

Best of NHL: Vladimir Tarasenko records 4 points as Blues rip Oilers

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Best of NHL: Vladimir Tarasenko records 4 points as Blues rip Oilers

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko had two goals and two assists and got in a rare fight Tuesday night, helping the St. Louis Blues to an 8-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.

Brayden Schenn also had two goals and two assists, and Jake Allen stopped 26 shots for the NHL-leading Blues.

Tarasenko's fight came in the second period. In just the third scrap of his six-year career, Tarasenko tangled with Matt Benning and landed a solid right hand much to the crowd's delight.

Tarasenko was reacting to Benning's near-collision with Schenn that was almost a knee-on-knee hit.

It was Tarasenko's second career Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. The other one came on Nov. 13, 2014, against Nashville.

St. Louis (16-5-1) scored two goals in each of the first two periods before adding four in a wide-open third.

Tarasenko got his 11th goal 3:16 into the first period on two deflections. Shooting from the slot, he scored when his shot hit Connor McDavid's stick and then Adam Larsson's stick for a 1-0 lead.

Tarasenko has 14 points in his last 13 games (nine goals, five assists) against the Oilers (see full recap).

Stars rally for home win over Canadiens
DALLAS -- Devin Shore and Jason Spezza scored 59 seconds apart late in the second period to lift the Dallas Stars over the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Shore had no goals in the first 19 games this season, but scored for the second straight game to tie it 1-all at 18:22 of the second. Spezza, who also has scored in consecutive games after netting only one goal in the first 19, put in a rebound just less than a minute later.

Shore had an assist on Spezza's goal. So did Tyler Seguin, who scored into an empty net with 27 seconds to play.

Ben Bishop made 29 saves for Dallas on his 31st birthday. He allowed only a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher at 12:04 of the second. Gallagher scored on a rebound after Charles Hudon sent a slap shot from the blue line.

After that, the Stars killed off all three Montreal power plays in the third period.

Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren had 26 saves.

Neither team scored in the first period. The best chance came with 2:15 remaining, when Mattias Janmark skated in alone on Lindgren, who stopped the shot with his glove and smothered the puck on the ice.

Montreal had a 4-on-3 power play to end the first period and start the second. The Stars killed off that penalty and finished 4 for 5 on the penalty kill.

The Canadiens had a scoring chance 4 minutes into the second when Brandon Davidson's wrist shot trickled past Bishop. Gemel Smith knocked the loose puck out of the crease for the Stars.

Gallagher had two close-in chances on rebounds after Hudon's shot and poked the second into the net for the game's first goal (see full recap).