Flyers

After battling himself, Shayne Gostisbehere grasps mental side of NHL

After battling himself, Shayne Gostisbehere grasps mental side of NHL

Shayne Gostisbehere wasn't up against anything physical.

He didn't fight injuries or lingering effects from offseason hip/abdominal surgeries.

In reality, he fought himself.

Gostisbehere entered his sophomore season with expectations that were "probably not fair," according to general manager Ron Hextall in early February. That was because the precocious defenseman spoiled fans with a nearly unblemished rookie performance, finishing second in the 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy race.

He spoiled fans with history and heroics. His offense and ability at the point were captivating.

"My rookie season was sort of a dream season for anyone," Gostisbehere said.

Then came Year 2.

Gostisbehere was benched a total of fives times. Playing in 12 more games than his first year, he scored 10 fewer goals. He went from a plus-8 to a minus-21.

At Flyers cleanout day last Tuesday, Gostisbehere refused to make excuses.

"My hip didn't bother me once this season," he said. "I haven't gotten treatment on it once this year. I took care of it, did what I had to do. It's definitely a tough pill to swallow this season. Obviously, it wasn't the season I wanted but I learned a lot about myself, not only as a player on the ice but off the ice, too, just getting through hard times."

When asked about his hip again, Gostisebehere expanded with some conviction. He opened up about the mental aspect of the game and all that comes with it. This season, it was his biggest hurdle.

"I know you guys want me to admit it's my surgeries, my injuries, but it's honestly not," he said. "You can tell who doesn't have confidence on the ice when they have the puck -- you can tell. If it's a guy who's bringing it up and he's looking everywhere and he doesn't have confidence, then you can tell it's confidence. 

"I make plays on the blue line, there are plays that I have to do quick, I have to react and I have to have the confidence to do them. I can't do them if I'm thinking like, 'Oh, what if his stick goes there,' I can't. You just have to have a free mind and you have to go out there and play and let your abilities take over. That's what I was learning more and more as the season went on, realizing I had the skills, I just have to trust my abilities."

When Gostisbehere was benched three straight games in early February, he vowed to focus on defensive principles. But Gostisbehere's offense is what totally changes a game. It's what put the Flyers over the top and into the playoffs last season.

In his first 40 games of 2015-16, he started fast and never stopped, erupting for 34 points on 12 goals and 22 assists. This season, Gostisbehere had 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) through 44 games -- a true confidence blow for a 23-year-old.

"I wasn't questioning myself, I honestly thought, 'I'm hitting a lot of posts here, some things aren't going in,'" he said. "My confidence on the ice comes through my offensive ability, when I make plays, when I jump up there and make a good breakout pass. I like blocking a shot every once in a while, but the offensive part of my game is what drives my confidence and when I don't see pucks going in the net or offense isn't there, it's hard for me to stick with it and it's something I just have to realize."

Gostisbehere rediscovered himself by being himself.

"It's pretty cliché but I just said I'm going to go out there and have fun. I'm going to make plays and I don't care if I get yelled at," he said with a smile, "but I'm going to play my game and make my plays. People can look at is as risky but most of the time it works out for me."

Playing stress-free, Gostisebehere finished the season with eight points (one goal, seven assists) over his last eight games, a stretch in which he was a plus-3. In his final 24 games, he recorded 17 points.

To set up a Wayne Simmonds goal in the season finale, Gostisbehere made a play at the blue line that was reminiscent of the rookie "Ghost."

"I'm definitely going to take pride in that," Gostisbehere said of his positive finish. "In January, not being where I wanted to be as a player, obviously I went through a tough patch there, a healthy scratch for three games in a row and it was a good reflection period. Valuable workdays and practice days for myself. I think I really just learned a lot about myself."

Gostisbehere, who turns 24 years old on Thursday, can become a restricted free agent this offseason. The Flyers will undoubtedly get something done.

"Free agency, I can't answer that question right now," Hextall said last Thursday. "We've got the expansion draft, we've got preparation, we've got to sign a goalie, we've got Ghost to sign."

After that, Gostisbehere will be ready for anything in Year 3. He'll also use his experiences to help the Flyers' new youth on the blue line.

"If they want to bounce some ideas off me," he said, "I'll let them know because I've got some wisdom now."

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.