Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Between defensive prospects Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers, who will see the Flyers first?
Without putting too much into the recent development camp that Ron Hextall stated was not an evaluation period, the general manager had to notice that Myers and Sanheim were clearly the two best defensemen in camp, and are knocking on the door of NHL readiness.
Until now, I had not seen much from Myers, outside of a few WJC games prior to him suffering a head injury. But how can you not be impressed with the way he competes, his hard-nosed style of play, and the skating ability for a 6-foot-5 defenseman. The mobility really stood out for me, especially for a guy of his size. It’s not a matter of if he plays for the Flyers someday, but simply when. Regardless of how much Myers has matured, does Hextall trust him enough to move him straight from the QMJHL (where he played only half a season) to the NHL at the youthful age of 20? I know Ivan Provorov transitioned well, but "Provy" is a unique talent whose hockey IQ and maturity are off the charts for a player his age.
Personally, I think Myers (a much-needed right-handed shot) and Provorov will eventually form the Flyers' top defensive pairing for years to come, but for now, I’d like to see Myers start the season at the AHL level, especially since he missed some time last season.
Sanheim also displayed a lot of confidence and there wasn’t any hesitancy in his game during the team’s development camp. He was decisive with his positional play in the defensive zone and you could sense how much he wants to contribute offensively. Last season with the Phantoms, Sanheim dazzled with some highlight-reel, end-to-end plays that really showcased what he can bring to the Flyers. His defensive awareness and willingness to battle in his own end gradually improved as the AHL season wore on.
How these defensive prospects separate themselves will be the most intriguing storyline during camp. For Sanheim, he can’t be overwhelmed in his own end when the speed of the game is dialed up a notch. Don’t leave doubt in the minds of the coaching staff. They need a defenseman they can feel supremely confident in who won’t be turnover prone. I’ll give Sanheim the slight edge … for now, but that door is open.
As long as Robert Hagg and Sam Morin do not have dreadful training camps, the 2013 draft picks will be a part of the Flyers’ blue line in 2017-18. There are two open spots, and Hagg and Morin both made their NHL debuts last April. Both looked the part in their debuts.
Hagg and Morin will still have to win the jobs in camp. They’ll be competing with Myers and Sanheim, both of whom will be pushing hard to make the big club, as well. While the youth movement is in full swing, it’s hard to imagine Hextall going into the campaign with four rookies, a second-year player (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player (Shayne Gostisbehere) as his defensive corps.
With that said, I simply do not believe Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning are talented enough to hold off Myers and Sanheim if one of the two youngsters prove they’re ready for the NHL. I’m betting on Hagg and Morin having solid camps and making the team.
Hextall would have to do some salary cap gymnastics in this scenario. But that’s another discussion. It’s also possible Myers or Sanheim snag one or both jobs away from Hagg and Morin. But they’d have to do a lot to accomplish that, and I don’t foresee it playing out.
Both Myers and Sanheim are knocking on the NHL’s door, and I believe we’ll see both here in 2018-19. But I have a weird hunch we’ll be seeing Myers at some point this season, and I would not be overly surprised if Myers does break camp with the Flyers, as well as Hagg and Morin. I think he’s closer to the NHL than Sanheim, who is as close as you can be, too.
Myers has corny Disney movie that would never actually get made written all over him. (If I go off the grid, you know what’s coming.) He’s a right-handed shot, which is rare on defense. He’s big, skates extremely well with a booming shot and a good first pass. There is a ton to like about Myers.
The 20-year-old was among the Flyers’ final cuts last season after no summer training. He played his first preseason game literally the day after he was medically cleared. Sure, the Flyers may have just wanted to get a longer look at Myers in preseason because of the circumstances, but he was impressive. I think we’ll see him in the NHL at some point. Whether that’s in October or later will be determined come September.
Wouldn't it just be beautiful for both of these guys to make the Flyers out of training camp? Instead of two rookies on the blue line, make it four. Why not?
There are a few reasons why not and it obviously won't happen, but that doesn't mean we won't see Sanheim or Myers here at some point. As we know, it's hard to stay healthy in hockey over an 82-game grind. So the primary call-up candidates are Sanheim and Myers, both big defensemen with upside and ability. It shouldn't be too long until they're here for good because they are parts of the Flyers' future.
Sanheim, though, is at the head of the class right now. He has filled out physically and showed stark improvements over the course of last season, his first in the AHL. His skating and stick work are NHL-ready. He's "coming to make the Flyers," he said at development camp, in all sincerity. Sanheim believes he can push Hagg and Morin for the Flyers' two open spots on defense. He will and if he can't crack the roster when camp breaks, he's next up.
Myers, who has also come a long way — and quickly — in his development, still has a little more grooming to do. He's lean and can get stronger, a major emphasis of Hextall's when it comes to NHL readiness. Plus, he has no AHL experience (unlike Sanheim and the rest), so 2017-18 should be about that for the 20-year-old.
But the overriding theme here is that two burgeoning blueliners taller than 6-foot-4 and no older than 21 years old are closing in on the Flyers — that's promising.
As time continues to push forward and more grains of sand slowly but surely continue to fall in Hextall's hourglass of youthful retooling, more fresh faces are destined to wear a Flyers sweater this season. That's especially true on the blue line, where the cupboard is stocked. Odds are highly likely we'll see a fresh face or two there when the puck hits the ice at the Shark Tank in San Jose on opening night (looking your way, Morin and Hagg).
But the Sanheim-Myers question here is an interesting one because it weighs the theories of pro development vs. readiness out of junior, a question that Hextall weighs constantly.
Sanheim, the Flyers' first-round pick in 2014 when the draft was held in Philadelphia, spent all of last season with the Phantoms and had a five-game PTO with them at the end of 2015-16. He scored 10 goals and added 27 assists as the 21-year-old had a very solid first year of professional-level seasoning. His game especially rounded into form in the second half of the year as the adjustment period from junior with the Calgary Hitmen to pro in Lehigh Valley slowed down.
The 20-year-old Myers, the Flyers' hulking undrafted gem, battled injuries last year but still put up 35 points (10 goals and 25 assists) in 34 games. In 97 games the last two seasons with Rouyn-Noranda, Myers posted 27 goals and 53 assists while skating roughshod over Quebec Major Junior competition when healthy. He impressed so much that TSN hockey guru Bob McKenzie said Meyers "looks NHL-ready, or close to it."
So the paths of pro development and readiness out of junior collide head on here when talking about Sanheim and Myers.
Many will look toward Provorov, who excelled wonderfully with the Flyers last season straight out of junior with the Brandon Wheat Kings. But Provorov is a special case and a special talent who backed up his can't-miss label last season by being the Flyers' most trusted defenseman with his excellent two-way game en route to earning the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team's best blueliner. And it was either the Flyers or back to Brandon for Provorov last season as AHL rules didn't make the Phantoms an option.
While Myers could be ready, he's not at Provorov level of ready, which is what he'll need to be at for the staunchly development-minded Hextall.
That year of pro seasoning Sanheim has under his belt leads me to believe he would be the one to get the tap on the shoulder from Hextall first.