Flyers

'Forward thinker' Kris Knoblauch great fit for Dave Hakstol, Flyers, Erie GM says

'Forward thinker' Kris Knoblauch great fit for Dave Hakstol, Flyers, Erie GM says

When Kris Knoblauch informed Erie Otters' general manager Dave Brown this week he was taking a job with the Flyers, Brown started laughing.

"What's so funny?" Knoblauch asked.  
 
"You just want to go to a team where you look like the head coach," Brown recalled Thursday to CSNPhilly.com.
 
Indeed.

If you place photos of Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol and Knoblauch side-by-side, they could pass as brothers.
 
"They look like twins," Brown said.

The Flyers hired the 38-year-old Knoblauch on Wednesday as Hakstol's assistant coach, replacing Joey Mullen (see story). Knoblauch also met with the Sabres and Kings before accepting his role with the Flyers, according to CSNPhilly.com contributor Dhiren Mahiban.

Knoblauch's focus will be the Flyers' erratic power play, which saw much success during the 10 years Mullen was here but faltered badly in the second half of last season. The Flyers failed to make the playoffs.

Brown has no doubts Knoblauch will fix the Flyers' PP because his unit with the Otters ranked either first or second in the OHL over the last four seasons. Erie became one of the best clubs in junior hockey during this time.

Knoblauch's Otters are the only club in CHL history to have four consecutive 50-win seasons.

"Kris is a forward thinker," Brown said. "He is someone open to a new idea and always looking for new ways to generate offense. He understands his players' wants and needs.
 
"A lot goes into Kris in how he gets them to open up and listen to what he wants them to get done. He talks to them to find out what they think will work … he's not a guy who jams things down your throat. When you make suggestions, he is more likely to listen."
 
Craig Button, a TSN analyst who is familiar with CHL coaches as well as top draft prospects, said Knoblauch represents another move by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall toward progressive thinking.
 
What does Button like best about Knoblauch?

"How about everything," Button said. "Where to start? One, he is smart. He's intuitive. He's a very clear communicator. He understands and knows that things don't always go as planned. He takes responsibility. He doesn't blame.
  
"He's creative and always looking for solutions. He's in control, but collaborative. Knows that others may have a better solution or improvement. He cedes the spotlight. It's never about him.

"He's confident in his abilities and lets actions speak for themselves. He's highly competitive. Don't let his calm demeanor define him. Still, waters run deep."
 
Knoblauch's Western Canada upbringing is in play when dealing with his players.

"He is a teacher by trade and the perfect teacher-turned-coach would be Kris Knoblauch," Brown said. "At first, he comes across pretty quiet.

 "He's that Saskatchewan guy with great core values and always transferring those over to his players to learn, not just what is on the ice but what is off the ice."
 
Knoblauch will be the youngest assistant coach on Hakstol's staff. He's said to have the ability to build strong relationships with young players.

Hextall saw those same attributes in Hakstol when he hired him two years ago.

Yet Hakstol struggled last season in handling some of his younger Flyers. In particular, the multiple benchings of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny. Even some of the slightly older veterans didn't like some of Hakstol's moves, as well.

Knoblauch's presence — even as an even younger coach than Hakstol, 48 — allows for another younger voice on the staff to handle players during difficult times.
 
"Kris relates to this generation of player," Button said. "He is absolutely loved by his players, but they also know he will hold them accountable."

Brown added Knoblauch had a knack for figuring out how to handle situations that would arise on some of his teams that included star players such as Connor McDavid, now with the Edmonton Oilers.
 
"Kris has no problem diffusing a situation by having a sit-down meeting with guys and saying, this is what I need from you and spelling out expectations," Brown said.

Erie forward Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' 2016 second-round pick, on Thursday told Mahiban that Knoblauch is his "favorite coach" he's ever had. DeBrincat scored 65 goals and 127 points in 63 games this season for the Otters.

"It's cool to see him get that job. He definitely deserves it," DeBrincat told Mahiban. "He talks to his players a lot. He likes to get to know 'em. I think that really helps him out and helps him kind of feel out whether he should yell at this guy or not."

With that said, DeBrincat, who had 332 points in 191 games in three seasons playing for Knoblauch, says the Flyers' new assistant is a calming presence behind the bench and only yells when needed.

"He's a really calm guy and I think that definitely calms down the bench when something's not going right," DeBrincat said. "You look at him, and if he's frustrated, the guys will get frustrated. He's always calm behind there and just a good guy to have on your bench because he's so calm and it goes throughout the bench."

Knoblauch created detailed player profiles to get inside of a player's makeup to figure out how they could maximize their potential without setting unrealistic expectations.
 
"Kris sets very attainable goals," Brown said. "What he was so good at here was setting realistic expectations, which built confidence. That is where he excels."
 
One area in which he will be tested immediately is gaining acceptance by the Flyers' older veterans. As with Hakstol, Knoblauch never played in NHL nor held an NHL job of any kind.
 
"That may be a hurdle at first," Brown said. "Building trust with your players first and foremost is critical and he is very big at doing that. Once that happens, a lot of hurdles he would face will be eliminated for Kris."

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

VOORHEES, N.J. — It looks as though Travis Sanheim will sit for the second straight game vs. the Panthers tonight (see Flyers-Panthers thoughts)

Now, before you get angry — and fire off a hot take about Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning — understand this isn’t a death sentence for Sanheim.

The Flyers have played all of five games this season. Sanheim has played in three, and after a bumpy NHL debut vs. the Kings, the talented rookie showed growth to round out the Flyers’ season-opening road trip (see Flyers Rookie Report)

“I think that the L.A. game was a bit of a wash, with it being my first game and it not going the way I wanted it to,” Sanheim said Tuesday after morning skate. “But I thought the other two games, you started to see some more of the way I want to play. I thought even into the Nashville game, I got better that night, as well. I think that’s what you want to see with a young guy, is getting better every night and I’ll continue to do that.”

And after watching from the press box during Saturday’s blowout win vs. the Capitals, the Flyers’ top defensive prospect will get his chances ... at some point. 

“I don’t have a number for you there,” Hakstol said of when we could see Sanheim crack the lineup. “But your players have to play. That doesn’t mean they have to play every game, but certainly they have to learn, both off the ice, on the ice, practice, game-wise and continue to grow.”

So Sanheim — who is a minus-two with zero points — has to learn the NHL game. It’s not uncommon for rookie defensemen to struggle with the speed and skill of the NHL in the early parts of their careers.

“The position is a hard position to make the adjustment to and to learn,” Hakstol said. “That being said, I think your players can be successful in making the jump and making the transition.”

If Sanheim needs any inspiration, he simply needs to look a few lockers down at Ivan Provorov. 

Provorov made the jump straight from the WHL (junior hockey) to the NHL last season, and early on, it wasn’t a particularly smooth transition. The then 19-year-old bottomed out at a minus-5 in an October loss to Chicago but blossomed into the team’s No. 1 defenseman in the second half of the season.

Sure, Sanheim has taken his lumps this season, but he hasn’t necessarily been bad. Hakstol even went as far as to say that he’s been happy with the 21-year-old’s play.

“I’ve been very happy with him," Hakstol said. “I’ve been happy with Travis’ play. We want him to keep growing. He’s going to continue to be a big part of our group. He’s got a great attitude and a great perspective in terms of being able to handle all the different situations that come his way.”

Sanheim said the coaching staff hasn’t ordered him to focus on any one aspect of his game, but after Tuesday’s optional morning skate, the rookie stayed on the ice for an extra 30 minutes with the staff and Jori Lehtera — who has been a healthy scratch for all five games this season — working on clearing the crease. 

It all comes down to the numbers. And right now, the Flyers have seven solid defensemen. 

“The other night (Saturday vs. Capitals), obviously I wanted to be in the lineup, but we've got seven good [defensemen] right now and obviously there’s going to be a guy sitting, and it just happened to be me the other night,” Sanheim said. “It was a learning experience. I think I can gain a lot from watching and seeing some of those guys, how they handle themselves in certain situations and I thought I gained a lot from it the other night."

Not convinced? Last season, rookie winger Travis Konecny and second-year D-man Shayne Gostisbehere both served multiple stints in Hakstol’s doghouse — the press box — and have seemingly turned things around to begin this season. This year, Gostisbehere is second on the team in points with eight, while, more importantly, he and Konecny are both a plus-2 on the year — good enough for a tie for third on the team. So, like it or not, maybe there is some good to sitting a young player for a few games. 

“Ultimately, as a young guy, I think there’s a lot of things you need to work on and for me, it's just working hard in practice and getting better every day,” Sanheim said. “I just want to try and establish myself as an everyday player. 

“I’ve been through this before. My first year of junior, I didn’t play right away and I was a healthy scratch for five games there, so I’ve been through the process before and I understand the situation that I’m in and ultimately, it’s up to me whether I want to play every night and I've got to show them that I’m deserving of that and obviously, it's going to maybe take some time but I’m willing to put in the work.”

Projected lines
With only 11 players skating, there was no line rushes or defensive pairings, but coming off an 8-2 win, it’s hard to imagine Hakstol making any changes to the lineup. However, it looks as though Michal Neuvirth will get the start in net. 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches
Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers (3-2-0) vs. Panthers (2-2-0)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
 
Did the Flyers save any goals for the rest of the five-game homestand?
 
That's probably what many are asking after watching the 8-2 demolition they put on the Washington Capitals in Saturday night's home opener.
 
The Flyers will try to keep things rolling Tuesday night when they welcome the Florida Panthers to the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Here are some thoughts before Game 6 of the season:
 
• You couldn't ask for much more from the Flyers' top line against the Capitals. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek downright manhandled Washington. When Giroux moved to the left wing and Sean Couturier bumped up to first-line center, Saturday's performance was likely the dream scenario in the minds of the Flyers' coaching staff and front office.
 
It seemed like Voracek was making a play every time he touched the puck, Couturier did yeoman's work in all phases, and Giroux looked like his old self, showing a little bit of everything in his arsenal. The trio combined for 10 points on four goals and six assists. No one is expecting such production on a game-by-game basis, but let's see if this group can sustain these positive vibes and turn itself into a staple up top. As evidenced by Saturday, the Flyers go to a different level when those three are on.
 
• No one wants to see Travis Sanheim sitting. He's a first-round pick the fan base has been eager to see. He has great size and offensive upside for a defenseman. It will be exciting to watch him become a pillar of the Flyers' blue line.
 
But is it really the end of the world if Brandon Manning plays a couple games here in the early going? Manning will suit up Tuesday for his second straight game in place of Sanheim (more here from morning skate). The 21-year-old rookie won't be in the press box for long, though, because that doesn't jive with general manager Ron Hextall's development plan. So Sanheim will sit for a few, watch and learn. That's not too terrible.
 
And, the two games Manning has played so far (season opener and home opener), the Flyers won both by a combined score of 13-5. Was he the most critical reason why? No, but he didn't hurt the Flyers, either. Keeping your projected seventh defenseman somewhat active is a good idea for when/if he is needed.
 
Sanheim will be fine and he will play.
 
We're about to be only six games in here … let's just give this some time.
 
• Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said he planned on using both of his goalies over this homestand. Michal Neuvirth will get the call against the Panthers after Brian Elliott started four of the first five games. Neuvirth looks like the clear backup, but it's important to get him starts, and that's what Hakstol plans on doing.
 
Neuvirth didn't see Florida last season. However, he did see the Panthers in 2015-16 and was terrific, delivering a shutout, 1.59 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in two games. He hasn't seen game action since Oct. 5.
 
• Wayne Simmonds, who has been a stud so far with five goals in five games, did work against Florida last season, posting three goals and an assist in three games.
 
• The Panthers are good. They've scored 16 goals through their first four games, all tough tests against the Lightning twice, the Blues and the Penguins. Florida boasts some nice, young talent in center Jonathan Huberdeau (three goals, two assists), center Aleksander Barkov (three assists) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (two goals, two assists), just to name some.
 
To add to it, Florida's first-round pick at 10th overall this past summer, Owen Tippett, will make his NHL debut tonight. The 18-year-old scored 44 goals in 60 junior games last season for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads.
 
• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:
 
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
 
Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
 
Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim.