Flyers

Halifax GM Cam Russell on Nico Hischier: 'You're getting a star for a long time'

Halifax GM Cam Russell on Nico Hischier: 'You're getting a star for a long time'

It was early April and Cam Russell was enjoying the QMJHL awards banquet when he bumped into an NHL scout with a confession of sorts.

Certainly no team ever wants to lose, but this scout couldn't help but think of Nico Hischier up for grabs and out of reach.

Russell, the general manager of Hischier's junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, understood the feeling.

"He was wishing his team had dropped down in the standings, because he was talking about Nico — he said, 'Honestly, he has no holes in his game,'" Russell recalled last week in a phone interview with CSNPhilly.com. "And he really doesn't."

Hischier is that highly regarded — and he very well could be destined for the Flyers.

Oh, the beauty of luck.

At the June 23-24 NHL entry draft, only one or maybe two teams will have a chance to pluck the 18-year-old Swiss center. The Devils own the No. 1 pick, while the Flyers are slotted at No. 2 after cashing in at the NHL draft lottery, improbably moving up from the 13th selection to just about front and center.

Hischier is in a two-horse race with Canadian center Nolan Patrick to be the first overall pick. Some believe Patrick is a favorite to go No. 1, leaving Hischier right there for the Flyers.

Russell, who watched Hischier become the QMJHL Rookie of the Year and win the Michael Bossy Trophy (league's best pro prospect), believes that would be a victory for the Flyers.

"You're getting a star and you're getting a star for a long time," Russell said. "You're not getting a second-line center. You're getting a first-line center that's going to lead your team and play lots of minutes and bring you lots of fans in your building because he's just going to be a treat to watch — he's going to be exciting. 

"If you look at the big games that he's played, that's when he's played his best hockey. He's a competitor, he's a gamer and he'll definitely be a star in the NHL."

Hischier racked up 86 points on 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games with Halifax. He was a plus-20 and added seven points (three goals, four assists) in six playoff games.

Russell first saw Hischier play two years ago at under-18s competition.

"He was playing as an underage there, double underage," Russell said. "I was speaking with an agent as we were looking for a European, and he just kind of made a comment and said, 'Look, I don't have this player here, but this is a guy that you want to keep an eye on down the road.' So almost a couple of years ago he caught my eye."

The Mooseheads were happy he did and made him the sixth overall pick in the 2016 CHL import draft. Soon, Hischier will be another Halifax product in the NHL.

"We've had some real good hockey players go through our program — (Nathan) MacKinnon, (Jonathan) Drouin, (Nikolaj) Ehlers, (Timo) Meier — but he does everything so well," Russell said of Hischier. "He's such a conscientious player, he's so concerned about playing good defensive hockey, doing all the little things right. You're watching a guy who is an absolute star and he's your best defensive player at the same time. Obviously he's a guy that jumps off the page and does some incredible things."

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has not revealed any of his hand when discussing the No. 2 spot and the NHL readiness of the potential pick.

"I don't know who that player is going to be," Hextall said in late April. "Any player, as you know from my history, they've got to come in and earn it."

There had been buzz of Halifax's having Hischier on loan. Russell confirmed that wasn't the case, which means Hischier will not be eligible for the AHL next season.

So, is he ready for the NHL?

"That'll be determined in training camp," Russell said. "It depends on who drafts him, what their plan is for him. The easiest way to put it is time will tell in training camp. I know he's going to be a great hockey player in the NHL.

"There's potential there that he could be returned to junior, but we'll have to wait and see. I think he's just such a complete hockey player that he can make that step, but we'll just have to wait and see."

Hischier's well-roundedness makes that more than plausible. The lefty-shot has an advanced game and hockey IQ. If there's one thing he may lack, it's what he'll probably gain with time: weight. Hischier is listed at 6-foot, 176 pounds.

"He's just got to get a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger like all 18-year-olds do, but that would be about the only negative thing I can say about him," Russell said.

"When I say the one thing, his size, I'm splitting hairs. The reality is, the game has changed so much. You look at Mitch Marner out there, Johnny Gaudreau — there are so many players that play today that maybe couldn't have played 20 or 30 years ago, but they're exciting, skilled players and they're just so quick and so smart that they have no problems out there."

Hischier's advantages are elusiveness and guile.

"He's so aware of what's going on around him that you don't see him get hit with an open-ice hit," Russell said. "He rarely puts himself in a dangerous position, yet he's the first one on the puck all the time."

Russell added that Hischier brings an excellent attitude because of a "great foundation with his parents."

As for comparisons, Russell, a former NHL defenseman, thinks of Red Wings great Pavel Datsyuk when he sees Hischier.

"He's such a strong offensive player, he's completely fearless — you cannot intimidate him," Russell said. "If you watch him play closely, you'll see that he's the first one on the puck and I've never seen a player roll off hits like he does in the corner. I can't think of a time when he was run over or contained in the corner, he's just so strong, so quick and so agile with the puck. 

"Whoever gets him, he's going to be a real fun player to watch for a long time."

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.