Nolan Patrick

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Today, we’re introducing a new wrinkle to our Flyers coverage this season. Every so often, we’ll take a look at the Flyers rookies’ progress with a Rookie Report, similar in nature to our Future Flyers Report, which runs every Monday morning. The Rookie Report will have its similarities but will also have its own unique blend to it.

We’re four games into the Nolan Patrick-led youth movement. The Flyers began the season with five rookies, though just four played on their four-game road trip.

Samuel Morin on Wednesday was sent to Lehigh Valley, where he will continue to fine-tune his game. That leaves Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Patrick and Travis Sanheim.

As the future begins now, we’re going to track their development throughout their first seasons. We’ll utilize film reviews and other forms of evaluating players. Let’s get going.

Teaching moments
Sanheim, to little bewilderment, beat out Morin for the second open spot on the Flyers’ defense, even though Morin seemingly had a strong enough camp to make the team. There is a strong argument all three young blueliners showed enough in the preseason.

But it’s clear Flyers GM Ron Hextall, despite previously indicating he’d make room for a kid if they prove they’re ready, wasn’t comfortable carrying three rookie defensemen. It should be noted we don’t see what goes into the decision-making behind the scenes.

Either way, Sanheim is here to stay. The 21-year-old had a bumpy start to his NHL career last Thursday in Los Angeles and then Anaheim last Saturday night. Let's go to the film.

This play began as a result of a neutral-zone turnover by Scott Laughton. Above you can see Radko Gudas in front of Kyle Clifford and Sanheim turning around. Sanheim squares up, sees Trevor Lewis coming and begins to backpedal.

As Lewis enters the faceoff circle, Sanheim's eyes are still focused on the puck and a little too high, allowing Lewis to creep behind him. As two Flyers pressure Nick Shore, the forward sees Lewis, feeds him the puck before Sanheim can break it up.

It's an easy goal for Lewis on a play where Brian Elliott had no chance, and it ended up being the game-winner for the Kings.

“Yeah, I saw him,” Sanheim said of Lewis. “My gap was a little off. With the turnover, I wish I was a little farther up. I think then he doesn’t see that play. I wish I could have had a better gap. That’s a mistake and something I can learn from.”

Two nights later in Anaheim, Sanheim had another moment on the Ducks' first goal. Sanheim and Hagg were caught on the ice together, which isn't ideal, but the two were in Lehigh Valley together last season so it's not like they haven't communicated before.

The play began in the corner, with Hagg playing strong on Ondrej Kase. After a short puck battle, Jakub Voracek and Antoine Vermette join in. The puck eventually breaks free.

Sanheim, with Hagg still in the corner, aggressively goes for a poke check on Josh Manson while Vermette begins to break across ice to unmarked territory.

Below, you'll see Hagg getting back into his position but Sanheim remains stationary. Voracek and Claude Giroux are all focused on the puck, Kase and Manson.

Vermette is completely alone.

Kase finds Vermette for the easy tap-in goal as Hagg and Sanheim are literally right next to each other. It was a little too much aggressiveness in his own zone by Sanheim.

The poke check wasn't the best play there for Sanheim. As the puck popped out, it was a 2-on-1 situation. Sanheim went for the puck, got beat and Vermette was left all alone.

“We ended up getting beat — we got beat out on a 2-on-2 on the wall,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. “One of their players spun off of that battle and it ended up catching Sanny in between. Really there’s not a lot I’d probably ask him to do differently on that play. He got caught between in a little bit.”

Analysis
We’re highlighting these two plays because they were obvious mistakes made by a rookie in his first two games. They’re learning moments and that’s what they are.

Sanheim had a rough second period in Los Angeles but bounced back in the third. Hakstol stayed with him in the third, and even used him late in the period with the game on the line and the need for more blue-line activity.

With Sanheim, there are going to be growing pains. That’s expected, of course. Even Ivan Provorov had them last season. Sanheim’s puck-moving and shot are clearly NHL ready and he showed in preseason his defensive play has improved. He still has to improve his coverage, as evidenced above, but the only way he can do that is by playing.

It appears the leash on Sanheim isn’t short. The coaching staff appears ready to let Sanheim make the mistakes and learn from them. That’s a positive because, after the Kings’ game, some felt Morin may get one final look before the competition was over.

Hakstol didn’t go to Morin or insert Brandon Manning back into the lineup in Anaheim, and outside of the Vermette goal, Sanheim didn’t have any other major miscues. That will be important for him. How quickly can he move on and learn from a mistake?

“I thought he picked up where he left off in the third period in L.A., which was back to playing his game,” Hakstol said after the Ducks game. “He used his feet well, I thought he played a pretty confident game.”

Quick hits
• In the Flyers’ season opener Oct. 4 in San Jose, Hagg brilliantly stifled a 2-on-1 against the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc, forcing Thornton to turn back and regroup. Thornton did just that and Labanc eventually did score San Jose’s first goal.

Hagg sees the 2-on-1 developing before center ice and positions himself accordingly. Once Thornton gets to the blue line, Hagg has two choices here: Attack the puck carrier before the play gets deeper or stay in position while he waits for help, delaying his decision.

It’s one he had to make in real time. Attack the carrier and get beat, Brian Elliott is facing a 1-on-1 break. But Hagg makes a smart play in attacking Thornton. He bent down with his stick on the ice, taking away the pass option and forcing Thornton to circle back. The Sharks scored moments later, but Hagg played this 2-on-1 perfectly.

• One thing worth noting about Patrick is his passing from behind the net. Patrick scored his first Tuesday in Nashville but picked up his career first point in Anaheim last Saturday. Patrick, from behind the net, found his former Brandon teammate, Provorov, for a one-timer just as a power play expired. It’s a type of pass the Flyers will certainly benefit from this season.

• One of the bright spots thus far has been the Flyers’ fourth line featuring Leier, a rookie, Laughton, a former first-rounder who finally made the show full-time, and Michael Raffl. Leier and Laughton have uncanny chemistry from their time together with the Phantoms. They were the Flyers’ most consistent line throughout preseason.

The line creates energy, works hard and always seems to be in the offensive zone. In fact, after four games, the Flyers’ fourth line is dominating the Corsi department. Let’s highlight a play made by Leier against San Jose that was absolutely bonkers.

Before the pass, the line had forechecked and spent 12 seconds in the Sharks' zone and when San Jose finally escaped its own zone, 38 seconds had passed. But this play started with a Provorov pinch, freeing up the puck for Leier to skate behind the Sharks’ net, then he anticipates where Laughton will be, spins around and sets Laughton up for a prime chance. Martin Jones made the save, but Leier's pass was ridiculous.

Stats
Leier: 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-2, 11:30 TOI
Hagg: 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 18:12 TOI
Patrick: 4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, plus-3, 13:53 TOI
Sanheim: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-2, 11:55 TOI

10 observations from Flyers' season-opening 4-game road trip

10 observations from Flyers' season-opening 4-game road trip

As the Flyers unwind from an eight-day road trip that stretched over three time zones, let’s unpack what transpired over their first four games.

1. Flyers deserved better
The end result of the four-game road trip is a .500 record, with the Flyers earning four of a possible eight points. They built a two-goal lead Tuesday night with 13:12 remaining in the game. At that point, the Flyers should have at least earned a point and possibly two. To the Predators' credit, they seized back some of that momentum just 50 seconds later when Filip Forsberg scored, sniping a shot over Brian Elliott’s glove hand. The sting of this loss would have been slightly eased if the Flyers could have found a way to force overtime in Nashville. When you evaluate the entire road trip, the Flyers never had that “dud” of a game, where they played without energy and flat-footed.  

2. Challenging the penalty
At the time it happened, my initial feeling toward Dave Hakstol’s decision to challenge the offsides play was this had the makings of a Music City meltdown. Personally, I would have just conceded the game-tying goal with the knowledge that had I lost the challenge I would have been penalized (yet again) and looking at another monumental 5-on-3 penalty kill of a tied game. Last season, only one-third of every challenge plays involving an offsides call were overturned, so the odds already were working against Hakstol. The momentum swing alone is a key factor that has be under consideration when those decisions are made. To the Flyers' credit, they killed the 5-on-3, to only give up the game-winning goal moments after Dale Weise stepped out of the box. With this new rule now in play, coaches need conclusive, indisputable evidence the attacking team went offsides, and that’s almost impossible considering the turnaround time before they have to notify the referees of their desire to challenge.    

3. Patrick's 1st goal
It was nice to see rookie Nolan Patrick score his first NHL goal in just his fourth game. However, Patrick was in no mood to talk about it afterward and understandably so. For a 19-year-old still working his way through the infancy stages of his career, Patrick had a relatively solid road trip, picking up two points and playing better over the final two games. Containing Jeff Carter and his line in L.A. was a tough assignment, and he’ll ultimately benefit playing on a third line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Patrick said he’s traditionally been a slow starter when it comes to scoring goals.

4. More firepower
Four games into the season and already nine different Flyers have scored goals and 14 players have registered at least a point. When you examine the roster, the Flyers have depth at the forward position, where seven and potentially eight players can realistically score at least 20 goals this season. Even the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl generates pressure, quality scoring chances and each player has the skill set to do damage offensively. Overall, the Flyers have the firepower to finish top 10 in goals scored this season.

5. The Money Train
Wayne Simmonds was absolutely steamed following the Flyers' 6-5 loss Tuesday to the Predators. No player appeared to be more riled up than Simmonds was, which is precisely why Flyers fans love the emotion and raw passion he brings on the ice and in times of frustration as well. Simmonds is unquestionably one of the leaders and lifelines of this Flyers squad, and it’s hard to imagine this franchise without him. For years, Simmonds had set 30 goals as a benchmark, but with a red-hot start to this season, it’s not unrealistic to think he’s capable of reaching 40 goals for the first time in his career. If that happens, Simmonds will certainly cash in with a lucrative contract extension next summer.  

6. Ivan the Great
There’s no other way to describe it, but defenseman Ivan Provorov is simply a machine. His stick work in the corners and along the boards is a work of art. He has an underrated shot for a player that doesn’t uncork wicked Shayne Gostisbehere-like slap shots. In the second period of Tuesday’s game, Provorov took the puck from behind his net and created a rush on his own. On the four-game trip, the Flyers' shutdown defender was on the ice for just one even-strength goal against — Hartnell’s shot from the wing that Elliott should have stopped. If I’m taking a one-goal lead into the final period, I want Provorov on the ice every other shift. There’s a calmness he brings to the situation, and it’s refreshing to see the Flyers finally have the all-around defenseman that’s been missing since the days of Eric Desjardins.

7. When will we see Morin?
After watching the Flyers play on numerous occasions in the preseason, one NHL scout undoubtedly feels the Flyers have three NHL-ready rookie defensemen, saying, “It’s a good problem to have.” Right now, the problem is the Flyers can’t squeeze Samuel Morin into the lineup and on Wednesday, he was assigned to the Phantoms (see story).

Speaking to Morin Tuesday morning, he was definitely down on the situation but is handling it with grace and dignity.

“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been a healthy scratch and it’s pretty hard,” Morin said. “What else can I do? I think it’s normal that I’m pretty upset. I just need to keep working hard and see what’s going to happen. There’s not much I can do right now. It’s out of my control.”

8. Stronger in the middle
I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of Sean Couturier filling the role as the team’s No. 1 center, and while he doesn’t have the skill set of a Tyler Seguin or a Mark Scheifele, Couturier plays the necessary 200-foot game necessary in today’s NHL. If Hakstol continues to keep that Claude Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek line intact, "Coots" should hit the 40-point mark for the first time in his career with ease. Furthermore, when you see how the Flyers are stacked down the middle with Couturier-Valtteri Filppula-Patrick-Scott Laughton, there’s no weak link the opposition can exploit defensively. Ron Hextall wants to construct a team that cuts down on those quality scoring chances in the danger areas between the circles and those four centers have shown to play a very responsible game. 

9. Down with Hartnell
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette had his list of players that did not jive with his coaching style (see James van Riemsdyk). However, Lavy always had an admiration for Scott Hartnell and spoke highly of the Nashville winger following Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Flyers. Signing Hartnell on a one-year, $1 million deal was a very low-risk, high-reward investment on Laviolette and general manager David Poile’s part. Hartnell still possesses a high-caliber shot and has a knack for finding the soft zones in and around the net. Who knows how well he would have fit in the confines of Hakstol’s system, but for that term and price, I could see Hartnell working well with Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny, as well as providing that net-front presence on one of the team’s power-play units.

10. Who starts the home opener?
The Flyers received steady goaltending until Tuesday night’s game in Nashville, which was not Elliott’s best effort. It’s obvious Hakstol has been looking to establish Elliott as his early season starter, but in saying that, Michal Neuvirth was excellent in his only start in Los Angeles. It’s early but Neuvirth resembles the goaltender who came to Philadelphia in 2015-16 and turned in a gem of a season with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Hakstol won’t hesitate to play the guy with a hot hand and with Saturday’s home opener against Neuvirth’s former team, the Washington Capitals, it seems like an opportune time to give the backup another shot in net.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick adjusting offensively

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick adjusting offensively

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s still a feeling out process for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who continues to acclimate himself to the speed and style of the NHL’s brand of hockey. While he’s been defensively reliable in his own end of the ice, we’re beginning to see where Patrick prefers to do his damage offensively.

Patrick has utilized his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to create space down low around the goal line and behind the net. In one of most dazzling plays of the preseason, Patrick fed a blind pass to Oskar Lindblom for a quality scoring chance, and Saturday in Anaheim there was a similar play to Travis Konecny. 

“I’ve always felt I had a good vision to make plays from down there,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if I pride myself on making plays from down there, but I think in this league, there’s not much off the rush. Everyone tracks back pretty hard. I think that’s where the offense is going to come from down there, so I just try to make quick cutbacks and make plays, so that’s something I’ve been trying to focus on.”

“He’s got great vision from below the goal line, from down low in tight spaces,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He made the play from down low on (Ivan) Provorov’s goal the other night. He had a similar type play to (Konecny) at the end of the game there. Those are strengths of his game, and we’re starting to see those things come out more and more.

Flipping the switch
After starting the season 3 for 3, the Flyers' power play is now 0 for its last 12. Hakstol will continue to leave Valtteri Filppula on the No. 1 unit, as they worked on their setup and puck movement during Monday’s practice. 

“Part of that role is shooting,” Hakstol said. “He hasn’t spent a lot of time in that spot. I think just overall adjusting to that position and that role on the power play is something that he’s done pretty well. It’s a real puck support role as well. You’re in a support role with anybody on the rink that has the puck and you’re in a puck retrieval role. I think he’s adjusting to it really well.”

Sour jam
Peter Laviolette is one of three coaches since 2010 to take two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final only to come up short on both occasions. Peter DeBoer led the Devils in 2012 and Sharks in 2016 and was on the losing end twice. Alain Vigneault went with the Canucks in 2011 and again with the Rangers in 2014.

After the Predators bowed out to the Penguins in six games, Laviolette is now attempting to draw off his experiences in the year after he guided the Flyers to the Cup Final, when they finished with 106 points, third best that season behind the Canucks and the Capitals. However, he still hasn’t moved past the gut-wrenching loss to the Blackhawks.

“It’s never easy to get over,” Laviolette said following Monday's morning practice. “Anytime you go that deep and lose it leaves a pit in your stomach, and you carry that pit forever. I look back at Philadelphia as a missed opportunity for all of us, and certainly in Nashville I look back at it the same way. You’re here to do one thing and that’s win championships and when you don’t do it, it hurts.”  

Laviolette will be reminded of that once again as the Predators raise their Western Conference Champions banner in front of their fans prior to their game against the Flyers.

Hartnell down in Nashville
Philly fan favorite Scott Hartnell returns to the Predators, the franchise that selected him in the first round (6th overall) of the 2000 NHL draft. 

Entering his 17th season, Hartnell is one of 21 active players with at least nine or more 20-goal seasons, and he believes he can reach that mark again filling the hole left by James Neal. (Neal was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft.) Laviolette still views Hartnell as an important part of the team’s power play and has him working with the No. 1 unit Monday.

For the first time in his career, Hartnell is taking his career year-by-year after signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Predators.

“It’s a young man’s game now and the speed of it is incredible, and you just got to do your thing,” Hartnell said. “My game’s still pretty simple, it doesn’t change much from when I started at 18. I go to the net and that’s where I score my goals. That’s where all the action happens, and just looking forward to this year. I’m so excited to be a part of this and we’re looking forward to getting in the playoffs and making a run like last year.”

Hartnell got married for the second time over the summer after he exchanged vows at The Country Club at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. Many of Hartnell’s Flyers teammates were in attendance including Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, Sam Gagner and Nick Schultz.