Tom Dougherty

Future Flyers Report: Monster weekend for intriguing Maksim Sushko

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Aaron Bell, OHL Images/USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Monster weekend for intriguing Maksim Sushko

Boy, last week sure was something. The Flyers suffered a devastating loss in Nashville, where they showed many positives but a questionable coach’s challenge did them in, and then blew out Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals to the tune of 8-2 Saturday (see Weekly Observations).

This week sees the Flyers continue their five-game homestand as the Panthers, Predators, and Connor McDavid’s Oilers come to the Wells Fargo Center.

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we’ll check in on a 2017 fourth-round pick’s career night, a player who many thought would crack the Flyers’ roster and plenty more from a busy week.

Maksim Sushko, RW, 18, 6-0/179, Owen Sound (OHL)
With a 12-6 final, Saturday night’s game between Owen Sound and Oshawa had plenty to write about. Seventy-one shots on goal. Eight combined goals in the second period. Fifty-eight penalty minutes. And a career night for Sushko, who recorded his first career OHL hat trick with a four-goal game, also a first. Two of his four markers came shorthanded. He’s the fifth player in Attack history to score two shorties in a game.

Sushko picked up where he left off Sunday. The winger scored his fifth goal in two games and added an assist in Owen Sound’s 4-3 overtime win over London. A 2017 fourth-round pick, Sushko has an intriguing skill set the Flyers hope will come together.

Mike Vecchione, C, 24, 5-10/194, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
The Phantoms had a rough weekend with three games in three nights — away at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, home against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then at Hershey. But we saw a few firsts for Lehigh Valley. Let's start with Vecchione.

Vecchione recorded his first professional goal in the Phantoms' 3-2 win Saturday night over the Penguins. The Union College product unleashed a snipe job from the faceoff circle to beat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Tristan Jarry. In five games with Lehigh Valley, he now has a goal and three assists.

For some, Vecchione was a surprise cut by the Flyers, but once the orange and black landed the No. 2 overall pick, it was a long shot for the Hobey Baker finalist to crack the roster. With the Phantoms, Vecchione will continue to develop and get acclimated to the professional game. He attempted to make the Flyers as a right winger in training camp but failed to do so. He's a call-up candidate should injuries hit the Flyers' forward group.

Philippe Myers, D, 20, 6-5/202, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Sunday night, it was Myers' turn to pick up his first professional goal, when he started the Phantoms' third-period comeback in their 4-3 shootout win over Hershey.

Myers' status for Sunday was questionable after the defenseman blocked a shot late in the third period and needed help getting off the ice Saturday. Myers was able to suit up Sunday in Hershey and sparked three straight goals for the Phantoms.

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
This is an important season for Laberge, as explained in our first Future Flyers Report, and so far, so good for the 19-year-old. Laberge, who plays both center and right wing, had another productive week for the Tigres. Last Thursday, Laberge registered a goal and two assists in Victoriaville’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Quebec Remparts. Friday night, he picked up a five-minute penalty and misconduct and then was suspended Saturday against Shawinigan. All in all, it’s been a strong start for Laberge, who has eight points in seven games. He has two multipoint games and points in five games.

Quick hits
• After going pointless in his first two games last week, German Rubtsov exploded for a three-assist night in Chicoutimi’s 5-2 win over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar Saturday night. He has yet to pot a goal but has six assists in five games with the Saguenéens.

Carsen Twarynski continued his strong start for the Kelowna Rockets (WHL). Twarynski had a two-goal game Friday in a 5-4 overtime loss to Portland. Twarynski, a 2016 third-round draft pick, has five goals and eight points in six games this season.

• Kitchener captain Connor Bunnaman snapped a seven-game goal drought dating back to last season Friday with his first of the season in a two-point game. Bunnaman then scored twice Saturday and added two goals and an assist Sunday. He has nine points in nine games.

• After failing to make the Flyers, Oskar Lindblom is pointless in five games with the Phantoms.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri stayed hot last week. Salinitri had a goal and an assist Friday, a goal Saturday and a goal and an assist Sunday. He now has seven points during his five-game point streak.

• A rough week for Guelph’s Isaac Ratcliffe, at least in the plus/minus department. Ratcliffe was pointless in three games and was a minus-8.

Matthew Strome had a goal and an assist in three games last week for Hamilton.

• It was a solid, productive week for Sault Ste. Marie’s Morgan Frost, who had a three-point game last Wednesday, a goal Saturday and an assist Sunday.

• Alex Lyon started all three Phantoms games this weekend. Lyon allowed four goals Friday night but battled back with solid efforts Saturday and Sunday. He stopped 72 of 81 shots.

• Brynäs IF goalie Felix Sandstrom turned away 32 of 33 shots Saturday in a 2-1 win over Skelleftea. This came after allowing three goals on nine shots last Thursday.

• It’s been a quiet start for Tanner Laczynski in his sophomore season at Ohio State. Another pointless weekend for Laczynski, and he now has no points in four games.

• Another weekend, more points for Western Michigan’s Wade Allison. Allison had an assist Friday and then two assists Saturday against No. 15 Clarkson, both losses. Allison has seven points in five games for the Broncos, which is second on the team.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa played a hand in the Golden Knights’ pair of weekend wins over WMU. Amorosa had an assist Friday night and then a goal Saturday night. The senior now has points — six total — in all four games this season.

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

Flyers send Samuel Morin to Phantoms

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USA Today Images

Flyers send Samuel Morin to Phantoms

The Flyers on Wednesday afternoon assigned defenseman Samuel Morin to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, officially securing Travis Sanheim's spot on the NHL roster.

Morin served as a healthy scratch during the Flyers' four-game season-opening road trip. The Flyers carried eight defensemen out west because of an upper-body injury to Shayne Gostisbehere, but the third-year defenseman didn't miss a game.

"It's the first time in my career that I've been a healthy scratch and it's pretty hard," Morin said Tuesday in Nashville. "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. … I'm sure I can play in this league. If I go back to the AHL, I'm going to just work my ass off like I do all the time. I just want to play in the NHL, honestly."

After their preseason finale, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said defenseman Robert Hagg and center Nolan Patrick earned their spots but didn't say who won the competition for the second opening on defense.

With both Morin and Sanheim scratched for the season opener in San Jose, it remained unclear. Then, in Los Angeles, the Flyers tipped their hat. Sanheim drew into the lineup against the Kings.

Sanheim has played since while Morin sat. There was some thought the Flyers could get one last look at Morin in Anaheim last Saturday following Sanheim had a costly mistake in his NHL debut, but that didn't happen.

Hagg, Morin and Sanheim were competing for two spots in training camp and despite previously indications all three defensemen could make the team, Hextall opted against carried three rookies on the blue line — at least for now.

Morin proved himself as an NHL player during camp, but he falls victim to a numbers game. One NHL scout said Morin is ready and the Flyers' current logjam is “a good problem to have.”

With veterans Brandon Manning and alternate captain Andrew MacDonald here, there's not enough room for Morin, who's strictly a left defenseman, which the Flyers are heavy on.

Whether that is the right decision is up for debate.

There's no question we'll be seeing Morin with the Flyers sooner or later. If an injury hits the Flyers' blue line, he'll come up from Lehigh Valley.

And in that scenario, it'll be hard to see him going back down.