Travis Sanheim

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

VOORHEES, N.J. — With the Flyers off to a hot 4-2 start, there’s a lot to like about the team. There's been the resurgence of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and the immediate impact of rookies like Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg.

It’s all part of general manager Ron Hextall’s plan, and through six games, it seems to be working.

After Thursday’s morning skate, Hextall spoke at length about the team’s success, the development of the rookies and what to make of Sam Morin and Oskar Lindblom — two young players penciled into the lineup at the start of camp who failed to make the final cut.

Here’s what Hextall had to say about the state of the team:

Giroux's success at left wing
Having an abundance of quality centers forced the Flyers to move one to the wing. And Giroux seemed to be the top option because of his playmaking ability. So far, so good as Giroux is tied for third on the team with nine points (four goals, five assists). 

“It’s pretty obvious that we’d be happy (with Giroux’s success),” Hextall said. “When you’re a smart player, you can play all three forward positions. But G’s a smart player. He has skill, he sees the ice well, he’s gritty, he’s smart with the puck. He’s got all the attributes that he can play all three positions and obviously, that’s a valuable guy because we’re a little loaded up in the middle this year. And then you go, ‘OK, who do we want to move? Who can move? Who’s the best fit?’ There’s a lot of things that go into a decision like that and quite frankly, G had never played left wing in all his life and all of a sudden he’s playing left wing and he’s made a real quick transition. So it’s a credit to him first of all for his buy-in. There was no ‘I want to play the middle’ stuff. Second of all, he’s worked at it and set his mind to it so credit to G.”

Sean Couturier’s hot start
Couturier has long been maligned for his offensive abilities, but the scoring has always been there somewhere. He was the eighth-overall pick in 2011 and scored 96 points in each of his final two seasons in junior. Now that he is finally playing with talent, like Giroux and Voracek — what an upgrade over Dale Weise and Matt Read — Couturier is starting to reach his potential with four goals and three assists this season.

“You never know until you try it, whether it’s going to work, but just the vision and the thought of it, you say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a real stable guy in the middle with two guys on the wings that love to make plays,” Hextall said of the top line. “It’s not like Coots is a poor offensive player. He’s a good offensive player. He’s been in different roles over the years and some of his role hasn’t changed. He’s going to match up against top players, which he’s very good at. Now he’s got two dynamic players on his wings and again, he’s a stabilizer in the middle. So far, so good.”

Balanced lines
Perhaps the biggest upgrade over last year’s club is the depth. The Flyers can now roll four potent, speedy lines to compete with almost any team. Give credit to Hextall for addressing the team’s biggest need by getting rid of guys like Read and Chris Vandevelde and allowing the young guns to come up.

“It helps a lot,” Hextall said of the balanced lines. “There were points last year where — in terms of matchups — we had to be very fine in terms of who you’re going to matchup against another team’s top line or even their second line. Now, I think we all feel comfortable whoever’s out there is not going to get buried by whatever line and that’s a good feeling for obviously the coaches and us, but the players as well. We can put anybody out there on the road and we don’t choose the matchups and feel some comfort.”

Nolan Patrick
One of the reasons Giroux had to make the move to wing was the Flyers’ drafting of Nolan Patrick No. 2 overall. Playing on the third line with Dale Weise and Travis Konecny, Patrick has shown his two-way prowess and oh yeah, he can make plays like this.

“I think he’s been good. I think he’s been real solid, all three zones. I think some people, you expect too much — second overall and all this hype and everything else,” Hextall said. “This is the NHL. And it’s a huge step so I think he’s done a good job for us. He plays a very poised game, he’s not an erratic player, very methodical in his thinking and predictable in a good way. He makes the right reads, the right plays, he’s typically in the right part of the ice. It comes down to maturity, but it also comes down to hockey sense.”

Benching Travis Sanheim
Sick of seeing Sanheim in the press box? You’ll get your chance to see him against the Predators on Thursday, as he rejoins the lineup after watching the past two games. Sanheim has played in three of the Flyers’ six games, but don’t worry, he’s going to play this year, but how short is his leash? Are Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol on the same page with benching young players?

“I think it’s not going to continue, he’s not going to sit on the bench and continue here for long-term, things are going to change so that’s something that I said at the start of the year,” Hextall said. “I don’t believe in young players sitting, nor having a really small role. … But Travis has played well for us and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll evaluate on a day-to-day basis."

Last season, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie winger Travis Konecny each served multiple stints in the press box for poor defensive play. Hextall didn’t seem to mind.

“People made a big deal when a couple young players last year were sat out and those young players have shown an awful lot of growth this year. With the little things that they help along the way, to realize that you know what, ‘I don’t have a secure spot in the lineup, necessarily for 82 games. I gotta be on the edge, I gotta work out, I gotta play well every night.’ There’s little messages that come out of things like that, which is why a young player — I’m not opposed to a young player sitting, especially for development reasons. Sometimes it just needs to happen an that’s not the case with Travis, but along the way, it is so a young player sits out the odd game. There’s things they learn, they realize that, ‘You know what, I can’t be complacent, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ You learn lessons in life and again, I don’t want you players sitting out a lot and certainly not for the wrong reasons. I mean, if they’re making that many mistakes they’re not going to be here.”

Is Lindblom sulking in the minors?
Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, had such an impressive 2016-17 playing in Sweden’s top league that many penciled him in as a lock to make the team this year. But after an uninspiring training camp, Lindblom was sent to the Phantoms, where he is off to a slow start this season. Hextall doesn’t seem worried, though. 

“Big Sam (Morin) was real good, Philippe (Myers) was real good, Oskar did some good things, probably not quite at the level that we want him to get to or that he’s hoping to get to, but he was fine. Those kids are doing well.

“Training camp, it was pretty obvious that, not early but as we got along, that he wasn’t quite ready for this level. That’s OK. He didn’t fail. Oskar is going to be a good player. We like Oskar as much as we did a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. Yeah, he comes in, you say, 'OK, well he’s gonna be one of the guys we look at here’ and he’s just not ready for it. And that’s OK. It’s not a setback. It’s nothing. It’s like, ‘OK, Oskar, go down, play hard’ — and he’s playing hard. … Is he to the level that he can play? No, he’s not but that’s going to come. He’s a young kid, he’s a young player, he’s adjusting to life, the pressure. Everybody’s talking about him, he comes here, there’s all this hype on him. It’s unfair, quite frankly what the expectations that some of these kids come in with.”

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.