Flyers

Flyers' 2019-20 coaching decisions crucial to a player like Shayne Gostisbehere

Flyers' 2019-20 coaching decisions crucial to a player like Shayne Gostisbehere

VOORHEES, N.J. — In 2018-19, Shayne Gostisbehere played for two head coaches and two different assistant coaches that oversaw the Flyers' defensemen.

Who knows what the coaching staff will look like next season. A lot can change, just like it did this season when Dave Hakstol and Gord Murphy were fired at separate junctures and Scott Gordon and Rick Wilson were brought on board as replacements.

What's certain is that coaches and their philosophies are crucial to unfurling the best in Gostisbehere. His game is predicated around picking and choosing when to take risks offensively, which requires a freedom and trust from the coaching staff.

Gostisbehere did not have the year anyone expected. After putting up a career-high 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists), good for fourth best among NHL defensemen last season, the 25-year-old took a significant step back with 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) and a minus-20 mark in 2018-19.

During Sunday's cleanout day at Flyers Skate Zone, Gostisbehere did not blame his production on coaches or being banged up following a puck to the knee in late October.

The Flyers started slow (again). When Hakstol was fired, the team was 12-15-4 and allowing 3.74 goals per game, tied for second most in the NHL. The power play was struggling, ranked third to last in the league at 12.9 percent. Gostisbehere started the season paired with Ivan Provorov. By season's end, his role had changed a bunch, even coming off the top power-play unit for a stretch in January.

That will happen when a season doesn't go as planned for an entire team.

Obviously power play is a big thing, it's a big part of my game, but 5-on-5 play as well, I led the team [with a minus-20] again — that's something I'm not proud of, but you're eating empty nets, it is what it is, it's part of the game. I can do a lot of things. I started the year with Provy and by the end I was on the third pair. For me, I've got to look in the mirror, have a good summer and really bear down and get things going.

I learned a lot about myself mentally, it was a grind this season. Finding that consistency, that sweet spot, it's going to be what I'm going to be searching for this summer. Just being a good teammate, a good guy, even when things aren't going your way, you keep pushing and hopefully you can find that consistency.

However, discovering ways to accentuate Gostisbehere's strengths are important. There's too much ability to not view him as a focal point. It's why general manager Chuck Fletcher's coaching decision will be vital to a player like Gostisbehere, who excels when playing freely and confidently in a position with two sides of the coin.

Did he have the freedom to take chances from start to finish in 2018-19?

"With Hak, a little more probably," Gostisbehere said. "With Rick coming in and different coaches and whatnot, they tweaked the style — not just me personally, but how he wants the defense to play. I wouldn't say they put handcuffs on me or anything, but they pulled the reins back quite a bit just in what they wanted us to do collectively as a D core."

Gostisbehere supported Gordon, who came on in an interim basis.

"It was cool, it was different. A little different than Hak, for sure, he talked a little more," Gostisbehere said of Gordon. "System-wise, when he comes in the room, it's all systems and different faceoff plays. He was a good coach to have, a different coach. He really comes up and he talks, he's a normal guy. Not saying Hak wasn't, but as you guys can tell, they're a little different. He was a great coach."

During a game, Gordon was often seen communicating 1-on-1 with players.

"Mostly it was positive with Gordo. I don't mind it. I mean, if I make a mistake and a coach comes up to me on the bench and tells me about the mistake, like, no s---, I just made the mistake, I know," Gostisbehere said with a smile. "I don't really like that, but who would? But sometimes you need that kick in the ass, so I think for us, Gordo was a little animated at times, but he just wanted you to be your best player."

Getting the best out of Gostisbehere will go a long way for the 2019-20 Flyers.

"I'm going to be a different guy next year," Gostisbehere said. "I'm going to be definitely different in the way that I take my approach to the game and I'm just going to be the best player I can be — whoever the coach is."

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How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

NHL talent evaluators couldn't miss Cam York's offensive exploits.

The catch-me-if-you-can defenseman lit up score sheets and caught all eyes during his draft year. When a teenage blueliner skates as smoothly and handles the puck as dynamically as York does, pro clubs watch in bunches and envision big things for the future.

Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said the team's entire scouting staff had seen York 10 to 15 times during the 2018-19 season. The Flyers then drafted York at No. 14 overall last summer after he set a U.S. national team development program single-season record with 65 points (14 goals, 51 assists) in 63 games.

For John Wroblewski, the head coach of the loaded USNTDP under-18 squad that year, he didn't want NHL suitors hypnotized by just the offensive gifts.

He emphasized York's defensive strengths.

"One of the things I kept telling scouts that I was so impressed with Cam was how the game was always in front of him," Wroblewski said last month in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "The puck hardly ever advanced behind him, you couldn’t beat him 1-on-1 — I could probably count on one hand how many times he got actually beat 1-on-1 over two years — and his strength around the net; he just understands.

"He has innate defensive ability, it’s natural. It seems effortless. Some guys you know they’re competing in their defensive zone and they have to, they scratch and claw — he just always has the right spots. His gap control, his stick detail, it’s all organic.

"I think he’s going to be rock-solid offensively in the NHL, but his prowess will be how reliable he is defensively. Working around him and watching his video on a daily basis, he never got beat." 

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

York is now with Michigan and his upcoming sophomore year could be his last at the collegiate level. Because of two impressive years in the USNTDP, he went to the draft and Ann Arbor with hype.

"I think if you asked him, he would want to turn pro tomorrow," Flahr said after the Flyers drafted York. "He's going to a good program at Michigan, we'll take it year by year. I don't see him as a four-year guy, let's put it that way."

In 2018-19, York was the go-to defenseman on a U.S. team that produced eight first-round draft picks last June — Jack Hughes (No. 1), Alex Turcotte (No. 5), Trevor Zegras (No. 9), Matthew Boldy (No. 12), Spencer Knight (No. 13), York (No. 14), Cole Caufield (No. 15) and John Beecher (No. 30).

York, a 5-foot-11, 174-pound lefty shot, was third on the U.S. in assists (behind only Hughes and Zegras), fifth in points and sported a team-best plus-56 rating.

"He just hit the ground running at the program, he was such a student of the game, he’s smart in practice, his instincts were outstanding," Wroblewski, who led the U-17 team this season, said. "He never really hit any type of a speed bump throughout his two years with the program. He seamlessly went from being our top defenseman to running the power play for the U-18 team in February and beyond, and then of course he set defensive scoring records at the program.

"Really kind of a seamless two years, but a kid that never really took it for granted, either. He always showed up, he had a workmanlike attitude in regard to practice. He was like a pro from a young age — he showed up, did his job, low maintenance, but a fiery competitor at the same time."

Just how skilled and electric is he with the puck on his stick?

"It’s interesting, for as much talent as we had on that team, I think Cam might have been our best shootout guy," Wroblewski said. "We didn’t utilize him because of the star power that you had with those top-five scorers — Boldy, Zegras, Cole, Jack and Alex Turcotte. We never utilized him because this just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’ve got that firepower up front, but he was probably our best shootout guy."

As a defenseman on that team.

"The things that he would do to our goalies and Spencer Knight, he would make them look silly with the edgework," Wroblewski said. "He looked like a video game the way that he could come in, carve his edges and then just like sling it underneath the crossbar. It was really cool to watch. I’d never seen anybody be able to create on the shootout like he did."

(Rena Laverty/USA Hockey)

In his freshman season at Michigan, York dealt with a pair of injuries but still put up 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and a plus-9 mark through 30 games. The 19-year-old led the Wolverines in secondary assists (eight) and was third in blocked shots (54).

A healthy and stronger York as a sophomore will bring him closer to the Flyers. He'll play a ton of minutes — which is what he's shooting for at the pro ranks, as well — and an even bigger role on what should be a formidable 2020-21 Michigan team.

York's strength and developmental curve at the Division I level, especially next season, will determine how quickly he signs his entry-level contract.

“Defensemen are always going to take a little bit longer," Wroblewski said. "Goalies take the longest, defensemen are the next, you look at the middle of the ice, centermen, that’s next and then wingers transition the quickest to the NHL obviously.

“I think any opportunity, as long as he’s being challenged at the college level, he should stay. But I also appreciate the challenge of the American Hockey League. I know a lot of guys don’t want to go there, ride the bus, but after having worked in that league, that buffer zone between there and the NHL is very important and can be pivotal for defensemen and young players.

"You look at [Casey] Mittelstadt in Buffalo as an example of how college wasn’t challenging enough for him, the NHL might have been too much — that American League is a really, really, really pivotal spot for a lot of young players. ... It can be a huge tool and not one that prospects should be scared of or feel slighted if they end up there.”

But Wroblewski doesn't see York far down the ladder.

"Just from his past, the way that he came into the program, U-17 and was able to fit right in, and then really thrive at the U-18 level as an underager and then set the scoring records that he did," Wroblewski said. "He looks at home in the college game and displays the same offensive characteristics. A kid that truly appreciates keeping the puck out of his net first and then letting the offense come to him — those are characteristics that should prove worthy of him making a quick climb to the NHL.”

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Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with most 'heart'

Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with most 'heart'

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Predicting who wins the Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with the most “heart.”

Destra

Looking back at the season, no one is more deserving of this award than Oskar Lindblom. 

When the news was given back in December that Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, the whole NHL community was in shock. Through the news and the process since, the 23-year-old has continued to be a positive light for the organization and fans. 

Though his season on the ice was cut short, his impact remained just as important as the year progressed. The team went out and played for him every single night. Those moments when he was in Wells Fargo Center — whether the team knew, it was a surprise or even when he popped up on team picture day, he always made it better. 

Head coach Alain Vigneault says it best whenever Lindblom is mentioned, always commenting on his “beautiful smile.”

Emmer

The player to win the Gene Hart by the end of the season should be Sean Couturier.  

Couturier is so clutch for many reasons. We always talk about his strong 200-foot abilities and simply put— his marvelous abilities with the puck. On top of that all, he’s consistent.  

Couturier is always stepping up for this team and bringing heart to the game in times the team needs it most. Specifically, games following defeat. 

Couturier in games following a loss: 

26 games, 13 goals, 19 assists, 32 points, plus-13

Couturier is a game-changer and I think there’s something to say about how he’s been such a consistent key component for the Flyers. 

I completely believe Couturier deserves to be awarded the Gene Hart for the third consecutive season because of that passion he brings to the Flyers, and the sport of hockey in general. 

Hatcher

The Gene Hart Memorial Trophy has to go to Lindblom.

Lindblom is a phenomenal teammate according to every single person who plays alongside him, a guy who is tremendous to work with in every interaction I’ve had with him (and every other reporter who covers the team will say the same), and a player who was seemingly taking a massive step in his career this season before it was so unfairly cut short.

Despite Lindblom being forced to take a step back from the ice to battle Ewing’s sarcoma, he has become a key piece in the force that drives this team. This team has made it clear that it fights for him while he’s forced to fight for his health. 

I’d pull up stats for how the team has played on days when Lindblom has been at morning skate, or quotes on all the wonderful things the Flyers have said about what Lindblom means to them, but honestly this video of him surprising the team (and specifically Jakub Voracek’s reaction) says more than I could adequately say. 

Hall

It would be really cool to see Robert Hagg win this award.

The 25-year-old Swede is a low-key guy who does the unglamorous things and never aims for recognition. Instead, he plays with a huge heart and always puts his teammates first.

Hagg has found his niche on this 2019-20 team, all while dealing with the shocking news of his good friend Lindblom being diagnosed with cancer. He has pushed forward for Lindblom and the Flyers.

Hagg is a player that doesn't make the headlines. He deserves this one.

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