Shayne Gostisbehere knows a few things about his body, and it’s hard to hide. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he won't move mountains by chiseling away at them with his bare frame. He has to utilize the utensils in his toolbox, specifically speed and smarts.
Gostisbehere, 25, knows his offensive game will always be there. He had the most points ever by a Flyers defenseman in his first three NHL seasons with 150. He added 65 more this season. He became the fastest blueliner in franchise history to reach 100 points (155 games).
The accolades go on, but after his third season, Gostisbehere is “kind of like a veteran now,” as Flyers GM Ron Hextall put it, and this year, he incrementally improved defensively. He had respectable shot suppression numbers and saw significantly more defensive zone starts.
Since the Flyers drafted him in 2012, he’s added 20 pounds. He felt stronger coming into this season and maintained it throughout the year.
It showed in puck battles. The added strength may have factored in, as did his experience. There was another source too …
“A little more snot,” Gostisbehere said last week.
One momentous change was, as the season went on, Dave Hakstol entrusted Gostisbehere with more responsibility. He was elevated to the top pair with Ivan Provorov on Dec. 23, a game that proved to be the turning point for another young Flyer.
Not many Flyers played well in the playoffs against the Penguins, but Gostisbehere’s struggles were apparent. He finished the series as a minus-8, including a minus-4 in the Flyers’ 7-0 Game 1 loss. There was the Sidney Crosby gaffe, where he left arguably the best player ever to play hockey alone. Other coverage mistakes and defensive lapses that were more prevalent during his first two seasons reappeared in his game, leading to Hakstol to move him away from Provorov.
“I don’t think I played well in the playoffs,” Gostisbehere said. “I played in the playoffs before and I didn’t really play against first lines in my first playoff series and then this year, I did. It’s tough. You think you’re so well prepared for it and you go out in your first game and you’re minus-4. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I was on some crappy goals and some that were my fault.”
While the Flyers broke up Gostisbehere and Provorov in the postseason, the expectation is the duo will begin next season together. They created matchup nightmares because they’re both dynamic in the offensive zone and at any given time, either could activate.
Gostisbehere finished fourth in the NHL in scoring among defensemen and led all blueliners with 33 power-play points. He won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ best defenseman for the second time in three years, yet lost in it all was Provorov’s 17 goals, tied for the league lead among d-men.
“He’s a 1,000 of years better than me defensively,” Gostisbehere said. “We use that to our advantage and it really showed as a pair. Provy’s very good defensively, but offensively, he took another step. He’s probably one of the best, if not the best two-way defenseman in the NHL.”
There is an old hockey adage that goes something like this: Pair a puck-mover with a stay-at-home defenseman. We saw it in the early months with Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg. Hagg, in many ways, permitted Gostisbehere to roam freely. But the Flyers learned that partnering two puck-movers together isn’t such a lousy idea, nor is it revolutionary.
“[Provorov’s] a machine,” Gostisbehere said. “I think he’s like 35, really. … He helped me years with my defensive side of my game just watching him and him helping me along the way.”