This had been the expectation from Travis Sanheim dating back to his offensive clinic during the Flyers' 2017 preseason.
It took the second-year defenseman 74 games to score his first two goals in the NHL. His next two came just two minutes and five seconds apart Thursday night in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime loss against the Blue Jackets (see observations).
For the most part, it was situational play in that third period, when Sanheim logged a few more extra shifts with his team down a pair of goals in an effort to generate a little more offense from the back end.
“I think I read the play where we had clean possession going into the zone on both plays," Sanheim said. "I’d like to think at any point in the game I’m going to make that play. I think they were pretty smart reads and not high risk.”
However, in eight of his last 13 games, Sanheim hasn’t registered a single shot on net, which could be attributed to a refusal to take chances or at times, pinch in the offensive zone. There's also been a lack of opportunity when surrounded by bottom-six forwards, coupled with a limited role on the Flyers' power play. Sanheim ranks 10th in power-play minutes, just a notch below Jordan Weal.
Since entering the league as a rookie, Sanheim consciously has been trying to prove his reliability in the defensive end and his trustworthiness in all situations, but the confidence comes from his offensive upside.
“For a defenseman, his skill is pretty high,” Claude Giroux said. “When he plays with confidence, he’s a very dangerous player.”
Still, for Sanheim it’s hard to gain that confidence if he isn't putting up offensive numbers.
“You want to make sure you’re picking the right chances and not giving up too much on the other side," Sanheim said. "I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it.”
Receiving offense from the defensive unit has become a premium around the NHL and general managers are constantly on the lookout for those blueliners who have the ability to change the outcome of a game with the puck on their stick.
The Flyers tied the game as a result of Sanheim and the Blue Jackets eventually won it with their All-Star defenseman Seth Jones leading the way, scoring twice.
Last season, the Flyers were among the league leaders in goals from their defense as that group combined to score 50 goals. This season, blue-line offensive production is way down. Collectively, that unit had scored only nine goals through its first 25 games until Sanheim popped home a pair against the Blue Jackets.
“Would I like to help out more and contribute more? Maybe," Sanheim said, "but I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of picking those chances.”
And if there’s one area where new assistant coach Rick Wilson can have a profound impact this season, it could be in the development of an offensive-minded defenseman like Sanheim with a good deal of untapped potential.
“He was there. He’s starting to learn how we play,” Sanheim said. “Certain situations he helped give his input, and he’s learning all of our games.”
If Wilson’s input leads to more offensive output for Sanheim, he could very well develop into that player the Flyers projected with their first-round pick in 2014.
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