The conversation between Shayne Gostisbehere and general manager Ron Hextall didn't need much explanation as to why the Flyers' defensive prospect was being sent back to Lehigh Valley.

“He knows exactly. I met with him this morning,” Hextall said. “It was like, ‘I know.’ He is very in-tune with his game, a smart kid. He knows exactly what he does really well and what he needs to work at.”

Gostisbehere, his partner in camp, Robert Hagg, and Nick Cousins, all returned to the Phantoms on Saturday morning, as the Flyers reduced their roster to 26 players with three cuts to go.

In short, he needs to work on his defensive play away from the puck.

“He’s going down for specific reasons,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He is going to go there and work to complete his play without the puck. You can’t skip that step of the process, developmentally. That’s going to be a real good challenge for him.”

Areas Gostisbehere needs to work at include his defensive positioning in front of the net, and despite his size — 5-foot-9 — the club wants him to use his speed and stick to challenge better.

“He does a really good job when he has the puck,” Hextall said. “Defensively, there are some things he has to tighten up.

“One thing Ghost has to do is close quicker on people. He has great feet. He can do that. It’s a matter of repetition and getting better at it.”

Last season was a lost year for the 22-year-old. A torn ACL in his left knee forced him to play just five games in the AHL and two with the Flyers.

The lack of playing time represented precious lost developmental time. 

“Experience is a big thing,” Hextall said. “Knowing the game and coach’s expectations and playing around big bodies at a high pace.”

This much was apparent. The Flyers' rookie prospects, including Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov, really pushed the veterans in camp.

"Every year, they draft some really good D," veteran defenseman Nick Schultz said. "You see the top teams in the league that build their team around having good defense. Like Duncan Keith, (Brent) Seabrook, these guys. All these teams draft and develop and they become great players.

"They have good options here and with so many options, it's good competition. Not just one or two guys, there are lots of guys there who can come in and battle. They pushed guys."

While you could argue the Flyers' blue line is worse off offensively without Gostisbehere in terms of fluidness, puck-moving and speed, the roster remains too crowded on defense and their cap situation is still bad.

There are eight defensemen left, all on one-ways deals. Right now, Luke Schenn, who the team has been trying to trade for more than a year, is its eighth defenseman.

“Hard to say,” Hextall said of Schenn’s status. “We got a lot of guys right in the mix there, in or out based on numbers.”

While the Flyers have eight D-men currently with Gostisbehere gone, Hextall admitted he may only carry seven. The final three cuts could be Colin McDonald, Brandon Manning and Scott Laughton.

In that scenario, that would leave Schenn as the seventh defenseman and Chris Porter as the 13th forward.

As good as Laughton has looked, he is strictly a centerman. Most teams don't carry an extra center, as they prefer to carry a versatile forward who can play either wing. Laughton doesn't fit that description.

Vinny Lecavalier is the Flyers' fourth center and, at this point, Lecavalier occupies a spot that Laughton deserves.

If the Flyers carry eight defensemen, then Manning remains with Schenn and his younger brother, Brayden, becomes the 13th forward.

Hextall says all of this has to play out in the team's final three exhibition games.

The Flyers meet the Rangers on Monday night in New York. Both teams are expected to play an "A" lineup.

Loose pucks
On Friday, the club placed Tim Brent, Chris Conner, Davis Drewiske, Jason LaBarbera and Aaron Palushaj on waivers. All five cleared and were sent to the Phantoms. … The Flyers will practice Sunday at Skate Zone.