Travis Sanheim

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

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Flyers/USA Today Images

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers' general manager who was able to construct an entire blue line through trades and free-agent signings was once asked, "What's the number one trait you look for out of a defenseman?"

Paul Holmgren’s response was decisive and to the point. Paraphrasing, Holmgren said, "The one who can get the puck out of his zone as quickly as possible."

As much as the game of hockey has been broken down into advanced metrics and analytics, it’s rather simple at its core. The more time a team spends in its end of the ice, the greater likelihood it'll be on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

The AHL playoffs have served as an ideal test site for Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, who have been stalwarts throughout the Phantoms' postseason run. 

However, Game 3 at the PPL Center Wednesday night further exemplified the necessary strides the Flyers' defensive prospects must take in order to develop into reliable, everyday NHL blueliners.  

Oftentimes, less is more when you have the puck in the defensive end of the ice, and it took roughly 62 seconds into the game on Sanheim’s opening shift for the 22-year-old to make a major gaffe that gave the Toronto Marlies a 1-0 lead. 

Instead of making the simple play of a quick pass up the boards, Sanheim elected to keep it, reversing his field and was suddenly stripped with the attacking forward trailing. Roughly two seconds elapsed from the moment Sanheim lost the puck to when it was behind goalie Alex Lyon in the net. 

“On that particular play, we have full possession of the puck and the opportunity to advance it," Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. "Instead, we go back behind the net to where their guy is. That’s just playing into their hands. In that situation, and in a few of our breakouts, there were opportunities to move forward with the puck and we didn’t.”   

However, the gaffes involving the Sanheim-Myers pairing didn’t stop there. Sanheim was stripped of the puck at his own blue line during the first Phantoms' power play. Myers inexcusably lost his edge skating with the puck through the neutral zone. Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson muscled his way around Sanheim to generate a quality scoring chance, and then another terrible pass and turnover inside the Phantoms' zone.

And that all came in the first seven minutes of the game. 

If Dave Hakstol had been behind the bench (he was actually watching from the PPL Center press box), Sanheim is likely sitting in front of him for the remainder of the game. That’s essentially what transpired in mid-January at the Prudential Center in New Jersey when Sanheim’s play landed him back in the minors for a month and a half. 

Chalk this up as one bad game. Game 3 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals was simply another teaching moment as the Phantoms were blown out, 5-0, falling behind 3-0 in the series. Both players will be back there together logging close to 25 minutes as the Phantoms try to avoid elimination Friday night.    

As exciting as it is to watch Sanheim and Myers generate offense within the Phantoms' system with their size and skating ability, there’s no way Hakstol and the Flyers can depend on that pairing defensively next season. Together, they’re still young, inexperienced and unreliable. 

If anything, expect the competition between Myers and Sanheim as something worth watching when Flyers camp opens in September. Myers has closed the gap in his first full season in the AHL. 

And the guy who can clean up their play defensively will likely be the one that starts next season with the Flyers.  

The latest on Travis Sanheim, Flyers prospects competing in AHL playoffs

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JustSports Photography

The latest on Travis Sanheim, Flyers prospects competing in AHL playoffs

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — There’s a very good chance Travis Sanheim’s season isn’t over just yet.

Eleven days after sustaining an ugly knee injury in a collision with Checkers forward Valentin Zykov, Sanheim was skating with Lehigh Valley teammates Phil Varone and goaltender Anthony Stolarz Tuesday morning prior to the team’s practice at the PPL Center.

“I think with Phil and Travis, it’s not a question of if, but when,” Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. “I think they’re moving in the right direction and we’ll see how the week goes.”

The Phantoms returned to Allentown, Pennsylvania, for the first time since May 5 after sweeping three games in Charlotte, advancing to the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Marlies, starting Saturday. While Sanheim isn’t expected to play in the first two games of the series, there’s a stronger possibility he could return to action when the series shifts back to Allentown for Games 3, 4 and 5.

Stolarz hasn’t played since making his Phantoms season debut on March 24, allowing six goals on 35 shots to the Providence Bruins. He reinjured his surgically repaired knee and has spent the better part of the past seven months in rehabilitation.

However, Stolarz is expected to join the team when it leaves for Toronto later in the week. 

“I think he’s been officially cleared health-wise,” Gordon said. “I don’t want to say I’m 100 percent, but I’m 95 percent he’s officially been cleared. He’s going to make the trip to Toronto because of it.” 

The news surrounding defenseman Samuel Morin doesn’t appear so optimistic. The Flyers' defensive prospect sustained an apparent knee injury last Wednesday in the first period of the five-overtime thriller against the Checkers.

Internally, there’s concern that Morin may not be 100 percent when training camp opens in September. 

Flyers' defensemen grades and outlook for next season — Part 1

Flyers' defensemen grades and outlook for next season — Part 1

Over the next several days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. Next up, Part 1 of the defensemen:

The 2017-18 season was one of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After the Flyers' three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the defensive core will look like over the next few years. 

Shayne Gostisbehere

Regular season: A-

Playoffs: D     

Gostisbehere’s season took off when he was paired with Ivan Provorov in the second half of the season. His defensive stickwork and positioning improved significantly and he even developed a physical side at times. Had a terrible six-game playoff against the Pens, forcing Dave Hakstol to break up his top pair. Interestingly, his goal production dipped as the power play struggled. "Ghost" scored five goals in December, or the same number from January through April.

2018-19 outlook: He enters the second year of his six-year, $27 million extension he signed last summer. A deal that looks very team friendly comparative to the other contracts of players his age. I expect "Ghost" to start next season on the top pair with Provorov after showing great improvements in the defensive side of his game. 

Robert Hagg

Regular season: B-

Playoffs: Incomplete

Surprisingly solid while playing in the Flyers' first 70 games of the season. A strong physical presence that still needed work positionally as he hit a wall midseason. Didn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch over the final month of the regular season, but the Flyers liked what they saw out of Travis Sanheim throughout March and refused to break up the Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas pairing. Played only the final two games of the playoffs.  

2018-19 outlook: A restricted free agent, Hagg should get a two- to three-year deal for next season and should start the season out of camp. Playing three seasons in the AHL was a significant part of Hagg’s development and he should comprise one of the Flyers' three defense pairings next season. 

Ivan Provorov

Regular season: A

Playoffs: C+  

When asked to assess his season, Provorov said there were three to five games during the regular season in which he didn’t play like himself. He experienced some puck-handling struggles during the second half, but nothing that impaired the team defensively. He suffers the occasional bad read or breakdown in his own end, but the Flyers are blessed that Provorov hasn’t been forced to miss any time over his first two seasons. A shoulder separation was a tough way to end the season (see story).

2018-19 outlook: Provorov is the workhorse on the blue line after displaying an immunity to the sophomore slump. Can he expand on his offensive numbers and potentially reach the 20-goal mark? If so, Provorov’s third NHL season could be the year he enters the Norris Trophy discussion.   

Travis Sanheim

Regular season: C

Playoffs: B-

Sanheim looked like a different player once he returned to the team from Lehigh Valley on March 10, with four points and a plus-7 rating in his first eight games back. He started seeing the ice much better and making the smart, low-risk plays that the coaching staff was looking for out of a young player. Did not look out of place throughout the first four games of the Flyers' first-round series. Unfortunately, his best game was part of a 5-1 loss in Game 4. 

2018-19 outlook: With one more season remaining on his entry-level contract, Sanheim will be expected to make the season-opening roster straight out of training camp. He should be paired with a steady veteran while also seeing time on the second power-play unit.

In Friday's Part 2, we will look at Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.