Philadelphia Flyers: An Offensive Defense

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Flyers will try to bring an offensive defense to the ice in the near future.

Over the past few articles, I have been heavily critical of the Philadelphia Flyers and their position within the Metropolitan Division.  I’m a firm believer that a team needs to win the division first, and then concern itself with the conference and the league.  The problem for the Flyers is the Metro has five teams that finished top ten overall in points.

The Washington Capitals (first), the Pittsburgh Penguins (fourth), the New York Rangers (ninth), and the New York Islanders (tenth) all finished ahead of the Flyers (13th).  The Philadelphia Flyers finished ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes (18th), the New Jersey Devils (20th), and the Columbus Blue Jackets (27th).

This quote ought, to sum up the  Philadelphia Flyers offensive firepower from last year:

"“The Flyers’ offense was its worst in 10 years.“ – John Russo"

If a team can’t score points, then the only other option is to live and die by the adage that “defense wins championships.”  The Philadelphia Flyers have several prospects to help improve its defense.  One of the prospects who made the team is Shayne “Ghost” Gostisbehere.

The pros:  The Philadelphia Flyers drafted Ghost 78th overall in 2012, and called him up to play for the team during the 2015 season.  Ghost played 64 games, scored 17 goals, and had 29 assists for a total of 46 points for the Philadelphia Flyers.  He became so integral to the offensive rush that the team began passing him the puck to help set him up for an 11 game point streak which set a record for rookie defensemen.

The cons:  At times, Ghost tried to put too much on his shoulders by joining the offensive rush for the Philadelphia Flyers too soon, which lead to breakdowns in his defensive assignments.

This can easily be chalked up to rookie mistakes and growing pains for Ghost.  These mistakes and growing pains will come for all defensive prospects.  It took three years for Ghost to make the team, but his hard work and the patience from management paid off.

The Flyers have several defensive prospects who have yet to be called up, and Ron Hextall reminds everyone that:

"“the decision to have certain prospects on the main roster won’t come because of their potential in a few years but because they are the best player for the 2016-17 season.”"

I do not think anyone is going to argue Hextall’s vision for the Philadelphia Flyers with Ghost’s success.  It is possible Ghost faces a sophomore slump because other teams have adjusted to his play, but he will just have to continue to work hard (if not harder), and persevere through the challenges.

Let’s take a look at some of the other prospects the Philadelphia Flyers have, and based off of how long it took Ghost to make the team how long it will take each prospect (in other words, since Ghost was drafted in 2012 and he made the team in 2015 it took three years).  Admittedly, this is an arbitrary experiment, and Ghost was called up because of necessity:

Sam Morin

Age: 21
Height: 6’7”
Weight:  224 pounds.
Selection:  11th overall (2013); Playing in 2016 possible
Nationality:  Canadian
Situation:  Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL).

"“Sam had a real good year last year.  He was solid defensively. There was a lot of growth in terms of his decision-making. We always talk about guys like Sam being air-tight. He got better.  He had a real good year last year. He developed in consistency and reads and solid defensive play. We like where Sam’s at.” – Hextall"

It’s apparent Hextall likes Morin’s progress due to the quote about Morin’s decision making (which is important for a defenseman).  This can go back to Ghost – the decision-making process in the NHL is still on a learning curve even for an NHL ready defensemen like Ghost.  He did not have too many breakdowns, but there were some and they were costly.

The first thing that stands out on paper about Morin is his size.  6’7” 224 pounds is huge.  Morin has the size of a prototypical “stay at home porch clearing defensemen.”  Unlike Ghost, these  defensemen usually hang back in their own end of the ice waiting for the other team’s offensive players to cross the blue line.

With his size, Morin has the ability to intimidate near “the porch” (read: crease) of the Philadelphia Flyers goaltender.  Morin will no doubt use his body to help clear said porch.

Ivan Provorov

Age: 19
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 201
Selection:  Seventh (2015);  Playing in 2018 possible
Nationality:  Russian
Situation:  Brandon Wheat Kings

"His superb skating ability and tremendous two-way ability is on display every game"

Superb skating is not something that should be overlooked for a defensive (or any) prospect.  The name of the game is skating.  If you can’t move, then you can’t play, and if you can’t play then you can’t help the team win.  Two-way ability means that Provorov has a tendency to join the offensive rush like Ghost – be it in scoring situations, or just leading the team out of his own end of the ice.

Travis Sanheim

Age:  20
Height:  6’4”
Weight: 200+
Selection:  17th (2014); Playing in 2017 possible
Nationality:  Canadian
Situation:  Lehigh Valley Phantoms

"“It’s taken a good two years now and it’s not done.  It’s probably going to take about four years to see Travis’ strength develop to its maximum strength.” – Hextall"

This quote is in reference to the weight Sanheim needed to gain (good muscular weight).  There is also this quote regarding his assists:

"His 53 assists were second among all WHL defensemen and his 68 points were fourth. (Fellow Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov was first with 73.)"

It is clear given the latter quote that Provorov and Sanheim are defensemen who are more likely to pass the puck out of their own end of the ice (fixing an issue the Flyers have had for a long time) rather than to join the rush like Ghost.

Provorov’s tremendous two-way ability allows him to choose which option he wants to take.  That should be expected from a top ten defensemen, and Sanheim has the same ability to assist as Provorov.

Robert Hagg
Age:  21
Height:  6’2”
Weight:  201
Selection:  41st (2013);  Playing in 2016 possible
Nationality:  Swedish
Situation:  Lehigh Valley Phantoms

"“I’m trying to be a two-way defender, that’s what I want to be” – Hagg"

"“A tryout is not two weeks long.  How smart would I be if I started making decisions based on two weeks? It’s the whole picture.” – Hextall”"

Sometimes with prospects, you get impatient with the whole “patience” thing.  The Philadelphia Flyers clearly need to better within the Metro, and the conference, and the league.  There are good prospects on the list, and a lot of fans ask what’s with the wait?  Hagg’s situation is one where Hextall’s patience makes a lot more sense than it usually does.  Hagg hit a bit of a rough spot with injuries last year, but he is only 21 years old and he clearly has goals to make the team.

The analysis

It is clear given where the Flyers drafted these defensemen (three out of four were picked in the top twenty, and the Flyers selected all four within the first two rounds) that they need and want them to pan out.  They are on average 20 years old and all over six feet tall.  Three out of the four of them are two-way defensemen, and one has the prototypical size of a necessary stay at home defensemen.  The two-way portion is important here.

The ability for the defensemen to play two-way hockey will allow the Philadelphia Flyers to score points from a position on the ice other than center or wing.  Those positions are expected to score more so than the average defensemen, but if a defenseman is drafted high the expectation changes.  The defensemen becomes expected to assist on the offensive rush.  If the defensemen doesn’t possess a natural two-way skill set, then they better possess a natural 6’7” 224-pound frame.

At least one of these prospects should pan out for the Philadelphia Flyers, and that’s being generous on the low end.  If I were to make a guess as to which one would not, then it would be Hagg.

Next: Flyers: Five Wings Please

That is easy for me to say; however, Hagg seems determined and that can help someone overcome their obstacles.  Determination is a necessary mental skill in hockey, and Hagg wants to be a two-way defender.  He is the forgotten prospect in a sea of prospects.  I would not count Hagg out, and the other defensive prospects look to help the Philadelphia Flyers offense.