Kids these days grow up so darn fast. That’s never been more evident than now when you take a look at the “kids” on the blue line in Philadelphia. Threee years ago, the Flyers fielded a blue line with the likes of Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Three years later, and here we are with the likes of Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Robert Hagg as mainstays on the back end of the ice for Philadelphia. They’ve all been a welcome addition to a position that has been in turmoil since around 2010 when Chris Pronger, Brayden Coburn, and Kimmo Timonen graced us with their presence on the defensive side of the puck.
Here we are, about 8 years later. Pronger and Timonen have since retired, the latter winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, the former joining the front office for the Florida Panthers. Coburn still shores up the blueline in Tampa as well.
The ones who took over for Kimmo, Chris, and Brayden are now maturing right before our eyes. Thrust into the spotlight at such young ages, these “kids” if you want to call them that, have earned their spot on the Flyers defense, and have done their best to make the club a better all around team.
Ghost joined the club during the 2015-16 season, and took the league by storm. Notching 17 goals and 29 assists in his rookie campaign, Shayne quickly became the golden boy of the blue line. Fans took to him, brass trusted him to take on more minutes per game, and Shayne kept producing. He notched 46 points as a rookie, 39 points as a sophomore, and so far this year, he has 53 points in 69 games played.
Gostisbehere quickly moved up the special teams depth chart, as well, and now quarterbacks the powerplay. He’s the offensive threat on the blue line that the Flyers have needed ever since the departure of Timonen, but still lacks a bit on the defensive side of the puck. Giveaways and turnovers plague his game a bit, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been attempting to refine his game.
Gostisbehere was one of those kids that Hakstol felt necessary to reprimand early in his career for his follies and botches. He sat for a few games last year, and hasn’t looked back since getting back into the lineup.
Ghost figures to be a mainstay onthe Flyers’ roster for a long time, signing a 6 year extension back in June of 2017. He comes at a fairly inexpensive price, as well, which makes it easy to dish out some extra cash to other candidates that have a rookie contract expiring…
After being drafted 7th overall in the 2015 NHL draft, Ivan Provorov was coming into an already stellar prospect pool that Ron Hextall seemed to keep adding to, and add he did when he selected Provorov. Ivan, by many draft experts, was regarded as the best all-around defenseman in that year’s draft, and coming to the Flyers at the 7th overall pick was a bargain.
After spending one more year down in Juniors with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Provorov made his NHL debut at the age of 19 last year, and quickly became the number one guy on the Philadelphia blue line. He averaged 21:59 of ice time in his rookie year, and is up to 24:12 this year. Clearly he can handle the time, because Ivan Provorov has very quickly become one of the premier defenseman in the league.
Provorov plays every facet of the game: shorthanded, powerplay, even strength, and is a go-to guy when it comes to overtime. His game speaks for itself. He has 34 points thus far in 2017-18, 4 more than his rookie year, and he still has more games to go. Needless to say, Provorov is a beacon of light on the Flyers blue line that is shining a lot brighter than in years past.
With Provorov and Gostisbehere already gaining traction in the big league, Robert Hagg bode his time in the AHL, refining his craft and waiting for the right time to make the jump to the NHL. Hagg was never a flashy defenseman. He doesn’t put up the points like Shayne Gostisbehere, but he as shown flashes of his offensive game, and he has one heck of a wrister.
Hagg finally got his shot this year, when he appeared to beat out Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin in training camp for a starting spot. Out of all the choices Dave Hakstol and Ron Hextall made, this is shaping up to be the best one they have made all year. Robert Hagg has been the defensive presence that the Flyers need on the blue line, leading the league in hits as a rookie with 235, 8 more than Milan Lucic, and 20 more than Cal Clutterbuck.
He has 9 points (3g, 6a) so far this season, so the offensive side of his game hasn’t quite rounded out, but where he lacks on that side of the puck, he makes up for with his well-timed hits and his aggressiveness. The more his game rounds out, the better he is going to get, which just speaks to the talent that the Flyers pipeline possesses, considering he was behind the likes of Morin, Sanheim, and even Phillipe Meyers, to some, in the pecking order.
Travis Sanheim has been a red hot topic of discussion amongst many Flyers fans this season. He was part of a three way battle for a spot on the blue line at the beginning of the year, and appeared to lose out to Robert Hagg. Sure, all three stayed up, with Morin being sent down eventually, but Sanheim, for the most part, spent a majority of his stay in the NHL up in the press box.
His first few games as a Flyer were a little underwhelming, plagued by rookie mistakes. However, he broke through eventually, and started flashing the potential that made him the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft. However, he still ended up in the press box night in and night out, and finally being sent back down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
After getting back on the ice in the AHL, Sanheim quickly proved that he had outgrown the competition that the minor league system presented. He put up 16 points in 18 games, and was recalled by the Flyers due to injury. Sanheim hasn’t been producing on offense like he was with the Phantoms, but he is proving that he learned from his first stint with the club.
Once the Flyers most promising blue line prospect, he is now on track to prove that those of us who gave him that monicker, won’t be let down.
This is the year that the Flyers needed. They are clearly performing better than most had anticipated, and are on the verge of a playoff berth. For these “kids” on the blueline, there’s no greater experience to be had than the Stanley Cup playoffs. Gostisbehere got a taste against the Capitals two years ago, and it looks like Hagg, Provorov, and Sanheim may get a taste this year. With the likes of Phillipe Meyers and Samuel Morin still hanging around Lehigh Valley, the influx of defensemen in the Flyers system has never been more apparent than now.
These kids are growing up fast, and unlike reality, where they’ll end up being a bunch of coddled little turds, these “kids” will become men capable of defending the Philadelphia blue line for years to come, and potentially defending a Stanley Cup Championship one day.
Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports