Looking back to this past summer, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher swapped defensemen with a Metropolitan Division foe in the Washington Capitals. The Flyers sent Radko Gudas to Washington and in exchange, acquired veteran defenseman, Matt Niskanen. Due to his time in the league, Niskanen is “by default” as he said, a leader on and off the ice. Through 15 games with the Flyers, he’s been a welcome addition to the defense core.
Matt Niskanen first came into the NHL back in 2007 with the Dallas Stars. Fast forward to 2019 and his veteran presence is now integral for a young Flyers defense. Not only has Niskanen been asked to shut down the top lines of opposing teams night in and night out, but he’s also been asked to step up as a leader. Some guys are vocal leaders. Others let their play do the talking for them. For Niskanen, he prefers to “lead by example”.
“I guess by default because of my experience, but that’s something that’s earned as well”, said Niskanen. “My first job is to be a good player and then I’ll try to do the right things every day and lead by example that way and hopefully have an impact”.
“Steady Eddie Niskanen” as Flyers forward Chris Stewart recently referred to him as, is by no means a big-bodied defenseman at 6’1″, 203 lbs. However, that hasn’t stopped him from throwing his body around. Back on October 29th versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, Niskanen delivered a big hit on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby knocking him down to the ice. A few nights later, he delivered a big hit on Devils forward Jack Hughes before dropping the gloves with Kyle Palmieri. He ranks second to only Robert Hägg in hits by Flyers defensemen with 22.
Aside from his physicality, Niskanen has also sacrificed his body quite a bit in order to help out his netminder and take away quality scoring chances. Blocking shots often leads to bumps and bruises yet it’s not something the 13-year veteran d-man has shied away from. He ranks fourth overall on the Flyers with 15 blocked shots. Niskanen is also so good at breaking up plays with both his stick and body especially on odd-man rushes. Just when the Flyers are seemingly down and out, the Virginia, Minnesota native somehow finds a way to get back and break up what would’ve been a dangerous scoring chance for the opposing team.
He’s also chipped in on the offensive side of things. Over the course of 15 games with the Flyers, the 32-year-old veteran has eight points (two goals, six assists) with five of those coming on the powerplay. On Tuesday night versus the Hurricanes, Niskanen set up Sean Couturier on the powerplay to give the Flyers the early lead versus Carolina. He also picked up a secondary assist on Travis Konecny’s goal which proved to be the game-winner. He later earned the player of the game helmet for his contributions.
It’s a small sample size, but trading for Matt Niskanen has paid off so far for the Orange and Black. The veteran defenseman not only takes provides a veteran presence on and off the ice, but he also takes some of the pressure off of a guy like Ivan Provorov, who is tasked with doing so much each game. Niskanen helped the Washington Capitals win a Stanley Cup back in 2018. Now he’ll look to bring the Stanley Cup back to the city of Brotherly Love with the Flyers.
Next Up for the Flyers:
The Flyers are back in action tonight as they visit Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs. These two teams met exactly one week ago in Philadelphia. The Maple Leafs narrowly defeated the Flyers by a final of 4-3 in an eleven round shootout. Ivan Provorov (power-play goal), Claude Giroux (power-play goal) and Travis Sanheim scored for the Flyers. Travis Konecny was the lone Flyer to score in the shootout. The Orange and Black struck twice on the man-advantage. Brian Elliott was spectacular between the pipes stopping 23 of 26 shots fired his way and 9 of 11 shots in the shootout. Puck Drop is set for 7PM from Scotiabank Arena!
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports