Flyers’ Quarter-Season Report Cards: Defensemen Edition

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Flyers, Philippe Myers

As we patiently wait for the Philadelphia Flyers to play another game, let’s start to reflect on the Flyers’ season so far. Despite a ton of negatives to talk about, the orange and black have accelerated off to what looks to be another successful season. The Flyers have been sitting in second place of their division, with a 8-3-2 record.

Their forwards have been carrying most of the load so far. The Flyers’ defensive unit has been struggling to find a consistent footing. Carter Hart and Brian Elliott have each been doing what they are able to as the defense slowly but surely gets it together.

Each defenseman has had their ups and downs this season. The Flyers’ blue line is one of the key weaknesses so far this season. However, when looking on a more individual level, how have these guys graded out in just about the first quarter mark of the season?

(The following pairings are based off their most recent game against the Capitals)

Flyers’ First D-Pairing:

Ivan Provorov

Grade: A-

Ivan Provorov is one special player, there’s no doubt about it. He’s played in every possible game, reaching a 328 games played in a row streak so far. This season, he’s played in all 13 games, posting seven points (2g, 5a). He’s been one of the most stable players on the roster from a gameplay standpoint as well. He leads the team in blocked shots, and in minutes played, putting his body on the line every game

Being without veteran Matt Niskanen this season, Provy is expected to be the guy to slow the tempo and control the top pairing. His skating each game is remarkable, constantly taking the edge inside on fast breaks. In the transition game, the Russian machine also leads nearly every breakout. Let’s also not forget to mention his ability to play on every unit, and do it incredibly well.

Much of why he did not get an “A” grade is because of his random hiccups so far. However, these are likely due to the instability of who he’s playing with. He’s looked good alongside Shayne Gostisbehere, but often times has to compensate for his offensive mindset, forcing him to stay home a little more. This isn’t his fault at all- but Provy can continue to improve and staple himself as a top-15 d-man in the league.

Philippe Myers- B

Phil Myers has also had his fair share of ups and downs this season. Myers missed time due to a rib injury, but reentered the lineup without missing a beat. On the stat sheet, the big man picked up three assists in his eight games.

Defensively, he has these random plays where he just looks so special. Honestly, some of them are legit freakish in nature and show flashes of his potential. His hockey IQ is through the roof, and sets him above the rest. Based off his play this season, his ceiling looks like he could become the consistent 1b to Provy’s 1a. Sanheim matches up close, but Myers does not seem to have the ability to carry a pairing quite like Sanny does.

Myers, though, is so good on the blue line. He should be paired with Provy, and let his partner do his thing offensively. His skating ability and decision making may be on par with Provorov’s, and it would make them a solid pairing. If Myers can stay healthy, he could easily improve to an “A” grade, possibly as soon as the midseason rolls around.

Travis Sanheim- B+

Okay, I know that he wasn’t on the top pairing and there’s three guys listed here. However, Travis Sanheim would not be on this list since he missed the most recent Capital’s game, and I wanted to squeeze him in here.

He and Myers go hand-in-hand. They are such a solid second pairing when the Flyers’ are fully healthy, and they could be the pairing of the future. However, given the Flyers’ current situation, and what I described with Myers above, the team should continue to separate them. Sanheim has the ability to lead a defensive pairing. Offensively, he often leads and/or joins the rush. His skating is swift, allowing him to play a 200ft game.

Often times, Sanheim is the reason that the Flyers’ breakout is as smooth as it is. He’s earned his five points (1g, 4a) in the 12 games he’s played as well. His passing is among some of the best in the league, and as crazy as this sounds, he does have the ability to be as good as Provy.

Flyers’ Second Pairing:

Shayne Gostisbehere- B-

Ghost is one interesting guy to talk about here. He’s played so well since returning from his COVID related absence. The former rookie sensation was paired with Provy upon his return, and has not disappointed.

After a really poor 2020 campaign, Ghost needed to use this season to settle back down and rebound. Defensively, he’s done just that. You can see just by using the eye test that he’s found his footing at the blue line. There’s plenty of examples- he’s simply been an important piece in their own zone. He’s constantly utilize that sweet sweep check of his to break up plays. I know that plus/minus is the most reliable stat, but Ghost is a +4 on the season. Compare that to some of his other seasons, and you can see how much he’s settled down in terms of his defense.

Outside of defense, though, Ghost has been treading on thin ice. He’s only recorded a single assist in his seven games played so far. In the transition game, he’s turned the puck over numerous times. On the powerplay, he’s looked a lot slower in his puck carrying responsibilities than in year’s past.

Look, I’d take his stay at home style any day of the week, especially because many of the Flyers’ d-men are more offensive minded. However, the team can’t afford turnover and turnover, which is one of Ghost’s (and others) biggest issue this season.

Justin Braun- C

Average. That about sums up Braun’s play this season.

Look, Braun catches a lot of flak, and a lot of it is unnecessary. He’s never been some elite point producing defenseman. In fact, the most points he’s ever accumulated was while he was a Shark in 2017-2018, where he produced 33 points in 81 games. Because of this, he often goes overlooked.

Justin Braun is no Matt Niskanen defensively, either. However, he gets the job done as a bottom pairing type of guy. In his own zone, he matches up well. The Flyers don’t get scored on much while he’s on the ice, and he does just enough. I’d like to see more out of him as a veteran, but that would be unfair to pinpoint the blame on him. He’s average, and that’s okay.

Flyers’ Third Pairing and Extras:

Robert Hagg- C-

The Bobby Hagg Hive was buzzing in the last game the Flyers played!

The big bodied d-man scored his first goal (and first point) in his ten games against the Capitals. However, Hagg has not been as good as he’s shown he can be. He’s another one that catches a lot of flak, and honestly a lot of it is for good reason. Often times, he looks absolutely lost. When he gains possession, there’s been a number of plays where he’ll just ice the puck instead of looking for an outlet pass. He is FAR from an offensive or transition type of player. Unfortunately, though, his defense isn’t that great either, so it doesn’t make up for it that often.

What Bobby Hagg does do well, though, is body up. He only sits one hit behind Scott Laughton on the team in hits (29) and he’s done it in three less games. He’s always on his man in the defensive zone and does his job. The bad part is that hitting and matching up defensively is about all he has done so far this season.

Erik Gustafsson- C

Erik Gustafsson has been one rollercoaster of a player for the Flyers this season. He made his presence known early, assisting two goals in his first game as a Flyer against the Penguins. He’s been a staple on the second powerplay unit, being a great puck handler in the neutral zone. He also sits atop all Flyers’ defensemen in points with seven so far this season.

However, Gus struggles in many other aspects of his game. He can’t pass very well, especially in the transition game. Sure, he can carry it himself, but this isn’t an individual game. It’s tough to argue against his ability to generate offense, but in almost every aspect of the game Gus is just a step behind. This “C” grade is very generous, and is solely because of his seven points for the most part.

Mark Friedman- C-

Mark Friedman is another guy on this roster that likely doesn’t get enough credit. However, he isn’t given much of a chance either. If you were to ask me, I think he probably deserves more of an even split with Robert Hagg. But then again, I’m probably not an NHL coach for a reason.

Anyways, Friedman has been solid this season when asked to play. He’s only played in three games, so I feel that it’s unfair to even give him a grade. He doesn’t have a recorded stat other than a -1 rating and four PIM. Friedman does try to provide a spark, though, hence his four penalty minutes. I respect him for that, but there’s still development needed here.

Nate Prosser- A

Trust the Prosser, as my colleague Eric Reese would say.

I can’t really even grade Prosser; he’s only played in one game. However, in that one game, he showed off. The veteran d-man scored a goal in his lone appearance. When scoring that goal, he showed his veteran prowess. The 34-year-old had a slick back door cut to pick up the rebound and put it past Devil’s goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Screw it, he deserves the “A” grade. He was asked to play an important depth role for a game, and executed to perfection. His defense was solid, as the Flyers won the game 3-1 and the Devils did not score with him on the ice.

(Do not get mad at this one, it is a joke. Thank you)

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre