Travis Sanheim welcomes competition, 'coming to make the Flyers'

Travis Sanheim welcomes competition, 'coming to make the Flyers'

VOORHEES, N.J. — At development camp, Travis Sanheim was almost too developed.

He would skate through drills so naturally and fluidly, he could have been an instructor.

Unintentionally, he was in a way.

"It's definitely a teaching camp," Sanheim said last week. "Even the development coaches have talked to me, making sure I slow stuff down and show the younger guys how to do it properly, not necessarily doing everything at full speed."

Sanheim understood the importance of leading by example at his fourth development camp, but there was no reason to feel sorry for appearing ahead of the curve.

That's where Sanheim is.

Which made for a slight paradox over the six-day course. Undoubtedly, the 21-year-old defenseman wanted to be among the organization's prospects, sharpening and sculpting his game just like the rest.

But there's no question Sanheim's yearning for a much different camp — September with the big boys, because he's now one of them.

"I feel like I'm ready, I'm going to compete for a spot," Sanheim said. "Until somebody tells me differently, that's my goal. I'm coming to make the Flyers."

Under general manager Ron Hextall's philosophy of earn what you get, Sanheim will have his chance. But is there room? The Flyers are at a numbers crunch on the blue line. There is expected to be two spots open, presumably for Robert Hagg and Sam Morin, both of whom acquitted themselves well during their April NHL debuts.

Sanheim isn't conceding anything, though.

"It's going to come down to camp," he said.

"This year, obviously there's going to be some spots available, and we're going to be fighting for the job."

It's hard to deny his readiness. The 2014 first-round pick has done what has been necessary through his development path. He's added noticeable strength, going from around 172 pounds when drafted to a sturdy 200 currently.

"I watched Travis Sanheim — you see him, his first development camp he looked like a young boy," Hextall said. "And you look at him now, and he almost looks like a man. He's just more upright, you can tell his body is more linked up, he's got a stronger core, he's more upright when he skates."

The 6-foot-4 Sanheim weighed the same at 2016 development camp, a possible sign he's where he needs to be physically. Hextall believes weight must still be gained and Sanheim doesn't disagree, but did point out how he fared just fine last season in his first full year with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

"Obviously, I'm going to want to continue to keep gaining strength and add that to my game, but I played pro this year and it didn't faze me at all," he said. "The strength, I think I was right there with everyone else, was able to compete and battle in 1-on-1s against pro players."

With the Phantoms, his defensive principles and two-way awareness took positive strides over time. Offense has always been Sanheim's game. In his final two junior seasons, he totaled 133 points in 119 regular-season games. That was against kids in the WHL.

In 2016-17, he saw the change against men in the AHL. He managed to collect 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) in 76 games for a plus-7 rating and knows he can do more, but the AHL helped him focus on picking his spots.

"I went over numerous video sessions with the coaches, watching clips of stuff that if I was to look at it now, it would just look silly," Sanheim said with a laugh. "I'm standing on top of the goalie in the crease, there's just no need for that as a defenseman and especially at the pro level.

"I wasn't able to do the same things that I was able to do in junior. I had to learn some valuable lessons in the first few months, but I think towards the end of the season, you could see that I had gained my confidence again and was starting to play the game that I wanted to play.

"I know to play at this next level, I'm going to have to be just as good in my D-zone as I am in the offensive zone, so for me, if I'm not contributing offensively, I just want to make sure I'm bringing the full two-way game."

Hextall noticed Sanheim's adjustment period.

"He did a really good job last year from start to finish — got a lot better," he said. "The adjustment on the first month, month and a half, where he was going too much up ice, a little bit irresponsible and all of a sudden, a month, month and a half in, figured that part out. That was a huge step for him. He got better, he got better throughout the year and he needs to continue on that."

As pleased as Hextall has been with the development, it sounds like Sanheim's jump to the NHL will ultimately come down to the aforementioned size and opportunity.

"You go from an American League level to trying to make the NHL team, there's a speed, a strength thing that wounds up another two notches," Hextall said. "He just has to continue to do what he's doing and get better every day.

"Your reaction time to closing on a guy, whether to close or not close, everything gets ramped up. It's the whole mind, the hockey sense, the strength, the being in the proper position, because if you're caught out of position at the NHL level and it's an elite player, you're in big trouble. In the American League, you can get away with it.

"There's still some fine-tuning that he needs to do and all those young defensemen need to do, and we'll see where we're at in September."

Sanheim knows where he wants to be. And he's not just saying it — he believes it.

"I'm going to obviously do what they tell me," he said, "but I'm coming to camp to make the team."

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Team Canada names Sean Burke GM for 2018 Olympics
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres re-sign goalie Lehner to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils re-sign 3 restricted free agents
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.