Philadelphia Flyers

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."

Gunn's bullet points: Run game comes alive and a kicker saves the day

Gunn's bullet points: Run game comes alive and a kicker saves the day

Five bullet points from the Eagles' 27-24 win over the Giants in their home opener (see breakdown).

• The smallest guy on the field was the biggest hero Sunday. Jake Elliott's 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game saved what could have been a disaster. Wide receiver Torrey Smith said, "We didn't even know he could kick it that far." Other players admitted they had hardly spoken to Elliott in the two weeks he's been here, but they would definitely go out of their way to exchange words with him in the future.

• Thirty-nine (39?!?!) rushing attempts in one game! The Birds had a grand total of 41 attempts in the first two games. The Giants came into this affair allowing 133.5 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles busted them up for 193. Wendell Smallwood told me, "We just knew where the holes would be after watching them on tape." Lane Johnson added, "We did a great job of mixing up our runs inside, outside, mix directions and delay runs."

• The Giants' trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard combined for 24 catches, 278 yards and three touchdowns. They killed the Eagles on slant routes. Considering how depleted the Eagles' secondary was, Jalen Mills said they wanted to keep everything in front of them. When I asked cornerback Patrick Robinson why they played Beckham so much in single coverage, he responded, "We didn't think he was that healthy, but in the second half, we found out otherwise."

• As if the Birds' defense wasn't banged up enough going into this game, they lost Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks along the way. Safety Rodney McLeod, who was a scratch for this game, told me he will be ready for Philip Rivers and the Chargers next week.

• Numerous players said they were proud of the way the team came together in unity in response to President Trump's comments. Alshon Jeffery told me, "It doesn't make a difference if you're black or white, we are all in this together."

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot in which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)