Hockey is back.
After a long summer wait, the Flyers have returned to the ice at Wells Fargo Center for another season long battle for the playoffs. Three preseason games into the season and there has already been some eye-popping performances from some Flyers players on the bubble. Taylor Leier’s 2 goal game against the Islanders comes to mind, as well as some solid performances in between the pipes, particularly from Brian Elliot and Michael Neuvirth. But the far and away best performance seen this preseason has to be from the dynamic young blueliner Travis Sanheim.
On Monday night against the Rangers at MSG, Sanheim put together what may very well the game that gets him a roster spot to begin the year, with two tallies, giving him three goals in three games. Sanheim was a virtuoso on the back end all game long, whether it be neutralizing every Ranger that came to his side of the ice, or starting breakout plays on his own with his legs or crisp passes, but what everyone will remember were the two beautiful goals he put away.
The first goal started as a simple zone entry with Sanheim skating into the zone two-on-two with Nolan Patrick to his side. Patrick picked up the puck in the middle of the ice and led Sanheim towards the left faceoff dot with an absolute perfect saucer pass over the Ranger defender’s stick. Sanheim picked up the pass free and clear, and proceeded to fire a rocket top shelf over the shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist. Scoring on the Flyers kryptonite in such a highlight reel way surely would have been enough to assure a solid offensive night, but Sanheim was not done there.
Late in the second period, the Flyers set up in the Rangers zone with the clock winding down. In a great display of awareness, Sanheim wandered his way towards the slot with under ten seconds left, anticipating a chance just before the final buzzer. Sure enough Radko Gudas wristed a shot from the point that was parried by Lundqvist right into Sanheim’s path. The Flyer defenseman then showed some great coordination as he kicked the puck to his stick and slid it just beyond King Henrik’s reach with just under four seconds to spare, capping off what would be a much needed statement game for the rookie.
Sanheim before this game was on the outside looking in when it came to making the Flyers out of camp. However, after this performance, and his preseason showing as a whole, it would be very difficult to see a world where Ron Hextall sends him back to Lehigh Valley. He appears to be NHL-ready skill wise, all that remains to be seen is if he can break through this year, and if he can continue playing like he did against the Rangers on Monday night, there should be no problems with that.
So what does this mean for the Flyers D-core? Well, it is a possibility that the Flyers start the season with three rookies on the blueline, (Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Sanheim). This is in all likelihood not going to happen, Andrew MacDonald should have a roster spot with the Flyers when October rolls around. However, the strong performances from Morin and Sanheim plus the organizational fondness of a more defensively responsible player like Hagg may force Ron Hextall’s hand. This is in large part due to the great play of Sanheim, who may very have forced himself into the Flyers plans for the immediate future.
Feature Image: Flyerdelphia Dot Com, Flickr.