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September 11, 2017 | 10:36am ET
Flyers in Foreign Waters with Young Defensemen
BY ANTHONY DI MARCO | TheFourthPeriod.com

ENTERING THE 2013-14 SEASON, the last of which under the Paul Holmgren regime, the Flyers had roughly $27.3 million tied up in their defense group. Of the starting six (Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros), the only two under the age of 30 were Coburn and Schenn. If that doesn’t indicate the group’s age enough, Streit and Timonen were over 35 years of age to boot.

Fast forward four years, the Ron Hextall regime has completely revamped the defensive corps and is in the process of injecting a dose of youth into the team. Furthermore, the Flyers have just $14.7 million tied up on defense in cap space, almost half of the amount from four years prior.

With Shayne Gostisbehere (24) and Ivan Provorov (20) already staples in the Flyers’ top four, it is expected that at least two of Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers will crack the opening night roster. If this is the case, the Flyers would have only one defender (Andrew MacDonald) over the age of 30 come opening night.

As of now, Morin and Hagg seem to be the front runners to fill the current two vacant spots on the roster. Morin has two full years of pro hockey under his belt, while the latter has had three full years in the AHL on top of two years playing with Modo of the Swedish Elite League. Ironically, the defensive overhaul began with Morin and Hagg back when they were drafted in the first and second round respectively back in 2013. Having both of them crack the line up simultaneously would be somewhat of poetic justice.

But although there are currently two vacant spots up for grabs, it is not hard to imagine a third rookie blueliner forcing management’s hand. With Provorov, Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas all virtually being locks to start as the top three defensemen, one of MacDonald or Brandon Manning would have to be beat out by Sanheim or Myers for such scenario to happen. But with the Flyers already lacking experience as is on the back end, it would be hard to imagine the team opening the season with 5/6 defensemen under the age of 25.

Although this is an exciting time, it is sure to be a year of ups and downs with zigs and zags in Philadelphia. As we saw the past two years with Provorov and Gostisbehere, young, flashy defensemen are exciting and nerve racking all at the same time. While Provorov (who is in a class of his own compared to the rest of Philadelphia’s crop of young, defensive talent) may be an exception, there will always be a learning curve with young players, especially defenseman.

After being a finalist for the Calder Trophy in 2015-16, it is safe to say Gostisbehere had a rather underwhelming sophomore year. The scoring touch wasn’t the same, and his defensive play took a rather steep dive, so much so it landed him in the press box for a number of games. But, although frustrating, that is not out of the norm by any means for young defensemen.

As of now, it seems as though it’s the spots for the rookies to lose come camp, as there are only five defensemen currently on the Flyers’ NHL roster. But even though the spots are there currently, it would seem possible that Hextall may elect to invite a veteran rearguard to camp on a PTO. Hextall preached that he did not want to “box out young players” through free agent signings, but bringing in a veteran on a PTO would not do so, but would merely push the young blue liners to compete that much harder to earn their spots.

Although all the high end free agent defensemen have already been signed, there are still several attractive names who could be ideal 6/7 guys on the defensive depth chart. Dennis Wideman, Jakub Kindl and John-Michael Liles are all veteran defensemen who may entice Hextall to bring in on a try out. In addition to all three being league wide veterans, they are known for their offensive play and puck moving game, which the Flyers’ could use due to the departures of Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

With at least two more rookie blueliners all but guaranteed to be injected into the Flyers defensive group, this season is poised to be an exciting one in Philly. You can be sure it’ll be filled with highs and lows, but we will begin to get a glimpse of the Flyers’ defense for years to come. After three years of patiently waiting for the prospects to develop, the fans of the Orange and Black will finally get to see Ron Hextall’s plan begin to come to fruition.

Anthony Di Marco is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.

 
 
 

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