Blue-line future for the Flyers

YONG KIM STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Shayne Gostisbehere makes a pass during Flyers camp last week.
YONG KIM STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Shayne Gostisbehere makes a pass during Flyers camp last week.
Posted: July 15, 2014

THE FLYERS' top four defensive prospects - Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg - at a development camp Friday in Voorhees, were noticeably excited when asked about their roles on future Flyers teams.

But each was cautious about thinking too far ahead.

Ron Hextall told Flyers prospects that the ongoing development camp was not an evaluation process, and the GM said he was not ready to "anoint" any of these kids with an NHL roster spot in his first summer in Philadelphia's front office. But, on the blue line especially, where questions of inconsistency and age have plagued the orange and black, there is a budding defensive corps eager for big-league minutes.

Gostisbehere entered his third Flyers development camp with confidence after making his AHL debut with the Phantoms a week after winning the NCAA national championship in April. "Ghost" said he would have to simplify his flashy, roving style at the NHL level. The spin-o-ramas may not work on NHL players with the experience and foot speed to keep up, but Gostisbehere's camp teammates revere his skills.

Morin, who is now up to 6-7, 210 pounds at age 19, said his defensive skills would be paired well with a fleet-footed blue-liner like Gostisbehere.

"I'm bigger than him," he said with a heavy French-Canadian accent. "I can protect him."

Hagg, who may actually see time as Ghost's defensive partner on the Phantoms next season, said he wouldn't mind getting "a couple free assists" out of the pairing. Hagg's more conservative game is consistent with the Scandinavian model, an ideal match for an aggressive, defensive risk-taker.

Sanheim, the 2014 first-round pick, is just 18, and probably the farthest away from slipping on a Flyers sweater. He said this summer (and the next) are about adding muscle to his 6-3 frame. He moves the puck well, makes a good first pass, and if properly developed, has the potential to add another dynamic element to a Flyers blue line that has lacked game-changing players.

The Flyers have done well in drafting and developing forwards in the past decade, but rarely has there been so much promise on defense. Sanheim and Morin will likely return to their respective major junior teams, where they'll be locker-room leaders, while the elder Gostisbehere and Hagg will try to get ice time in the Flyers minor league system. Hextall said there's "hope" that this quartet could be a formidable NHL top-four in a few years, but it's up to them to prove their worth.

"The Flyers are the Flyers," Hextall said. "Anyone who's coming in has to work their way in.

"These kids are going to have to beat someone out of a job."

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