As the Philadelphia Flyers bulldozed over the Boston Bruins, 5-1, on Thursday night, it showed me that the team was finally starting to show some chemistry in the preseason. After last night’s finale against the New York Islanders, later today the team will set their roster ahead of Wednesday night’s season opener.
The big talk of this preseason has been how many rookie defensemen will make the team. Well, the big takeaway from Thursday’s game was that Andrew MacDonald was nowhere to be seen on the ice, and the “big three” consisting of Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg, and Samuel Morin all played and contributed in one way or another.
Not only did the Flyers ice their rookie defensemen, but they also started their fourth goalie on the depth chart this year, Alex Lyon, and they did an excellent job keeping the Bruins’ A squad away from the net.
This has been an exciting preseason for Flyers fans as Ron Hextall’s plan is finally coming to fruition. Notable rookies that we have seen so far include second overall draft pick Nolan Patrick, and Oscar Lindblom, in addition to the highly touted aforementioned defense prospects.
Hextall’s plan has always been to give the rookies time to develop, and on the back end it seems like the time for them to make the jump has finally come.
Here is a breakdown of how each of the big three on defense have played so far this preseason:
5 GP, 1 G, 1 A
Morin is by far the meanest defenseman the Flyers have, and that includes Radko Gudas. Not only has Morin dropped the gloves a few times this preseason, but he has by far been the best of the three rookie defensemen. Not only did he rip a goal past Henrik Lundqvist, but he has played phenomenal defensively this preseason. His height paired with his long reach is going to be something that other teams are going to have a hard time figuring out as he continues to develop. I expect Morin to start the season with the Flyers and play significant minutes in a top-four role.
6 GP, 0 G, 0 A
Hagg has quietly been one of the more solid defenders for the Flyers this preseason. Hagg doesn’t bring an offensive pedigree like Sanheim, Ghost or Provorov, but has played sound defensive hockey this preseason. Hagg doesn’t open many eyes with his play but you don’t hear his name much either while he is playing, which is a great sign for a young defender. Hagg has looked solid in all five games he has played this preseason and I would expect him to make the opening night roster and play on the second or third defensive pairing.
6 GP, 3 G, 0 A
Sanheim is believed to be the one of the three to be the furthest from making the team this year. It is fair to note that he is one year younger than both Morin and Hagg and has one less professional season. In his one season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Sanheim scored 10 goals and tacked on 27 assists for a total of 37 points in 76 games. Sanheim had a rough start to camp but the more he has gotten his feet underneath him he has looked better and better as the preseason has gone on. If it were up to me, Sanheim would be in the opening night roster but I expect him to start in the AHL for some more seasoning.
In the end, the Flyers starting defense will end up looking something like this:
What I would like the defense to look like:
It would not be worth it to keep one of the big three on the team if they are going to be the seventh man. Regardless of who starts the season with the team, chances are we will see all three of the rookie defensemen with the Flyers this year. There will be injuries and poor play – MacDonald, I am looking at you – and there will be a youth movement in Philadelphia on the back end this year.