Sanheim Working To Become Well-Rounded Defenseman

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Travis Sanheim is improving in all aspects this season with Lehigh Valley. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Sanheim working on his play away from the puck

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

The one word that has become synonymous with the prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers’ system is patience.

You’ve heard it often. GM Ron Hextall has made it blatantly clear that no player will be rushed in their development. It’s a “slow and steady wins the race” mindset.

That’s been especially beneficial for defenseman Travis Sanheim. The 2014 first-round pick isn’t being given more than he can handle in his first full season as a professional.

The Flyers have big plans and high expectations for Sanheim, who amassed 35 goals and 127 assists during his three-year junior career with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.

But Hextall and Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon have made sure not to overwhelm the 20-year-old. They’ve put together a checklist for things they want him to accomplish in 2016-17 but refuse to assign him more than one task at a time.

Let’s take a look at how he’s done thus far.

First up, Sanheim was asked to conquer playing on the right side of the ice, his off point.

Cross that off the list. The left-handed shooting defenseman has had no problem with that transition.

Next was building some chemistry with fellow defensive prospect and first-round pick Sam Morin.

Check. The two are wreaking confidence and have proved to be a formidable pair, one that could eventually be molded into a top or second unit at the NHL level in a best-case scenario.

So what’s next? Don’t worry, Gordon and company still have plenty of assignments for Sanheim.

Now comes perhaps the most difficult element of the game to teach a young blueliner: Physicality.

“I think it’s something that, going forward, I want to add to my game,” Sanheim said last week. “As I add strength, I think that will come. I’m just trying to work it in as much as I can.”

With each passing game, Sanheim has looked more and more engaged. He has a good frame (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) but is still learning how to position himself to win battles in front and along the boards.

That's where Lehigh Valley assistant coach Kerry Huffman comes in. Hextall made it a point to bring in Huffman, who spent last season as an assistant with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights of the NAHL and has NHL experience on the defensive side of the puck, to work with the overabundance of promising defenders in the minors.

Huffman produced 37 goals and 108 in 401 career games with the Flyers, Quebec Nordiques and Ottawa Senators. He was also a first-round selection of the Flyers (20th overall) at the 1986 NHL Entry Draft but was rushed in his development and was relied on too heavily in the beginning stages of his career.

"Obviously down here the development part is big for us," Hextall said during an interview with Phantoms radio broadcaster Bob Rotruck. "Kjell Samuelsson is up here a lot. We added Kerry Huffman to the staff this year - particularly because he was a defenseman. He's a sharp guy that has had a lot of experiences as a young player himself. The development process - him and I talked a lot this summer. That's a lot of we talked a lot about. And he really gets the development part of it. He kind of sees some holes in how things went for him on the way up and that is very valuable knowledge for our young players."

Having Huffman around to make sure that doesn’t happen now is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Every player is different. There is no perfect way to mold them.

Gordon and Huffman get that. There is constant communication between the players and coaching staff. They know what is expected of them.

That’s no different with Sanheim. Gordon was quick to mention his most recent meeting with the youngster during his latest postgame press conference.

“It’s something that we’ve had a discussion about,” Gordon said of Sanheim being noticeably more physical. “He has to do more of that. We talked on Monday and that was the discussion. You have to engage yourself more physically. It can’t all be just stick-checking. That part I don’t see until I review the videotape. That’s the small picture but I’m looking at the big picture.”

Sanheim is no pushover. He stands his ground. And, as of late, he’s been mixing it up on a much more frequent basis. He’s been involved in a few post-whistle scrums and is finishing his checks.

He’s even caught the eye of the right man. With Hextall in attendance at PPL Center in Allentown, Sanheim put on a clinic in a wacky win over Bridgeport on Dec. 14. He scored two first-period goals and was engaged in the rough stuff from start to finish.

"Yeah, he looks really good," Hextall said. "His skating showed up on the rush there. He beat the guy up ice. Those are the type of little things you look for. Travis is a player that is capable of putting up offensive numbers, creating odd-man rushes, jumping up in the play and that's exactly what he did there. We like Travis a lot as a prospect, and he's been good. He's improved a lot."

It took a little longer than expected but the offensive side is starting to come to Sanheim easier as well.

On Dec. 9, Sanheim recorded his first goal of the season and has racked up four markers overall the last five games before the nine-day holiday break.

Talk about a guy putting it all together.

"I think getting that first one out of the way, not necessarily worrying about it too much, it’s in the back of your mind a little bit," he said. "Now that I got that one, I think I’ve been able to relax a little bit and take a deep breath. Play a little more confident."

It shows.

Edited by: Tony Androckitis


MJ said...

I love reading about the prospects. When players like Sanheim and Morin rotate into the Flyer's line up the cup comes within grasp. Size and physicality may be the missing piece in mho.

Unknown said...

Great stuff. Really curious about the development of our young d-men, especially Morin & Myers. We're going to need that size to balance out the speed and skill of Ghost, Provy & Sanheim

Unknown said...

Great insight for us fans. Appreciate it.

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