By Kevin Fortier (@ksfortier)
In part two of the examination of the Flyers towering young defensemen, we review the progression of 23-year-old Travis Sanheim.
In 2014, the Flyers used their first round draft pick for the second year in a row to select a defenseman. This time with the 17th overall pick, they chose Travis Sanheim of the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. Sanheim was listed as 6’4” and 185 pounds when he was drafted. He is currently listed at 210 pounds by the Flyers.
(Photo credit – Eliteprospects.com)
Sanheim followed a similar progression path to Sam Morin, playing two more seasons in juniors before making the leap to the professional level with the Flyers AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley.
(Video credit – NBCSN)
Sanheim’s production exceeded that of Morin in his draft year posting five goals, 25 assists and a plus-25 rating over 67 games. He won the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship U18 tournament that year, accumulating the most assists and points by any defenseman in the tournament.
In the year after he was drafted, he dramatically improved his production scoring 15 goals and an astounding 50 assists over 67 games with a plus-27 rating. He had the most points by a defenseman in the WHL that season and he and his defense partner, Jake Bean, were the highest rated defense pair in the WHL. He was named one of the league’s first-team all stars.
Sanheim continued his strong performance in the WHL playoffs that season posting five goals and 13 assists in 17 games. He made Canada’s roster for the World Junior Championship U20 tournament that year and dressed in five games, but he was badly misused and did not receive much ice time. It was still a positive experience for his overall growth as a young player.
Sanheim joined the Phantoms at the end of the 2015-16 season for four games. He posted one goal and two assists and looked at home playing alongside the Flyers’ young professional players.
He made his professional debut with the Phantoms that fall after a solid performance in training camp. Sanheim played in all 76 games that season posting ten goals and 27 assists with a plus-seven rating. He got off to a slow start in October and November, but from mid December through the end of the season he played very well and showcased why he was selected 17th overall in the draft.
Sanheim went into training camp the following September in great shape and had added 5-10 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame. The Flyers had two openings for their defense corps, but it seemed that Sam Morin and Robert Hagg had the advantage to secure the open slots.
Sanheim played well in camp and made the decision very difficult for Flyers management. However, Hagg locked down the first slot with his strong performance in camp and it appeared that Morin had eaked out the other opening.
Just as the final cuts were to be made, prior to the Flyers heading west to open the season, Shayne Gostisbehere was injured and was thought to be unable to play in the season opener. Because of this, the Flyers decided to take all three defensemen with them on the trip. As it turned out, Gostisbehere was able to play in the opener and it was Hagg and Sanheim who made their debuts as Morin watched from the press box.
Sanheim played well opening night against the Los Angeles Kings, but struggled after the first game and was a healthy scratch for the Flyers’ fifth game against the Washington Capitals. To the surprise of many, it was Brandon Manning, not Sam Morin, who was inserted in his place.
Manning played a handful of games while Morin sat and watched. Sanheim was them re-inserted in the lineup and played in a diminishing role until he was finally sent down to the Phantoms in mid-January after being a healthy scratch for several games. He had one goal and four assists at the time he was sent to the Phantoms.
In Lehigh Valley, he was paired with another young defenseman, Phil Myers, and the duo played very well. It was not long before Sanheim returned to form and regained his confidence on the ice. He and Myers played against the top lines in the AHL. Sanheim posted 16 points and a plus-14 rating in 18 games paired with Myers.
Phil Myers' stickhandling and skating is incredible. Then Travis Sanheim jumps up into the play and creates a near scoring chance. pic.twitter.com/abBtGRHrmo
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) January 25, 2018
Sanheim was called back up to the Flyers in March and he never looked back. He ended the season playing in 49 games producing two goals and ten points with a minus-six rating. He also had 35 blocks and 27 hits in 49 games that year.
(Video Credit – NHL.com)
Sanheim finished with the second best Corsi For% among Flyers who played more than two games with a rating of 53.5% and a CF Rel of 5.8. He also had the third best FE% 53.2 behind only Lindblom and Giroux and an FE Rel of 5.0.
He had the benefit of offensive zone starts of 56.8%, but he still played well helping control the play in the offensive end of the ice and generating shots for.
In addition to his regular season play, he also played in four games for the Flyers in the playoffs against the Penguins. He scored one goal in the series, a blast from the blueline.
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) April 15, 2018
Sanheim picked up where he left off in the 2018-19 season. He played well from the beginning of the season and earned more ice time and responsibility as the season progressed. In 2017-18 he averaged 14:54 minutes per game. This season, he added a full three minutes to his average TOI finishing with 17:55 minutes per game.
The second year defenseman saw his production increase significantly as he was obviously more comfortable on the ice and saw expanded roles and ice time. Sanheim finished the season with nine goals and 26 assists for 35 points playing in all 82 games for the Flyers.
(Video Credit – NHL.com)
He received the 2018-19 Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy for the most improved player by the Flyers management.
Sanheim played most of the second half of the season on the top defensive pair with 2015 seventh overall pick Ivan Provorov. He played more and tougher minutes matched against the top opposing players alongside Provorov.
His defensive zone starts increased significantly from 43/2% in 2017-18 to 52.4%.
His game improved on both ends of the ice. Sanheim finished the season with an even strength GA/60 of 3.0 which was only behind Radko Gudas (2.5) among the defense corps. Only Michael Raffl and Nolan Patrick had better numbers among the forwards who played the majority of the season. Travis also stepped up in the defensive end, blocking 133 shots. That number was tied with Gudas for third highest on the team.
Sanheim was regularly used on the second power play unit along with Provorov. He also saw some time on the penalty kill in the second half of the season as his defensive game improved.
He is a restricted free agent this summer and without question, the Flyers will look to lock up the young defenseman for years to come. Sanheim is anticipated to be a top-four defenseman and play alongside the other bluechip blueliners the Flyers have selected and groomed since 2013. He has a bright future and would appear to be a home run selection for the Flyers as their first round selection in the 2014 draft.
PHOTO CREDIT: Heather Barry