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Scouts, coaches rave about Shayne Gostisbehere's game, say the sky is his limit

Shayne Gostisbehere has elevated himself into the thick of the Calder Trophy race with his stellar season. But what exactly is the young defenseman's ultimate upside?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, Shayne Gostisbehere's future was still in question. He had failed to break with the Flyers out of training camp, and was starting the second year of his entry-level contract. Without a strong sophomore season at the pro level, Gostisbehere's stock as a prospect would most likely fall dramatically.

Instead, Gostisbehere was called up to Philadelphia in mid-November, and the nickname "Ghost Bear" has become famous across the NHL.

Gostisbehere's 16 goal, 23 assist season ranks him fifth among all rookies in scoring, first among rookie defensemen, and 20th among all NHL defensemen. That's despite the American blueliner spending the first month and a half of the season down in the AHL. By almost every statistical metric available, Gostisbehere has been a revelation.

The 22-year old has clearly established himself as a useful NHL defenseman. In his rookie season, he's performed like a solid second-pairing blueliner at even strength and an elite power play option. But Gostisbehere is likely not finished his development process. How will he look once he's truly reached his prime?

ESPN.com's Craig Custance explored that question in an article published this morning. Scouts, coaches and front office men alike raved about Gostisbehere's skillset.

From an Eastern Conference scout:

"It’s not a fluke, I can tell you it’s not a fluke. His instincts are awesome. He’s small and looks as skinny as can be but he’s an awesome competitor. He’s great with the puck. He’s a great passer, he sees the ice really well. He has a really good shot. He would elevate any team’s power play.

"He’s small -- he’s 175, 180 soaking wet. He looks skinny as can be," said the scout.

But it doesn’t matter.

"He’s not just a player, he’s a major, major impact player in every game in a positive way," he said. "The kid is infectious, the people love him."

From Rick Bennett, Gostisbehere's coach at Union College:

"Anybody who has that type of passion for the game, that wants to be a hockey player, it’s just over time he’s going to get better," Bennett said when we chatted on Tuesday. "One of the reasons he wanted to come back after his sophomore year, in talking to him, was that he wanted to get better defensively. Our staff felt that he did."

Perhaps the highest praise came from his youth coach, former NHL forward Ray Sheppard, who was the one to originally suggest that Gostisbehere move to defense as a position.

"I remember when I was in Detroit, I played with Nicklas Lidstrom. I’m not comparing Shayne with Nicklas Lidstrom but Nick didn’t hit a whole bunch of people either," said Sheppard. "He just had a good sense and a great stick. I don’t want to put Shayne there but that’s where I see the similarities in making up for not being as physical. I think he’s going to be good defensively. I know he’s young yet."

Unsurprisingly, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was a bit more guarded in his praise of the young defenseman, but he's clearly been impressed by Gostisbehere's performance.

"I don’t like to put too high expectations on anybody. I think Shayne has done a great job for us," Hextall said. "When he has the puck, he’s a terrific player. His defensive game, his attention to detail has gotten better. It needs to continue to improve."

"He has the high ceiling for sure," Hextall said. "I don’t like to anoint him. He has to earn that."

Considering the fact that Gostisbehere was merely a third-round pick, even if he remains at the second-pair/power play specialist level for the rest of his Flyers career, his selection and development will be considered a major coup for the Philadelphia organization. Add in the fact that fellow blueline prospects Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim have higher grades from scouts than Gostisbehere ever did, and it becomes even less necessary for the 22-year old to develop into a true No. 1 defenseman.

Still, the Flyers certainly wouldn't argue if Gostisbehere's two-way play continues to trend upwards. In the post-lockout NHL, it's clear that offense-leaning defensemen like Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang can perform like true top-pairing options, so the precedent has been set. It's now up to the Ghost Bear to prove that he belongs in that illustrious class.