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Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25: How can Shayne Gostisbehere follow up his incredible rookie season?

Shayne Gostisbehere's going to be a really good Flyer for a long time, and we should be really excited to get to watch him.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, it's tougher to write about Shayne Gostisbehere's upcoming season than you would think it is, partly because everything centers around one question that has no easy answer: what can Gostisbehere even do to follow up the season we just saw him put together?

Because the season Shayne Gostisbehere just had was unlike any we've seen in a long time here in Philadelphia. The way he'd take over games for the Flyers and electrify the crowds at the Wells Fargo Center, the way he had the highest per-game scoring rates of any rookie defenseman in the NHL since 1993, the way his arrival to the Flyers' blue line in November essentially turned around the Flyers' season and sent them on a run that culminated in a playoff spot ... there's so much to talk about here. Not that you needed any reminding of it, but Gostisbehere's Calder-Trophy-runner-up rookie season was truly one for the ages.

Of course, now we're left hoping that rookie season is just the beginning of a long and prosperous career in Philadelphia for Ghost. So what should we hope (and expect) to see from him moving forward?

No. 2: Shayne Gostisbehere

Position: D
Age: 23 (4/20/1993)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Philadelphia (NHL) - 17 G, 29 A in 64 GP
Nationality: American (Pembroke Pines, FL)
Acquired Via: 2012 NHL Draft -- Round 3, Pick 78 (Pick acquired from Florida along with a second-round pick in 2012 for Kris Versteeg)

For all that he was able to do last year, and acknowledging the reality that he was the Flyers' best defenseman for the season, one is allowed to question whether or not Shayne Gostisbehere's ceiling is that of a true number-one defenseman in the NHL -- the kind of guy you play 25, 26-plus minutes per night and even more in the playoffs. Even in today's game, which is based so much on having defensemen who can move the puck and play in all three zones, Gostisbehere is still a work in progress in some ways. His play in terms of coverage in the defensive zone could use some improvement, and so far in his career he's been just-OK in terms of driving possession (though, there's a reasonable explanation for why that was the case last year).

And even in terms of the things he's good at, there are reasons to temper expectations a bit for next season. Gostisbehere probably isn't going to be shooting 11.2 percent every season for the rest of his career, given that even the very best of offensive defensemen peak around 7 to 8 percent there. Which is to say we shouldn't all freak out if Ghost isn't putting pucks in the net quite as frequently this coming year as he was in his rookie season.

But even with those caveats acknowledged, it's tough to envision a scenario in which Gostisbehere isn't a very productive NHLer for a long time, because he's so good at so much of what makes defensemen successful in today's NHL.

For one, even if the offense falls back a little bit simply due to the percentages, he's going to produce offense from the blue line in a way that not many guys can. His even-strength scoring rates last year were among the best in the league for defensemen, we all saw what he can do with his shooting and passing on the power play, and we all saw him basically win three or four games at 3-on-3 last year by himself. We can feel confident in his ability to light up the scoreboard as he enters his prime.

And even in terms of defense, there are reasons for optimism. Two huge parts of playing defense nowadays are attacking the other team's puck-carriers in the neutral zone and being able to get the puck up-ice from your own zone, and as our own Charlie O'Connor has found (see here and here), Gostisbehere excels in both of those areas. Does that completely outweigh any shortcomings he may have in terms of actual defense in his own end? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a good sign for him moving forward, and it's very hard to imagine that he'll ever be so poor defensively that it'll outweigh the massive benefit he brings in the neutral and offensive zones.

Gostisbehere's aggressive nature will inevitably burn him here and there. Like so many talented offensively-oriented defensemen before him, he may see those occasional missteps used against him in attempts to paint him as a one-dimensional player whose struggles defensively are a serious concern, the way you saw that kind of argument used against the likes of Erik Karlsson or Mike Green.

But falling into that trap has its problems. First of all, it allows you to forget about plays like this.

How many defensemen in the NHL can make a coast-to-coast play like that? And it's one that starts entirely thanks to Gostisbehere's anticipation and aggressiveness -- in the defensive zone, even.

But let's not focus too much on a single highlight to try and prove our point here. The fact is that worrying too much about what Shayne Gostisbehere's shortcomings may be allows you to forget about all of the things that make Shayne Gostisbehere great. And if you forget about the things that make him great, you're going to miss out on enjoying a player who's already one of the best defensemen that the Flyers have drafted in the history of the franchise. (Not that that's a particularly high bar to clear.)

Fortunately, Flyers fans seem to know what they have here in Gostisbehere, and in a perfect world he'll be remembered as the guy whose historic rookie season ushered in a new era of successful defensemen for the Flyers. I don't know how he's going to follow up that rookie season, because following up the rookie season he just had seems damn near impossible. But I do know that not only is Shayne Gostisbehere going to be a really good player for a really long time, he's going to continue to be one of the most fun players to watch that we've had here in Philadelphia for a long, long time.


How we voted for Shayne Gostisbehere :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
1 2 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2

How we voted at No. 2 :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
Sean Couturier Shayne Gostisbehere Shayne Gostisbehere Shayne Gostisbehere Shayne Gostisbehere Shayne Gostisbehere Ivan Provorov Shayne Gostisbehere Shayne Gostisbehere Shayne Gostisbehere


Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: