As we’re all aware of by now, the Flyers have struggled to find a successful cohort of players for their 2nd power play unit for years. Heading into this season, however, we were hopeful they could finally turn the page. Young guys like Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov have another year under their belt, and the addition of James van Riemsdyk was potentially the piece that could put this group over the hump. Unfortunately they’ve hit a rather large bump in the road as van Riemdsyk is due to miss the next 5-6 weeks with a lower body injury. For the time being, Hakstol and the coaching staff have chosen to replace JVR with Oskar Lindblom. It’s a natural fit; Lindblom slides in as a left-handed net front presence and the youngster has had success in that role overseas and a bit in the AHL. However, I’d like to re-emphasize something I’ve written about and been preaching for over a year now: I’d really like to see Travis Sanheim get a legitimate look on PP2.
Travis Sanheim was an absolute monster on the power play as a junior player. Thanks to prospects-stats.com we can look back at Sanheim’s power play prowess from his junior days. We’ll start in 2014-15, his draft +1 year. At 5 on 4 among defensemen in the WHL, Sanheim ranked 10th in total points, 7th in primary points/GP and 11th in points/GP. Maybe not earth-shattering, but solid numbers. Where he really took off, however, was in his draft +2 year in 2015-16. That season, again at 5 on 4 in the WHL, Sanheim ranked T-1st in total points and 1st in both primary points/GP and total points/GP among defensemen. Better yet, when including all skaters, Sanheim ranked 11th in total points, and 2nd in both primary points/GP and points/GP. The only player in the WHL to have better primary points/GP and points/GP? Mathew Barzal. You may have heard of him. He’s kind of good. Travis Sanheim was a power play juggernaut and I find it hard to believe that this ability would evaporate at the NHL level.
So why haven’t the Flyers given Sanheim a legitimate look on the power play to date? It could be for a few reasons. One may be the desire to have Ivan Provorov be the point man on the second unit. As great as Provorov has been at 5v5, particularly last season once paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, he has been rather poor on the power play. Here are his rankings over his first 2 seasons in the NHL among defensemen who played at least 100 minutes on the power play:
To be fair, Provorov was pretty good on the power play in juniors. In 2015-16, his draft +1 year, Provorov ranked 7th in points, 8th in primary points/GP and 5th in points/GP among WHL defensemen, better than Sanheim is his respective draft +1 year. And the talent around him at the NHL level in his first 2 seasons on the power play hasn’t necessarily been strong. Therefore, I wouldn’t necessarily give up on Provorov ever becoming a solid power play contributor. But if the Flyers are staunch in their belief of having a four-forward/one-defenseman setup out of the same scheme as their first unit, I’d strongly consider giving Sanheim a look there and see if he can provide better value.
This leads to my second potential reason for the Flyers not having given Sanheim legitimate power play time, which is their partiality towards a four-forward/one-defenseman set up. I’m not against this setup; it works perfectly well with the first unit and many teams across this league have gone to this blueprint. However, not many teams around the league can say they have enough offensively-gifted defensemen to run a three-forward/two-defensemen setup either. There’s also the thought that maybe the Flyers want to run not just the same setup but scheme as well for continuity purposes. If both units use the same scheme, players can be moved between the units or substituted out entirely for other players more seamlessly. While that makes sense, I can’t imagine learning a different scheme would be so difficult that it should determine how a team chooses to assemble its power play. In addition, Provorov did play a fair amount on the right half wall on the power play as a junior player. Brandon ran a similar scheme on their power play, but using 2 defensemen, with Provorov and Macoy Erkamps. Both would rotate between the half wall and point position, so it’s not as if Provorov cannot play that position should the Flyers want to keep the same scheme in place.
The bottom line for me, as always, comes down to optimizing the team; are the Flyers coaches putting each player in position to succeed and ultimately helping the team reach its maximal potential. In my opinion, including Travis Sanheim in the power play could be part of reaching that potential. At the very least, it is worth experimenting with while van Riemsdyk is on the mend.