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2017-18 Player Review: Travis Sanheim and the transferral of mistrust

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Dave Hakstol hates kids named Travis

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As you all know, we are The Media, and The Media loves to talk about narratives and dig up interesting story lines, and if nothing else, Travis Sanheim’s rookie season was had all the makings of quite the story. Take a flashy start, a delicious arc, and mix in a bit of intrigue and even a little deception, and you’ve got the makings of a blockbuster story that we’re still talking about well into the deepest, darkest reaches of the off season.

By The Numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
53 3 8 11 20 72 2.80%

One of the last bits we mentioned up above was deception, and we’re getting to that now. If we look just at Sanheim’s scoring numbers for this past season, we probably don’t feel too good about things. This kid’s supposed to have a ton of offensive upside, right? So where is it?

This would also be the time where we start to talk about how numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative % Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative % Goals For % PDO
52.60% 4.35% 4.01% 54.17% 4.97% 48.68% 98.06

Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
0.79 0.63 11.63 0.26

If we take a dive into some of Sanheim’s advanced stats, they tell us a much more encouraging story. Not only is he generating chances well on his own, but he’s helping to drive positive results across the board while he’s on the ice, and doing so well above the level of many of his teammates. Would we like to see him shoot the puck a little more, to really dig into the offensive side where he shines? Absolutely. But it’s not as if he’s underwater in that area. More and better chances are just on the horizon.

And the positive results seem soon to break open. A 98.06 PDO and 2.8 SH% is very low, way too low to sustain (assuming he doesn’t have a garbage shot, which he doesn’t seem to). We could very reasonably see, as soon as next season, the bounces start to go his way as he grows even more settled, and the universe decides to stop spiting him for... whatever it is it’s spiting him for. He’s putting in the work, he’s learning, and he can’t get burned for every mistake forever.

But that’s not all. We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about how well what was supposed to be his rookie hazing pairing with MacDonald actually worked. During their time together, the two averaged a pretty solid 52.51 CF% at 5-on-5. But without Sanheim? How did MacDonald do? His average drops down to a meager 44.64 CF%.

And not only did this pair put up some pretty stellar numbers on their own, but we should also note that they performed just about in line with the Provorov-Gostisbehere pair (who put up a 53.24 CF%), and we don’t have to break down for you how good that pair was. You already know. And, while there is something to be said for quality of competition, this still remains not a small feat. It’s been well documented MacDonald has struggled, and even served as a liability on the ice. But somehow Sanheim helped turn him into one of the better Flyers on the ice? Get this kid a dang award.

Three Burning Questions

Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

This feels like it should be a pretty simple answer, but there’s actually a fair bit of oscillation to be done. Let’s break it down.

So, did Sanheim live up to our expectations?

Well, not really, because we got it wrong, to start the season. We thought he had a really good preseason, but we didn’t expect that he’d make the team out of camp. And then he did!

So, he exceeded our expectations, then?

Not quite. Because we kind of got it wrong again…

Maybe you guys should get better at this expectations thing.

We’re working on it.

But, as I was saying, he didn’t meet our expectations because he really couldn’t. When it looked like he had won himself a more or less permanent spot in the lineup, we figured we might see a bit of an adjustment period, but eventually he would stabilize and be able to contribute consistently, or consistently enough. But then the bounces weren’t going his way, and just about every mistake made while he was on the ice was seeming to end up with the puck in the back of their own net, and Hakstol lost faith in him. So he sat. And he sat. And then he sat for so long that Hextall sent him back down to the Phantoms just so he could get some playing time. That’s not his fault, and we didn’t account for that. It’s hard to produce consistently when you’re not even given much of a chance.

What are we to take from this, then?

Well, the good news is that once he was called back up for the end of the season, he was very good! He looked like the player we expected him to be after the solid preseason and then hearing about how he’d been tearing it up in the AHL. And, I mean, we really can’t oversell how great it is that he made Andrew MacDonald look good. You saw the numbers, I don’t have to rehash them, but it’s pretty great.

So, that said, we’ve seen a lot of promise, and we have a lot to look forward to, once the bounces finally start going Sanheim’s way.

What do we expect from this player next season?

Okay, for real this time. We expect to see him start scoring and continue to drive play well. With Brandon Manning gone, and the Flyers hinting that they see Christian Folin as their seventh defenseman for the season, Sanheim should get the chance to hit the ground running and actually work on smoothing out his game and pick up some momentum. We saw flashes of what he can do, and now he’ll figure (barring Hakstol doing His Thing) to have a chance to stretch that out over an extended period of time, and reap the results.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

We’ll start with the superficial: it’s a cliché that players love to drop, that they want to get stronger, bigger, faster in the offseason, as they work on their development, but we’re actually going to agree on this one, in some respects. Sanheim isn’t a small guy, and he’s been bulking up steadily since he was drafted, and we haven’t exactly seem him getting pushed around at the NHL level, but he could still stand to put on a little bit more weight.

Beyond that, we’d like to see him score more, as we know he has the talent and potential to do, and this seems not too far away. The other piece is that his defensive zone play could use a bit of smoothing out, but we could see this coming along with more time paired with a player whose strength this is. He just needs some time, and he should (hopefully) get it. And the pieces will come along.