On June 27th, 2014, just a month after being named General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ron Hextall made his first selection in the NHL Entry Draft - a late riser named Travis Sanheim. Fast forward just three seasons later and the former 17th overall pick found himself on the Flyers’ opening night roster as a twenty-one year old.
A primarily-offensive defenseman, Sanheim quickly became a fan favorite among Flyers’ prospects and has been closely followed ever since the draft. After scoring close to a point per game in his draft plus-1 season, and making the WHL Conference Finals, he followed it up with a dominating draft plus-2 season where he put up 68 points in 52 games. After making the transition to pro hockey and spending the entirety of the ‘16-17 season in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Sanheim made his mark on the NHL this past season.
No. 5: Travis Sanheim
Age: 22 (3/29/1996)
Size: 6’4”, 199 (via)
Acquired Via: 2014 NHL Draft — Round 1, Pick 17
2017-18 League/Team/Statistics: Philadelphia (NHL) - 2 G, 8 A in 49 GP
Ranking in BSH Winter 2018 25 Under 25: 6
Sanheim entered the NHL in a third pair role alongside Radko Gudas, a pair that was polarizing for a couple of reasons. The main one being that the pair evoked yet another eye test versus analytics debate. Well, ‘evoked’ might not be the right word considering how that insinuates that the debate ended at some point and there isn’t just an ongoing discourse until the end of time. But seriously, these two, together, are a prime example of how goal results and shot impacts can be wildly different and why some fans turn to shot metrics like Corsi and expected goals to see if a player “deserves” the results they’re getting.
While together, Sanheim and Gudas posted a 56.37 score-adjusted Corsi for percent at 5-on-5 along with a 56.13% expected goals for, the best numbers among any Flyers’ pair that played in at least fifty minutes together, yet had a minus-3 goal differential in their time together. Quite simply, the team didn’t score while the pair was on the ice for two main reasons; great goaltending and randomness/luck. The two go hand in hand really. Speaking of luck, you already know where I’m going with this, PDO.
While an individual play, like Sanheim dropping his stick and taking himself out of the play to retrieve it, certainly led to a more dangerous scoring opportunity for the attacking team, it was the Flyers’ own scoring ability, or rather lack thereof, when Sanheim was on the ice that led to his poor plus/minus. From the start of the season through the end of December, he had an on-ice shooting percentage of 5.45% and save percentage of 90.05% - a 95.50 PDO. At that point of time, that was easily the lowest mark on the Flyers, and one of the lowest in the entire league. Meanwhile, his teammate Robert Hagg was enjoying the exact opposite scenario as the Flyers shot at over 10% while Hagg was on the ice, almost doubling that of Sanheim.
After spending about a month watching games from the press box (and playing in one game where he saw just six minutes of ice time), he was finally sent down to the AHL where he played in 18 games with the Phantoms before being called back up to the Flyers in early March. That’s when he began to play with the rookie defenseman whisperer himself, Andrew MacDonald. The pair was legitimately great and had MacDonald posting some of the best results of his career.
Unsurprisingly, Sanheim’s on ice shooting percentage and save percentage regressed towards the mean during his time with MacDonald, resulting in the pair benefiting from a 103.36 PDO. However, even if they had just an average PDO, their goal results would still have been positive. MacDonald’s shot metrics with Sanheim bested his numbers with both Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere over the past two seasons combined, and it could be argued that Sanheim elevated the play of every other defenseman that he played with last season.
Whether that’s just the randomness of a 49-game sample size or a look at his true ability is yet to be seen, but it’s just one of many positive signs Sanheim showed during his rookie season.
Sanheim looks to be a major factor for the Flyers moving forward, and his rookie season already has him drawing comparisons to the likes of Colin Miller and Dougie Hamilton via similarity score. Hopefully he’ll see an increased role during his ‘18-19 campaign, but that will be up to Flyers’ head coach Dave Hakstol, and if his lineup decisions during the playoffs mean anything, it might be an uphill battle for him to escape a third-pair role. You surely remember how in an elimination game, with Ivan Provorov playing with basically only one arm attached, he decided that the best move was to scratch Sanheim and lean on the defensive pair of Brandon Manning and Gudas.
Maybe that means nothing or maybe that means that Sanheim had yet again failed to gain his coach’s trust despite posting positive goal results this time around, but the reality seems to be that, unless he enjoys some incredible puck luck like Hagg did during the beginning of last season, Sanheim probably won’t be given the opportunity to play a major role for the team right out of the gate. He will get that opportunity one day though, and that’s when we, and the Flyers themselves, can really see just how good Sanheim can be.
Data via Corsica, Natural Stat Trick, and HockeyViz
How We Voted For Travis Sanheim
How We Voted At No. 5
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How The Community Voted For Travis Sanheim
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Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2018 Top 25 Under 25:
- Intro & Honorable Mentions
- No. 25: Noah Cates
- No. 24: Mark Friedman
- No. 23: Danick Martel
- No. 22: Matthew Strome
- No. 21: Taylor Leier
- No. 20: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
- No. 19: Felix Sandstrom
- No. 18: Tanner Laczynski
- No. 17: Jay O’Brien
- No. 16: Samuel Morin
- No. 15: Isaac Ratcliffe
- No. 14: German Rubtsov
- No. 13: Mikhail Vorobyev
- No. 12: Wade Allison
- No. 11: Robert Hagg
- No. 10: Joel Farabee
- No. 9: Scott Laughton
- No. 8: Oskar Lindblom
- No. 7: Philippe Myers
- No. 6: Morgan Frost