Philadelphia Flyers Training Camp is underway with the season opener just eight days away. There was an action-packed day of on-ice practices and scrimmages on Monday, with another one slated for today.
After going through the forwards on Monday, let’s take a look at the 14 defensemen in camp. Over half of them could end up on the opening night roster and there are still questions about who will play on the top pair.
Ivan Provorov is going to be the Flyers’ top defenseman and has been for a few years now. We don’t know yet if he’s reached his peak or shown his best hockey, but we know he’s a top-pair defenseman. An even higher level of play is an exciting possibility for the soon-to-be-24-year-old defenseman with 315 NHL games already under his belt.
What we don’t know is who Provorov will be playing with on the top pair. There are a few different options, with Philippe Myers and Justin Braun being the likeliest.
Philippe Myers, Travis Sanheim
Philippe Myers is the defenseman that will be focused on the most in Training Camp. Matt Niskanen unexpectedly retired over the offseason, leaving a big hole on the right side of the first pair. Myers is the best bet to fill that role. Myers has the size, skill, and makeup of a top-pair defenseman, and he proved that last year with a stellar season in the top four with Travis Sanheim.
Travis Sanheim looks like he could easily become the 1B to Provorov’s 1A. He progressed well over the past few seasons and looks like a bonafide NHL defenseman. He and Myers joined forces to become a dynamic duo on the second pair last season. The question now becomes if the Flyers want that pair of two big, young, skilled defensemen to remain together, or if Myers will move up to become Provorov’s partner.
We’ll see how it shakes out in the season opener in just over a week, but these two will be in the Flyers’ top four.
Filling out the top four
The fourth defenseman in the Flyers’ top-four defensemen will likely be Justin Braun. That’s mostly due to the fact that he plays a steady game and is a right-handed defenseman. He stumbled a bit in the playoffs, but he can bring the same calm presence that Niskanen did if they decide to keep Sanheim-Myers together. If not, he’ll likely be with Sanheim on the second pair.
Braun was Sanheim’s second-most-common partner last year with 357 minutes together at 5v5 (Sanheim-Myers played 542 minutes), per Natural Stat Trick. That Sanheim-Braun pair actually performed pretty well with a 56.66 Corsi-For Percentage and 52.74 Expected Goals-For Percentage despite starting less than 50 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone.
Braun did play over 100 minutes (104:13 to be exact) with Provorov last season. They posted a 55.42 CF% and 58.48 xGF% with a 38.27 Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage. You can write Myers in on the top pair, but make sure you do it in pencil. A top four of Provorov-Braun and Sanheim-Myers could lock down opposing teams.
Mark Friedman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hagg
Now we get to the more difficult part: figuring out the bottom pair. These defensemen all have an argument to win a spot in the lineup.
Mark Friedman, the only right-handed defenseman in the group, is the least likely out of this group to start in the lineup. He held his own in 6 NHL games last year and picked up 18 points in 45 AHL games as well. Friedman has shown enough to earn a spot as the seventh defenseman, but the Flyers’ depth hurts his chances. He may have to aim for the taxi squad.
Shayne Gostisbehere may need to impress in Training Camp if he wants to start on opening night. He was a healthy scratch in the playoffs and it wasn’t a great sign for him when the team signed Gustafsson, who is another offensive-minded defenseman. Gostisbehere has been on a steady decline over the past few years due to injuries and this season is his last chance to prove himself before the expansion draft this summer.
There is an outside chance that Gostisbehere could get a crack on the top pair with Provorov, but it’s not likely. The two formed a pretty good top pair a few years back. However, Gostisbehere was a different player before his injuries and it simply may not work now. Nevertheless, Gostisbehere has shown the ability to play on his off side.
Erik Gustafsson also has plenty of experience playing on the right side as a left-handed defenseman. He did so in both Chicago and Calgary over the last three seasons. Gustafsson is just a season removed from a 17-goal, 60-point campaign in the 2018-19 season with the Blackhawks. If he or Gostisbehere can get back closer to the level they were playing at near their peak, the Flyers will be golden on the blue line. If not, they’re still pretty solid with enough options to mix and match.
That leaves us with Robert Hagg. The defensive, stay-at-home defenseman that plays the game the way the coaches want him to. He’ll hit, block shots, and throw the puck off the glass to try to clear the zone. He’s ideally a team’s seventh defenseman, but he played in a full 82 games 2 years ago, and 49 games (plus 12 playoff games) last season. He doesn’t bring the upside that Gostisbehere and Gustafsson do, but you know what you’re getting from the bottom-pair defenseman.
Phantoms filling in
Chris Bigras, Derrick Pouliot, Nate Prosser, Tyler Wotherspoon, Wyatte Wylie, Egor Zamula
With the AHL season slated to start in early February, these guys are in Training Camp to provide some bodies on the blue line and gain some valuable experience. These six were all in Group B on Monday, with the NHL hopefuls in Group A.
If there is one of these defensemen to keep an eye on it is Egor Zamula. He was included in the team’s summer camp and is coming off an impressive season. He had 28 points in 28 WHL games and added five points in seven games for Russia at the World Juniors.