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Flyers 2020-21 player grades: The defense

A couple of young defensemen had the opportunity to step up, but they instead fell back.

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Earlier this week, Drew took a look at the netminders and graded their seasons in the first part of our 2021 player grades. Today we’ll be looking at the defense, and, like the goaltenders, there aren’t many positives here.

We’ll only be looking at defensemen that appeared in at least ten games this season, but know that in my heart I gave Cam York an “A” for his three games.

Shayne Gostisbehere

Games played: 41, Goals: 9, Assists: 11

There’s a case to be made that there weren’t any “A” worthy performances this season at any position, and certainly not on the backend. With that being said, Gostisbehere played well this season, well enough to be their highest-graded defenseman here. Only six defensemen in the league scored more goals than Gostisbehere in 2021, and while the team’s defensive play was a mess overall, his was generally fine, though not exactly impressive. He had a handful of rough nights as well, but in a season like this one, being generally fine was welcomed with open arms.

At least by some.

How fitting is it that the defenseman that the Flyers waived at the end of March ends up receiving the highest grade among blueliners? B-

Justin Braun

Games played: 53, Goals: 1, Assists: 5

After waffling between a few different defensemen for the second spot, I eventually settled on Justin Braun. Braun was tasked with playing up on the first pair, a role he’s not suited to play, and didn’t totally crumble. Was it always pretty? No. But unlike many this year, Braun’s game didn’t slip from where it had been a season prior. For the most part, anyway.

The start of Braun’s season was definitely concerning, as it was really beginning to look like he had lost a step. However, for whatever reason, Braun looked much more like the 2019-2020 version of himself from late February on — and that player adds value in his defensive game. C+

Travis Sanheim

Games played: 55, Goals: 3, Assists: 12

If you had told me before the month of March that right now I’d be grading Sanheim’s season as average, I would’ve been floored. He had a great start to the year but lost almost all of the goodwill he built up with an absolutely disastrous stretch of games. The lapses in defensive coverage, the inability to stay upright on his skates, and the offense drying up at the same time came to a head in the Flyers’ 9-0 loss to the New York Rangers. Plus-minus is a bad stat that generally shouldn’t even be mentioned, but the -6 he wore in that game was an accurate depiction of just how far his game had fallen at that time.

On the plus side, his play rebounded in April, and although he never got back to his highest high, he wasn’t hurting them anymore either. A really good stretch, a very bad stretch, and a so-so finish to the year all add up to an average grade. C

Robert Hagg

Games played: 34, Goals: 2, Assists: 3

At this point, we know what to expect from Robert Hagg, and he was basically that player once again in 2021. Under more normal circumstances, Hagg’s grade is likely a bit worse. But when almost an entire team takes noticeable steps backward, his game largely staying the same (while producing better results) gives him some bonus points. He wasn’t an all-out negative, and you know, that’s good enough for me right now. C

Samuel Morin

Games played: 20, Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Of all of the defensemen, Samuel Morin’s season is the toughest one to grade. If we’re talking Morin at forward, it’s a big F. Morin the defenseman, however, is a bit of a different story.

I don’t think he was very good, as made clear by yesterday’s eye test based player ratings, but what could you realistically expect after everything that led up to this season? Morin entered the 2021 season having played a grand total of 28 pro games split between the Flyers and the Phantoms over the last three seasons. He then had to learn a new position, and after being unable to be an effective forward, had to once again re-adjust back to playing his natural position. It’s been a whirlwind. The big thing here is that Morin was able to stay healthy this season and even scored his first NHL goal. C-

Ivan Provorov

Games played: 56, Goals: 7, Assists: 19

Before we get any further, let me explain one thing. I do not think that Hagg, nor Morin, played better than Ivan Provorov this season. I do, however, feel that they did a much better job at meeting their expectations than Provorov, and had to decide how to reflect that in the grades. While Provorov has always played the minutes, there are really just two seasons that he played like a top-pair defenseman throughout; 2017-18 and 2020-21. The first was alongside Gostisbehere’s career year, and the second was with Matt Niskanen, who managed to turn back the clock for a season.

In his fifth year, it was time for Provorov to prove that he could be “the guy” on the blue line. Instead, he had one of the more disappointing seasons on the Flyers’ backend.

Without a true replacement for Niskanen, he was in a tough spot this season. That can’t be ignored. But it’s hard to walk away thinking that he’s a true no. 1 right now, which had been the hope and expectation. D+

Phil Myers

Games played: 44, Goals: 1, Assists: 10

Similar to Provorov, Myers had a prove-it year ahead of him in 2021. As in, prove that you can handle top-pair minutes. We had been hoping that Myers was the in-house solution to fill the void left by Niskanen, but Myers really seemed to struggle out of the gate. His game relies on aggressive reads and as the mistakes piled up, the confidence needed to make those aggressive reads seemed to dissipate.

Instead of taking the next step, Myers played his way out of the lineup and raised questions about what his ceiling actually is at the NHL level. His play did seem to stabilize in the final games of the season, which at the very least was nice to see. D

Erik Gustafsson

Games played: 24, Goals: 1, Assists: 9

Erik Gustafsson’s short stint in Philadelphia went about as poor as anyone could’ve imagined, and concluded with a trade to Montreal that brought back just a 7th round draft pick. That’s all. F