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Getting to know Travis Sanheim, the Flyers' 2014 first-round draft choice

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The Flyers hope Travis Sanheim turns their 'Big 3' crop of defensive prospects into a formidable 'Big 4.'

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the Flyers set to begin their prospect camp this upcoming Thursday, we'll take the next few days and briefly go through the profiles of the guys that the Flyers just drafted at the Wells Fargo Center.

First up: the headliner of the group, first-round draft pick Travis Sanheim.


Date of Birth: March 29, 1996
Primary Team, 2013-14: Calgary Hitmen, WHL
Nationality: Canadian (Elkhorn, MB)
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 181

Statistical Profile

Estimated TOI/60 GF% GF% Rel Estimated QoC TOI% Estimated P/60 (total) Estimated P/60 (ES)
16.9 (48) 63.8% (6) + 9.4% (13) 28.1% (72) 1.5 (17) 1.2 (13)

(Numbers in parentheses are ranks in said statistic among all 113 draft-eligible CHL defenseman for the 2013-14 season. All numbers in the table above via Extra Skater.)

Rankings And Opinions

ISS: 30 (4th among defensemen)

Skill: Raw, adaptable and versatile two-way defender with size and skill.

Phenomenal World U-18 performance on both sides of the puck for Sanheim throughout tournament. Truly elevated his game to another level and stepped up as the defensive leader while showing a good offensive skill-set. Sanheim is the type of player that is very appealing at first glance because of his size and the aestethics with he moves around the ice. He joined the Hitmen early in the season and he took the opportunity and ran with it. He is still very raw but has good range and shows decent agility and lateral movement mechanics. He controls space well against the rush and makes good decisions with the puck in his own end. Sanheim's offensive capabilities grew as the season went on and his confidence around pucks became stronger with every game.

ISS Scout R.MacLean: "On PP he shows good understanding of using fakes to open up space, sneaks into good areas away from the puck and can get the puck to the net well on his own when called upon".

D. Mac's Quote: "He really did get better every single shift of every single game. Loads of potential".

NHL Potential: 2nd pairing defender who can add some minor offensive upside.

Style compares to: Tyler Myers

McKeen's: 15 (3rd among D)

Honed his skills in midget last season shooting up five inches since his 9th round selection by the Hitmen in the 2011 WHL Draft .. laboured through the first two months of the season (healthy scratch at times) his ice time expanded due to an injury to team captain Jaynen Rissling .. formed a steady defensive pairing with team mate and fellow NHL draft eligible Ben Thomas .. blessed with impressive physical attributes supplemented by good conditioning and both a strong upper and lower body .. helped recover for defence partner with effective stick sweep checks stretching himself out while maintaining balance .. strategically places his body into passing lanes doing a good job of blocking shots .. became a more pro-active puck rusher throughout the year, reading plays better in the neutral zone and was not afraid to attack open seams .. an improving slap shot, but still needs a little time to cue up his wrist shot, ultimately lacking sting .. skating marked progression in his pivots and cuts .. coordination continues to iron itself out with increased muscle mass .. Sanheim was an absolute stud and emerged as a go-to defender for Team Canada at the World U18 Championships helping to capture a bronze medal and leading the team in defenseman scoring (7-0-6-6).

Central Scouting Services: 53 (15th among D)

Bob McKenzie, TSN: 24 (4th among D)

Craig Button, TSN: 8 (3rd among D)

Progress has been exceptional. Nothing he can't do in the game. Skates, thinks incredibly well, has poise, makes plays offensively and defensively and is a player who recognizes opportunity in the game and takes advantage.

Corey Pronman, ESPN (Insider, $): 32 (6th among D)

Sanheim wasn't on the radar as a top-100 prospect early in the season, but he really picked up his play in the second half and elevated himself into the conversation. He has effective size (6-3, 181 pounds) and offensive skill, and his puck-moving ability increased as the season progressed. Sanheim has very good mobility with an effortless, powerful stride and the evasiveness you don't typically see with a player his size. His speed allows him to be a threat leading the rush. He isn't an overly physical player, but with his reach and IQ he's able to be strong defensively and makes a fair number of stops.


As far as rankings go (however much or little those actually mean), there was a pretty wide range as to where Sanheim stood among this draft's skaters, with him being pegged as high as eighth and as low as 53rd among the sources listed above. On the whole, though, it seems like the Flyers went in a little bit above where the average for him would have been.

That's maybe not a surprise -- they did so with their last two first-round picks, Scott Laughton and Samuel Morin -- and it indicates that Sanheim was likely someone they had in their crosshairs from the outset with their pick at No. 17.

The one thing you saw pretty consistently stressed in the scouting reports above was how much Sanheim saw his stock go up over the course of the 2013-14 hockey season. At the beginning of the year, imagining Sanheim as a first-round pick would have been just about impossible. But he managed to pick his play up in just about every way imaginable during his first season in the WHL, culminating in a selection to Team Canada's under-18 World Junior Championships team back in April.

Though he's still clearly learning and has plenty more progress to make, that rise solidified his spot as a likely late-first-round pick in this year's draft -- and, in turn, to the Flyers noticing him and eventually taking him at their spot. It was reported that all 30 NHL teams interviewed Sanheim in the lead-up to the draft -- not something that most prospects can say, and possibly something that bodes well as far as opinions of Sanheim picking up over the course of the year.

In terms of his playing style, most reports seem to jive pretty well with one another. Sanheim's a mobile defenseman (a trend that would emerge among Hextall's draft picks) who's functional at all parts of the ice. He's got good size at 6'3", and though he isn't an overly physical player, he's able to use his size to his advantage in other ways, such as with a good reach. He's a smart player who sees the game well and typically makes good decisions with and without the puck on his stick.

Fit with the Flyers

In some ways, the path that seemed to lead the Flyers to Sanheim seems similar to that of Morin, their first-round pick from last year's draft. Both were big-time risers who played their way from completely off the radar to the first round in their draft season.

Both are guys without big offensive numbers, and were perhaps a bit more noted for their defensive skills than their offensive ones, but both were seen as good skaters and raw, high-ceiling talents who could eventually come around at least a bit offensively.

That said, there are also clear differences in how the two play the game -- Morin seems to rely heavily on his size, reach, and the physical side of his game to be successful; Sanheim, meanwhile, is a bit smaller, isn't as aggressive physically (note that he only had 14 penalty minutes last year), and leans on his mobility and smarts a bit more.

Regardless, the hope is that Sanheim instantly slots in somewhere within the Flyers' "Big Three" defensive prospects along with Morin, Robert Hagg, and Shayne Gostisbehere. It seems that of the three, his two-way style most resembles that of Hagg, but where exactly amongst them he should be ranked is hard to tell, especially with him being the youngest of the bunch.

But chances are that not all of these guys are going to end up being the NHL player that we hope they'll be, and as such, adding another name to the upper-end of the defensive prospect corps and getting another chance at a good top-four defenseman is never a bad thing.

Sanheim's biggest test this upcoming season, from the sounds of things, will simply be to prove that the progress he showed in the latter half of last season was genuine, and that he can go about dominating play in the WHL like he did then.

He'll also need to "fill out his frame" a bit more and add some weight, likely looking to bump up from his listed weight of 181 pounds to somewhere closer to 200. His ice-time estimates as listed above indicate that he didn't play a ton of minutes for the Hitmen last year, so hopefully we'll see an expanded role for him this time around.