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Philadelphia Flyers Midterm Top 25 Under 25, No. 5: Shayne Gostisbehere

College hockey continues to get better and better, and is becoming a much more viable path to the NHL. With that, when you potentially have the best player in college hockey you've got yourself a legitimate prospect. Shayne Gostisbehere is the young blueliner who's turning heads in the NCAA.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Shayne Gostisbehere

Position: Defense
Birthdate: April 20, 1993 (age 20)
Acquired via: 2012 NHL Draft - Round 3, Pick 78
Current Team/League: Union College, ECAC (NCAA)
Nationality: American (Margate, Fla.)
Size: 5'11", 170
Contract: None

When the Philadelphia Flyers drafted a small but skilled defenseman in the third round in 2012, it didn't get much reaction one way or the other. In just over a year and a half however, Shayne Gostisbehere is a case study for drafting "flawed" players with a high ceiling over safer players with limited upside. He is the antithesis of what the Flyers did in 2013 in the third round with Tyrell Goulbourne. Gostisbehere is rewarding the Flyers for taking the chance on him.

The Flyers selected the 5'11", 160 pound Gostisbehere after his freshman year at Union College in which he managed five goals and 17 assists for 22 points in 41 games. However, as Bill Meltzer wrote for the Flyers, 13 of those points came in the last 16 games. Union also reached the Frozen Four for the first time in history in Ghost's freshman year where he was selected to the ECAC Hockey All-Rookie Team.

During his sophomore campaign he improved upon his numbers to the tune of eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 36 games. Additionally, Gostisbehere was a key member of the 2012 Under-20 USA World Junior Championship team that won Gold.

The improvement has continued into his junior season. So far Gostisbehere has garnered eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 31 games as the recognition has really started to pour in. ESPN's John Buccigross is certainly a fan.

Additionally, the talk started that perhaps Gostisbehere was not just a good player, but maybe the best player in all of college hockey. There's some legitimacy there as he finds himself on the fan ballot for the Hobey Baker Award for the top NCAA men's ice hockey player in the nation where he leads all 68 nominees in voting at the moment.

While Gostisbehere has seemingly put on some weight, now being listed at 170 pounds, he is still a very slight defenseman. Therefore he has to rely on his exceptional skating, speed, and offensive instincts.

From the same Bill Meltzer article mentioned earlier:

In his early years of playing, Gostisbehere was a forward. He idolized high-scoring winger Pavel Bure, who scored 58-plus goals in back-to-back seasons as a member of the Panthers. Before long, however, Gostisbehere switched positions.

"One of my skating coaches was like, 'try defense but still be offensive', and I stuck with it ever since. I love it, I'm offensive but I like playing defense, too. I love jumping up to the play, and I feel like I'm always the fourth forward up there," said Gostisbehere.

As if you weren't already intrigued enough by the fact that Ghost Bear™ seems to excel at, well, everything the current Flyers defense corps lacks, let's reinforce it a bit more. Anthony San Filippo wrote:

Gostisbehere is a smart, puck-moving defenseman who sees the ice remarkably well. But what sets him apart from many collegiate rookie defensemen is his ability to balance great offensive skills with a solid defensive game. Gostisbehere is smart in knowing when to jump into plays and his decision-making is very good. He moves exceedingly well with the puck and his passing skills are excellent. Gostisbehere also possesses a great stick and does a good job of taking away lanes. While Gostisbehere's one-on-one coverage is good, he'll need to continue to improve his gap control. Gostisbehere is a superb skater with good speed and agility. He possesses a very good shot and can get pucks to the net. Gostisbehere's greatest attributes, such as his skating will be further enhanced with continued physical development.

Chris Dilks of SBNation College Hockey wrote a few weeks ago how Gostisbehere averages (or, at least, averaged at the time) 4.78 shots a game! That's good for fifth best in the entire country and the best among defenseman. That's over 1.25 shots better than the next best rearguard.

Gostisbehere's skating lived up to all the praise I had heard about it coming into the game. He's got good straight-line speed, and moves laterally well. But what really separates his skating from others is his ability to accelerate in the first couple of steps. Because he has that ability, Gostisbehere uses pass fakes and shot fakes more effectively than any player I've seen in college hockey. Most of his opportunities in the offensive zone came as a result of faking a slap shot at the point to freeze his defender, then using his acceleration to wheel around that player for a better opportunity.

The future is bright for Shayne Gostisbehere, and he could play in any number of places in 2014-2015. Some, like Buccigross, seem to think he can make the Flyers next season. He also has the option of returning to Union for his senior season, or leaving school and joining the Phantoms. Personally, I think he's still too slight to make the NHL just yet.

However, just yesterday Frank Seravalli wrote that perhaps there is a chance he will be wearing orange and black next season.

The Flyers didn't approach him last season, and Gostisbehere said he knew he wasn't ready to make the enormous jump. This year, though, sounds different.

"It will definitely be tough," Gostisbehere said. "It's a gut feeling. It's a family decision, too. My mom definitely wants that diploma. If I had to leave this place, it would be hard. I don't want to be that guy that has to hurt people like that. But at the end of the day, I need to make the best decision for my development."

There's a lot to be excited about as Gostisbehere brings a level of skill, speed, and dynamic play that the current Flyers defense sorely lacks. Plus, I'm not sure a greater nickname has ever existed in the history of nicknames than "Ghost Bear".

[Ed. Note: I'm still not sure if anyone other than us calls him "Ghost Bear", but it's going to become a thing, dammit.]

How we voted for Shayne Gostisbehere:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
6 3 6 5 2 4 5 6

Who we voted for at No. 5:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
Luke Schenn Brayden Schenn Luke Schenn Shayne Gostisbehere Brayden Schenn Scott Laughton Shayne Gostisbehere Samuel Morin