The NHL free agency period is set to kick off on July 1, with many teams around the league eager to fill in voids.
The Flyers likely won’t be among those spenders, outside of the goalie market. Once they find their complement netminder to Michael Neuvirth, the team is likely to keep everything else within the house.
Ron Hextall, speaking to Jason Myrtetus on his podcast, Stick 2 Hockey, made it sound like the young defensive prospects — Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim — will “get a shot to play on the team.” He also added that they’re not hesitant to put young players in if they’re ready to play at that level.
That being said, how many of these kids should be expected to crack the defensive pairings?
Here’s our best look at what it could shake out to be:
Andrew MacDonald/Ivan Provorov
The reason: These two spent the majority of the 2016-17 season together and were the top team defensemen on the team in regards to time on ice. They were paired together for nearly 70 percent of the year. There’s little reason to expect Dave Hakstol to look elsewhere for a partner to Provorov — the team’s No. 1 defenseman — because he won’t want one of the rookies logging heavy minutes next to him, nor would it make sense to line up Shayne Gostisbehere alongside him.
Shayne Gostisbehere/Radko Gudas
The reason: It was a somewhat frustrating season for Ghost in year two, but he’ll get a fresh slate in his junior season. He also bounced around with partners, as well, some as a result of his uneven play and occasional benchings that shuffled the lineup. He spent a good portion of the year with Nick Schultz, who won’t be in the mix this year, meaning the likely second pair partner will be Gudas. The balance on this pair should be perfect as Gostisbehere can continue to be aggressive at times while Gudas sticks to his “stay-at-home” mentality. It’s also ideal to have a bigger, physical body next to Gostisbehere and no one fits that bill better than Gudas.
Sam Morin/Brandon Manning
The reason: The first newcomer, Morin slides into the lineup where he’ll be expected to showcase his physical prowess all while being eased into the NHL. His partner will either be Manning or another rookie, Robert Hagg. Will the coaching staff be willing to use a rookie pair together? If so, Hagg definitely would be a likely third pair partner for Morin. More likely, though, is Hakstol mixing and matching between the three to start the season. Eventually, the Morin/Hagg pair should win out and be the regular rotation, but Manning certainly will get his shot in the beginning.
While Travis Sanheim doesn’t crack the lineup out of camp, there may not be another defenseman on this roster outside Provorov with as much upside as him. He has the least amount of experience to his fellow rookies (Hagg spent three years in Lehigh Valley, Morin spent two) so it’s very likely the team lets him develop a bit longer down there before making the jump. He’ll be the first one called up whenever an injury or poor play becomes an issue on the blue line.