Coming into training camp all eyes were on the rookies. Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, and Travis Sanheim. The Philadelphia Flyers had a few roster spots open for competition, specifically two on the blue line and two among the forward lines.
Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol, and the rest of the Flyers’ decision makers went into camp with an open mind. The rookies knew they would need to battle hard to take a roster spot away from a veteran, and the veterans felt the pressure as well as the rookies continued to grow throughout the preseason.
Nothing is definitive yet, but based off the lines and pairs at Flyers practice on Saturday morning, it seems that rookies Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim will be the odd men out when cuts are made after Sunday’s preseason finale.
Let’s take this one player at a time, starting with the forward.
Lindblom spent the past few seasons playing professionally in Sweden, in a league comparable to the AHL. Last season he was named the SHL Forward of the Year as he racked up 22 goals and 25 assists for 47 points in 52 regular season games, while adding 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) in 20 playoff games.
It was an impressive performance from the two-way winger, but it wasn’t enough to guarantee a roster spot in the NHL. He came into camp as one of the top three left wingers, but the offensive side of his game didn’t show until too late. He does the little things right defensively while winning board battles, but he only scored one goal, and that came on a deflection in what might’ve been his final preseason game.
Hextall has said that if a player makes the team better, then they’ll find a spot for him. It can be argued that Lindblom is certainly more skilled than guys like Dale Weise, Valtteri Filppula, Jori Lehtera, Matt Read, and Taylor Leier, but the big sticking point for Hextall is the ability to play a full 82 game season.
Lindblom showed some fatigue in a back-to-back situation last week, as he rarely played any back-to-backs in Sweden. The NHL game is much more grueling, and much longer. Even with a few seven-game playoff series last season with Brynas, Lindblom played in 72 games combined. 52 in the regular season, and 20 in the postseason as mentioned above.
There is no doubt that Lindblom is one of the best players based on raw talent and on paper, but the worry is that he won’t be able to keep up with the NHL schedule. Giving him a chance in the AHL, where they play a bunch of back-to-backs, and even three-in-threes, will give him a chance to improve his conditioning and eventually prove that he is NHL ready.
The same point can be made when talking about Travis Sanheim. Sanheim did play in all of the 76 regular season games for the Phantoms, and five more playoff games for 81 in total, but he has room to grow.
Sanheim was one of the most impressive defensemen in camp, but putting him on a roster with an already young group could be too much risk for the Flyers. Even sophomore sensation Ivan Provorov struggled as a rookie, and it’d be better for Robert Hagg and Sam Morin to solidify themselves in the NHL, while Sanheim refines his game with the Phantoms and then gets called up later in the season.
Sanheim’s offensive showing was what stood out during the preseason, but he needs to work on his defensive game. He isn’t always in the right spot when playing away from the puck and has had a few turnovers that led to chances against and extended zone time.
There is no doubt that Sanheim and Lindblom will be called up at some point during the season. Hextall has been quoted saying that regarding the defenseman, and said they “expect big things from Oskar.”
If the Flyers were playing one winner-take-all game and needed to put their best lineup on the ice, Lindblom and Sanheim would undoubtedly be in it. However, giving them an opportunity to develop more in the AHL and come up mid-season is worth it. A few months with a mediocre veteran in the lineup instead of the rookies is worth it for Lindblom and Sanheim to improve and refine their game with the Phantoms. The veterans are finished products, the rookies still have some room to grow.
While I don’t fully agree with the decision, if Lindblom and Sanheim are the final two cuts, I understand the mindset behind it. Ron Hextall has preached patience throughout his tenure as general manager and he’s sticking to it here. You can see that the organization is excited about their prospects in general and these two in particular, but they’re not going to sway from their mindset.
It may not be the most fan-favorite move, but it’s sticking with the process. In Hexy We Trust.
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