‘Ghost,’ Thompson could be on the outside looking in

Shayne Gostisbehere

VOORHEES — It’s a rather exclusive club when you consider there are only three members.

Bill Barber: Hockey Hall of Famer.

Ron Hextall: First rookie goalie to win Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.

And the third: Shayne Gostisbehere, he of the record 17 goals (four in OT) his first year.

Their in-common credentials? These are the only three Flyers in history to finish in the top two in the Calder Trophy voting for NHL rookie of the year.

Did we mention no Flyer has ever won it?

Well, you get the idea. Expectations were super-high for the one they call “Ghost’’ after that spectacular freshman campaign.

But injuries and maybe some disconnect with coaches have sent the career of the Union College folk hero (he led the tiny school to an improbable NCAA Division I championship by going plus-7 in the championship game vs. Minnesota) spiraling downward.

After playing in just 42 of a possible 69 games this past season, Gostisbehere walked into the Flyers’ “restart’’ training camp this week and found himself a lowly seventh on the depth chart.

Based on the pairings in Friday’s let’s-start-getting-real drills, the tandems in order were Ivan Provorov with Matt Niskanen, Travis Sanheim with Phil Myers and Robert Hagg with Justin Braun.

Gostisbehere, coming off a right knee surgery seven weeks ago (his second in less than a year after getting his left knee done in January), wound up stuck with career minor-leaguer Mark Friedman.

If this were Aug. 2 and the Boston Bruins were hitting the ice in Toronto against the Flyers, Gostisbehere might be sitting in the press box.

Perhaps slowed by the balky knees, the Pembroke Pines, Fla. native produced only five goals and a total of 12 points in those 42 games.

That’s a far cry from his rookie year, when he registered those 17 goals, 46 points and a plus-8 in 64 games. After a sophomore slump season, he bounced back in 2017-18 to go 13-52-65 in 78 games with a plus-10.

After two more tough seasons, Gostisbehere has been a bit humbled. The offensive fireworks are few and far between and his career minus-29 suggests he’s a defensive liability.

In fact, there were a lot of trade rumors swirling around Ghost last Feb. 25, where he was on a lot of top 10 lists to change addresses.

To his credit, Gostisbehere is keeping his chin up. The pandemic pause gave him to time to take stock in his career.

“Personally for me, it’s a good reflection period, a time to regroup,’’ he said the other day at the Skate Zone. “I actually had another knee surgery on my other knee about seven weeks ago. It was something I was trying to rehab personally and I hit a point where there was no way I could rehab it anymore. I had to get a small scope done again.

“It was different. It didn’t have to do with any tendons or anything. Just a small little cartilage thing. Obviously, trying to battle back from that. I haven’t really skated too much. It was awesome to get out there with the boys and see where I was at. It was a good benchmark to see where I am. Obviously it was the start of camp. I am definitely not where I want to be, but I think just progressively working into it. It will be good down the road when we get to Toronto.’’

The question is, even if he’s close to one hundred percent, does coach Alain Vigneault have enough faith to start him over one of his trusted regulars?

“Obviously, my ultimate goal is to get back in the lineup,’’ Gostisbehere said. “Get out there and do I what can do to contribute to this team. Win a Stanley Cup. Right now, I’m just focused on good skates out there and getting that feeling and what not. It’s been tough. Just grinding my way. I want to work hard. I want to help this team win.’’

At the moment, he still has a ways to go.

“It was hard to fix it (right knee) off the ice and workout-wise,’’ he said. “I had to get a procedure done and that helped a lot. Getting my body back in line and feeling good again. It’s definitely been a tough road, especially with all this stuff going on. I am not going to feel bad for myself. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in this world that people are worried about. I am just going to do my best to get back and be healthy.’’

Meanwhile, center Nate Thompson could find himself in a similar position.

The veteran center, acquired in a trade with Montreal at the deadline, was viewed as a veteran who could help in the playoffs.

But the possible promotion of Joel Farabee could have a ripple effect and move Thompson to the bench.

He doesn’t sound concerned.

“It’s the same thing, it never changes for me,’’ Thompson said. “It’s never changed for every team I’ve ever been on. I’m always fighting for playing time. That’s just how it goes. That’s what it’s been my whole career. That’s what it’s been every year, every camp I’ve gone to. A similar thing happened to me when I was in Montreal, I was fighting for a spot.

“To be honest that’s kind of what’s kept me in the league for so long. I think having to know that you can’t get comfortable, it pushes me. I think it’s a good thing. You want competition, you want guys playing for spots. It makes the team better.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2473 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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