Sanheim set to take next step, no matter who plays his right-hand man

Travis Sanheim

It’s like a scene from a Broadway play where just two actors grace the stage.

If only one of them misses a line, the flub stands out under the bright lights for the whole audience to witness.

Likewise in professional hockey, when it comes down to defense pairs. Synchronicity is so important throughout a game – just one misplay can cost a team everything.

Which could help explain why there’s so much speculation surrounding the Flyers’ second backline tandem for the upcoming season.

Last season, the Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers duo developed some really strong chemistry. By season’s end, they were performing at an extremely high level and mistakes had been cut to a minimum.

As far as scripts go, they were both on the same page.

It showed in their numbers. Myers wound up the season a plus-17 (tops among Flyer defensemen). The 24-year-old Sanheim checked in at plus-4.

Team-wise, the Flyers went from a minus-37 in 2018-19 to plus-36 for the 2019-20 campaign.

But with the retirement of Matt Niskanen, who was part of the No. 1 defense unit with Ivan Provorov, someone is going to have to fill that vacancy.

Since Niskanen was a right-handed shot, it would appear at first glance like another righty, Myers, might get the nod to join Provorov over newly signed free agent Erik Gustafsson, a lefty.

If Sanheim, a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (17th overall), has to start over again with a new partner, there’s only going to be a short amount of time to form a bond with someone else. Training camp opens Monday, sans exhibition games, and the real contests start just 10 days later.

In some ways, it might be best for the Sanheim-Myers pairing to stay in place.

“I’m not sure what the game plan is,’’ Sanheim said during a Tuesday media Zoom call. “We’ll know more in the next week or so as we get into training camp.

“Phil and I work well together, but we definitely have to work well with other guys, try to make our partners better. It (which partner he has) doesn’t matter to me.’’

That said, if Sanheim and Myers are back on the same pairing, it looks like a bright future.

“He (Myers) is only going to continue to get better,’’ the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Sanheim said. “He’s awesome to play with. I enjoyed playing with him, he makes me a better player. I’d like to think we work well together. Hopefully that continues.’’

Sanheim and Myers actually started playing together when the two were on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roster a few years back. Sanheim made it to the NHL first, with Myers not establishing himself until last season.

“It (the adjustment) I think is similar to what I went through,’’ Sanheim offered. “The next step up; things that maybe worked at a level below (the American Hockey League) don’t work when you get here.

“So you have to adjust, make changes to your game. I think he’s done a great job since he’s gotten here.’’

Several players have already commented on the departure of Niskanen from the roster. It’s going to require a group effort to take up the slack for all the elements Niskanen provided.

“I think ‘Nisky’ was a big part of our team last season,’’ Sanheim said. “Someone that we were going to be leaning on again this season. That was a big loss for us. Guys have got to step up. There’s a lot of young guys that want to take that step. We’re going to have to do it together.

“It’s not going to be one guy that takes on his full role because he meant so much to our team. Me personally, I’m going to try to take that step forward.’’

Sanheim will be starting just his fourth NHL season but already he’s being observed as sort of a veteran on this roster and one who can help younger players. He smiled at that notion.

“Yeah, it still doesn’t feel that way,’’ said Sanheim, who’s played in exactly 200 games with the Flyers. “I’m still learning my way, still have some mistakes I have to clean up. I think I’ve come a long ways, seeing my game develop and grow.

“I still have to take that next step. I have to continue to grow my game. If there are guys who need my help or support along the way, I’ll do my best to help out.’’

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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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