Healthier ‘Ghost’ shooting for return to old form

Shayne Gostisbehere

VOORHEES, N.J. – Shayne Gostisbehere’s game reminds you of a speedy race car, with high acceleration and marvelous handling on the curves.

But when the Ferrari on skates gets a flat tire or two, it’s time to call the tow truck.

That’s where the career of “Ghost’’ has been stuck the past year or so as the Flyers defenseman has been recovering from a pair of knee surgeries.

Without quickness, the Florida native is just a shell of himself.

Things could be changing, though, at least from the look of things during the first couple days of training camp at the Skate Zone.

The former Calder Trophy (NHL Rookie of the Year) finalist worked hard during the offseason to get back his conditioning and flexibility.

He’s going to need all that and more to win back a regular position among the Flyers’ top six defensemen.

On top of that, Gostisbehere has had to deal with nagging trade rumors. For him to become an attractive trade commodity to other teams, he’s going to have to show the form which made him such a spectacular player some five years ago.

It’s been a bumpy road, to say the least.

“It’s definitely tough,’’ he said during a media Zoom call on Tuesday. “I’ve dealt through injuries pretty much my entire career (including an ACL operation his first pro year).

“When you sprinkle some trade rumors on top of that and not playing, can’t get in the lineup, it’s definitely tough mentally.’’

He pretty much hit rock bottom during last season’s playoffs when Robert Hagg basically supplanted him in the lineup.

“I think this offseason I worked out and basically did what I could control,’’ Gostisbehere said. “I can’t control what’s going to happen, I can’t control where I’m going to go.

“The only thing I can control is getting healthy and becoming the best player I can be.’’

Gostisbehere, 27, lit up the NHL his first season, registering 17 goals and a total of 46 points, setting all kinds of Flyer and NHL rookie records, including four overtime goals.

But he slumped to just seven goals the following season. He bounced back with 52 assists in 2017-18 but has struggled since. The injuries haven’t helped.

Coach Alain Vigneault met with Gostisbehere recently to somewhat clear the air of any misunderstanding.

By all accounts, it was a productive confab.

“We had a good talk, in a sense a clean slate,’’ Gostisbehere said. “For him and I, we talked out last season. Obviously I went through a tough time with injuries. I really couldn’t be the player I wanted to be.

“I’m healthy, I feel really good right now. It’s the first time in a couple years that I’ve felt really good. I think it was a good talk. I think it’s a clean slate going into the season.’’

There was talk Gostisbehere might be moved in the offseason. He was relieved when that didn’t happen.

“I’m getting pretty used to it now,’’ he said with the trace of a smile. “I pay attention to it because it’s my life. I like it here in Philly.

“It’s not the best when you hear your name in trade rumors. Nothing happened – I’m happy to be here, happy to help my team.’’

The offseason workout program showed him what he can and can’t do.

“I train differently, switched up training-wise,’’ he explained. “Did it for more of a body development, doing what I can do. I can’t do things I used to do when I was younger.

“But I think I am in a good place mentally because I am healthy. That goes a long way with my play. I don’t have to worry about certain moves on the ice where maybe it will hurt or not. I can just worry about the game itself. When you’re healthy, it’s a lot easier on the mind.’’

Vigneault obviously wants to see No. 53 complete this comeback story.

Confidence will be key.

“I had a very good meeting with Shayne,’’ Vigneault confirmed. “We both expressed ourselves. He’s a very smart young man, wants to play, wants to help this team.

“He’s going to get an opportunity. He’s got to prove himself. But I think for the first time since I’ve been here, he’s a hundred percent healthy which is real good for him. He’s come in with a positive attitude.’’

Much of it could depend on an intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday.

“We’ll see how well he plays,’’ the coach said. “And how well he can contribute to us winning some games.’’

 

About Wayne Fish 1372 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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