PHILADELPHIA – Maybe the big money didn’t go to his head after all.
There was more than one hockey pundit who thought that “they gave him what?” eight-year, $50-million contract awarded to Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim last season might have gone to his head.
After four seasons of posting respectable numbers, the 2017 first-round (17th overall) draft pick struggled quite a bit, finishing with a career-low 23 points (if you throw out the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season) and not looking too sure of himself at times.
Some of that might have been attributed to not being certain how then first-year coach John Tortorella wanted him to play.
When the season ended, at one point in June, Sanheim was all but traded to St. Louis but when backliner Torey Krug opted not to ditch his no-trade clause, Sanheim stayed put in Philadelphia.
Tortorella decided he wanted to clear the air and move forward.
So the two men sat down to talk it out over the summer and this season Sanheim’s turnaround has been stunning.
With the new contract kicking in this year, the 27-year-old Sanheim has posted eight points (including seven assists) in seven games with a plus-2. He looks like a completely different player, having added some muscle and now tipping the scales at 222 pounds.
He’s often using his speed to bring the puck up ice with confidence. It’s sort of how he looked his rookie season back in 2018-19 when he posted career highs in goals (nine), assists (26) and points (35).
Late in Thursday night’s 6-2 win over Minnesota, Sanheim scored his first goal of the season and the Flyers bench jumped up simultaneously even though the outcome had long been decided.
With Ivan Provorov, Tony DeAngelo and Justin Braun no longer on the roster, it’s time for Sanheim to step up and take a bigger role in the offense and leadership. Scoring is something the Flyers are emphasizing this season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Sanheim hits double digits in goals if he keeps this mindset.
“It’s obviously a big part of my game,” said the Elkhorn, Manitoba, Canada native. “I want to use my legs to get up the ice when I can see it. I’ve been doing it so far, it’s been good. And credit to the forwards, they’ve been holding onto pucks, making plays and it makes it a lot easier for us to join.”
Sanheim confirmed this past summer was perhaps the hardest he’s worked at his game. A bigger role, more ice time. . .it all added up to more responsibility.
“I knew that this was a possibility, I just wanted to be prepared,” he said. “I feel pretty good right now.”
There’s no underestimating the importance of the communication between coach and player.
“We’ve had a great relationship in talking,” Sanheim confirmed. “Understanding what he wants from me. Maybe knowing myself a little bit more, my game and just trying to prepare myself this summer for it.”
>Konecny’s fast start
Travis Konecny is picking up where he left off last year when he scored a career-high 31 goals and expanded his role with the team, even killing penalties.
He picked up his sixth goal in the first seven games against the Wild and he’s even showing a bit of composure in steering away from the semi-reckless penalties.
“He’s come in here from day one – I was on his ass all year long last year, he was in trade talks, all that stuff,” Tortorella said. “His skill level hasn’t changed, his skating hasn’t changed. What has changed is his mindset.
“He has shown us right from day one that he’s going to take control. I’m happy for him. I know it was a miserable year for him last year. I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself.”