I am going to start off by saying that I am as big a Travis Sanheim fan as there is out there. Right from the first time I saw him play in his rookie game against the Washington Capitals at the Skate Zone in Voorhees New Jersey, I have been a fan. He is a big, mobile defenseman with a big shot. He is also a very intelligent and poised player. There was no Panic in his game when he had the puck on his stick.
So this is by no means an article where I am going to rip him to shreds or say that he is a bust. But, this is turning into a lost year when it comes to his development. Right from the beginning of training camp, Sanheim has been inconsistent. It would be one game where he struggled, followed by a game where he would show flashes of the big upside that had caused the Flyers to pick him in the first round of the 2014 NHL entry draft.
So with him having such an up and down camp, the thinking was that he would be sent back down to the Phantoms for one more year of development. Have him dominate in the AHL and have him come up next year a more confident player.
A big factor in determining whether or not a player is ready for the NHL is to see if he can dominate, or at the very least, be consistent game in and game out when playing against players mostly his own age. Sanheim failed to do that during this past training camp. He only played well for small stretches.
So it was kind of puzzling that he made the team while Samuel Morin, who was a much more consistent player game in and game out, and who also had more American Hockey League experience than Sanheim did, was eventually sent down while Sanheim made the team
Sanheim’s inconsistent play has continued throughout the course of the regular season. Every once in awhile, he will jump into a play, or make great move, or let off of a blistering slap shot. But more times than not he is wandering around on the ice looking as if he is lost. He isn’t playing with a lot of confidence. He makes a lot of coverage mistakes in his own end. He also hasn’t improved as the season has gone on. He is still the same inconsistent player that he was during training camp. You could even make a case that he has regressed because the flashes of his upside have become more and more infrequent.
There is a camp out there that says he is a young player. You need to allow him to play through his mistakes. That is all well and good. But there’s a difference between a player who is NHL ready that you allow to work through his mistakes, and a player who is not yet ready for the NHL and needs another year of development in the minors.
Sanheim falls into the latter category. The fact that he is a -8 for the year is no accident. Too many times he will be on the ice for goals because he is slow to react to what is going on on the ice. He isn’t ready for the speed of the NHL game. When following him during the course of the year, you don’t see continued Improvement in his game. You don’t see him getting better with each passing game. You also don’t see more and more stretches of good, solid play and less and less stretches of inconsistent play. This would be a sign that he is adjusting to playing at the NHL level. What you are seeing is the exact opposite. His stretches of uneven play are becoming more frequent and his stretches of solid play are becoming less frequent.
These are all signs that he is not quite yet an NHL player. Let’s compare his progression to that of Ivan Provorov’s last year. Everybody remembers the game last year against the Blackhawks where Provorov was a -5 and he struggled mightily. I had even written an article the day after that game and said that this was something that was to be expected from Young players. That you needed to allow him to work through this and learn from his mistakes.
But there is a difference between allowing an NHL ready player like Provorov to learn from his mistakes, and a player like Sanheim who is not ready for the NHL and who should be in the minors working on his game. After his – 5 game against the Blackhawks, Provorov was able to bounce right back with a strong game in his next outing. That is the sign of an NHL player. Sanheim follows a bad game with another bad game, and then another bad game, and then another bad. game. This is a sign of a player who isn’t yet ready for the NHL.
And now that we are close to halfway point of the season and we are still seeing the same player that we saw at the beginning of training camp, it is a sure-fire sign that he is not developing. He is just spinning his wheels and staying in the same spot.
With young players, you have to expect that they’re going to struggle at times. But at the same time you want to see some type of progression in their games. We have not seen that out of Travis Sanheim this year. This leaves the Flyers in a tough spot. Do they leave him on the NHL roster and allow him to continue to struggle? Or do they send him back down to the minors which could hurt his confidence but it would allow him more time to work on his game, get more ice time and be able to play in more big situations?
The Flyers put themselves in a bind by having Sanheim make the team even though in my opinion, he didn’t do enough to show he was ready for the NHL.
In my opinion, the Flyers made a mistake not having him play one more year in the minors. Even with the Phantoms last year, Sanheim did not have a dominant year. He had 10 goals and 27 assists for 37 points which is a good year but, it is not dominant. I traveled up to Allentown to watch him play several times. And even though you could see how he would one day be a good NHL defenseman, you could see that he wasn’t yet a dominant American League player.
Which makes it all the more puzzling as to why Sanheim made the Flyers this year. Had he dominated with the Phantoms last year, even with the uneven training camp, you could make a case for why he should be on the team. He would have shown that he couldn’t get any better at the American League level and therefore his Game Wouldn’t develop by playing another year with the Phantoms.
But he was a player who showed that he could still improve at the American League level. And he didn’t have a dominant training camp. So it was a very curious move by the Flyers to put him on the team. And the fact that he isn’t improving is further proof that he wasn’t ready for the NHL and should have spent one more year with the Phantoms.
I believe that one day, Travis Sanheim will be a very good if not dominant NHL defenseman. He has all the tools to be that. I think he will be a guy who you can put out on the ice in any situation and feel confident in him. But he isn’t that player yet and his game is not improving. So far, this has been a lost year for Travis Sanheim