Travis Sanheim has been one of the most consistent defensemen for the Philadelphia Flyers this season, perhaps even the best one right now, and today we’re going to take a look as to why that’s true. The 24-year-old Elkhorn, Manitoba native has had a productive year so far in his fourth season with the Flyers, registering 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points in 23 games. He is averaging around a time-on-ice total of 21:38.
His TOI ranks 2nd on the team only to fellow defenseman Ivan Provorov, who logs a hefty 25:17 per game. An increase in playing time was always likely for the rest of the defense after Matt Niskanen retired this past offseason, and Sanheim has been the biggest recipient of those minutes and has played well. While Sanheim has only mustered one goal this season, which is tied for 3rd among the defensive corps with Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hägg, and Nate Prosser, he has also not seen much time in positions where he has been able to show off his offensive prowess as often.
Sanheim has only seen time on the power play for 12:46 this season, which is very far behind the power play TOI totals of the other power-play defensemen of Provorov (70:01), Gustafsson (46:25), and Shayne Gostisbehere (52:01). Sanheim is also only participating in about 42.86% of the Flyers’ offensive zone starts. Playing more of a defensive role this year despite his offensive talent, Sanheim has still produced for the Flyers this season.
Sanheim has played the 2nd most minutes on the penalty kill at 50:02, once again ranking only behind Provorov. Sanheim has seen a huge boost in defensive zone starts this year in comparison to his prior three seasons, which shows the coaching staff has more trust in him and believes he has become a better player in his own end. His defensive zone start percentage is over 60% this season, which blows away his previous high of 52.1% from last season. He has taken on more responsibility this season and played well so far in an increased role.
Sanheim has been paired with Phil Myers more than any other defenseman this season and they have logged 139:58 of ice time together, which is second among all pairings the Flyers have used this season. That pairing in particular has been very effective for the Flyers as they’ve been on the ice for 7 Flyer goals so far, good for third among pairs that have logged at least 100 minutes of ice time. However, they have also been on the ice for 7 goals against as well, but they’ve also only allowed 23 high-danger scoring chances, which is 2 shy of the least allowed by the other pairing of Sanheim and Justin Braun, and in those 23 situations only two goals were scored.
While their on-ice save percentage as a pairing is only .898, which sometimes falls on the goalie and sometimes falls on the defense making mistakes, they make up for it in the offensive zone. That pair maintains a 50.00 GF% (goals for percentage), which is tied for the team lead and they also lead all pairings in xGF% (expected goals for percentage) at 54.08, This shows us that Sanheim’s main pairing creates offense and helps the Flyers’ attack from their back end as well as their forward group.
Individually, Sanheim’s more basic advanced metrics are down from last season. His Corsi has dropped to 49.29%, which stands at a career-low for the time being, and his Fenwick has sunk to 48.77% as well. His PDO has risen to 100.0, however. Of course, you can argue that his drop in these categories is a result of playing with Ivan Provorov, which isn’t a knock on Provorov, but the two young blueliners just didn’t gel as well as the Flyers thought they would. The pair itself spent almost 102 minutes together and statistically is one of the worst tandems that Philadelphia has iced this season.
Overall, Sanheim has played well for the Flyers. He has seemed comfortable in honing more of a two-way style in his game so far and while he isn’t a superstar player, he has perhaps given Philadelphia some steadiness along the blueline, which has not been a common theme this season.
It would be nice to see him get some more opportunities on the power play because we do know that he has a great offensive skillset, a tremendous hockey IQ, and a very underrated combination of hands and speed that could definitely quarterback one of the Flyers’ struggling power-play units. He has had a quiet but effective year and hopefully sooner than later the fanbase will realize just how good Travis Sanheim has been for the Philadelphia Flyers.