Well Flyers fans, we are about 1/4th of the way through the 2022-23 season. And…well…it’s been a season. Lots of injuries, early success, and heartbreaking losses have all been a part of this season so far.
As we look at how the team is doing right now, we are going to evaluate the defenders. Which blueliners have brought their A-game to the rink and which ones are struggling just a bit?
Tony DeAngelo — A-
When there was news of the trade for Tony D, there were a LOT of Flyers fans that were upset because of some of his past antics. They also thought that perhaps he was being overpaid after he signed that extension. And while those incidents are troubling, his play on the ice has been outstanding.
Barring a few games where he sat out to nurse a bum ankle/leg after he blocked a shot, he’s played in almost every game. He leads all defenders, and is fourth on the team, with 14 points. He has four goals and 10 assists. Eight of those points, including two goals, have been on the power play; which was one of the reasons he was traded for.
Granted, he is also second lowest on the team with a -13. Yet, he has averaged more ice time (24.19 minutes a game) on a team that has struggled recently. He is playing about as good as we could’ve hoped. He just needs a better team to be around.
Look for him to continue to be the leader of this team on defense and become a locker room guy. His presence will surely help a team that is in flux right now.
Ivan Provorov — B+
Every other year seems to be Provy’s good year and I guess this is it. He’s been paired with Tony D and Risto for most of the season. He seems comfy with either. He has just one goal with 11 assists. More importantly, he seems more confident on the ice. He’s behind DeAngelo in points and minutes played for the defenders.
If this Flyers team is going to be moving forward, Provy has to keep this going. He has the instincts, but he has some moments where you scratch your head. He seems to be someone who their success is based in large part to who he is paired with. DeAngelo seems to work well with him. For some reason, he makes Risto better. Either way, as long as he builds on his skills, the Flyers will be better for it.
Travis Sanheim — B
He’s had some growing pains, to be sure. He’s not perfect, but he is learning. And I think that is what John Tortorella appreciates about him.
He has scored three goals. He’s played in every game. He plays his heart out. Torts wants someone who will play all out and give it everything. He does that. He is still making some mental mistakes, but his offensive game is picking up. He is also third on team in minutes played, so that shows that the coach believes in him.
Sanheim is gaining a lot more responsibility as a defender. Since he is signed with the Flyers for quite a while to come, he is gaining tons of valuable experience that, hopefully, will pay off in future years.
Nick Seeler — B-
Seeler has been one of the surprises for the Flyers. Seeler has performed well enough. He is the only defender with a positive +/- rating of +5. He has scored two goals and is the only other blueliner, after Provy and Sanheim, to have played in every game. His career high for points is seven and he is already at five for the season. He’s showing a lot of growth.
Seeler is also getting more and more playing time. He is a tough, gritty guy. Is he perfect? No. But you can see that he is getting better and improving. He could be one worth watching in years to come. And he is a lot cheaper than some of the guys on this unit.
Justin Braun — C-
This one is a hard one to grade. He has no points, but yet he is not here to score. Out of the regular starting six defenders, he is last in blocked shots and fourth in hits dished out. He is fourth in penalty minutes taken. Yet, Tortorella seems to really be high on him.
There must be something about him behind the scenes that we don’t realize. He has to be some sort of stabilizing force or mentor young guys like Seeler. He’s never been a top line defender…and when he was last year, it was a disaster. Yes, he sometimes makes errant passes and turnovers, but overall he brings a veteran presence this time needs.
Much like DeAngelo, there were many that wondered why we got him in the offseason. He could be trade bait and bring back a draft pick or prospect if that time comes in March. But right now, he is useful in a certain way.
Rasmus Ristolainen — C-
Much like Braun, this is hard to grade out. He is not as terrible as he appears. He has only put the Flyers on the defensive seven times. He also has no points this season.
He was brought in to be a physical guy who can score. Again, he has no points and is fourth on the team with hits with 54. He is, so far, the only player to be publicly called out by Tortorella as a player that more is demanded from.
He’s not a bad player. However, it is his salary that is the issue. He is being highly overpaid for what he is putting out there on the ice. He’s paid like a top tier defender and he flips between the second and third lines. That is not acceptable.
Yegor Zamula — INC
Zamula gets an incomplete grade for being the team’s seventh defender. He has played in 11 games and has two assists. He, like Seeler, has shown some growing pains. Tortorella seems to like him too and wants to give him chance to play. Recently, he was sent back to the AHL so he can get some playing time in.
There is something about him that really appeals to Torts. There is an eagerness to Zamula that the coach loves to see. If someone gets hurt or put in the “doghouse”, we could see Zamula up soon.
Overall Grades: Individually — B-, Collectively — B-
This is an interesting squad. Earlier this year, they shut down opposing teams and were in the top five in goals against. Then all the forwards got hurt. When that happened, the defense began to falter and the offense stopped scoring.
This is not a defense that is built to score, outside of DeAngelo. They are made to work in Tortorella’s system of defense first hockey with the forwards helping out; almost like a third defender. When most of those guys got hurt, young guys had to play out of position and pick up the slack.
Because of all the injuries it’s not really fair to evaluate the defenders. At the same time, they’ve been the only stabilizing part of the team, outside of Hart.
DeAngelo is playing well. Sanheim and Provy are playing well enough. Seeler has made great strides. Much more is needed out of Risto. Braun is…well, Braun. This could be a dominant unit if all things fall into place.
We’ll better be able to see where this team is at the All-Star Break. One thing is for sure, it is light years better than what we had last year. There is, however, always room for improvement.