Sean Walker thriving in fresh start with Flyers

Nov 1, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Sean Walker (26) shoots against the Buffalo Sabres in the third period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Sean Walker (26) shoots against the Buffalo Sabres in the third period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Flyers accepted the need for a rebuild, the expectation of this past offseason was by having an addition by subtraction. The plan was to move on from players that either wouldn’t fit the timeline of the rebuild or who may not have been buying into it. It would then allow the team to focus more on its younger prospects and give them a chance to show what they could do.

So out went Kevin Hayes who, despite being the Flyers All-Star representative, didn’t seem to gel with John Tortorella. Same for Tony DeAngelo who was scratched on multiple occasions. In the case of Ivan Provorov, it didn’t seem as if he was willing to be a part of a rebuilding team. And it was clear with his struggles in recent years that it was time to move on.

In regard to Provorov, his trade brought the Flyers what was essentially a cap dump from the Los Angeles Kings in the forms of Cal Petersen and Sean Walker. Petersen was what he was expected to be, a struggling goaltender with a high cap hit. Walker had been injured recently and wasn’t high on the depth chart. It was a change of scenery move for both players.

Garnet Hathaway and Ryan Poehling were free agent acquisitions and were brought in to bring more skill to the fourth line. They weren’t just going to be big bodies. While they could perform like a fourth line typically does in bringing energy for the team as a whole, they were going to be able to use their speed to make plays happen on their own.

But were salary dumps and two fourth line acquisitions going to provide a source of positivity for the Flyers? They’ve done that, but no one has done it more than Walker.

Walker thriving in new role with Flyers

Walker has provided the most bang for your buck in terms of what he’s been able to give the Flyers in a second-pair role. There was no guarantee on the kind of role that Walker would have in Philadelphia or even if he was going to stay with the NHL club. Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cam York, and Nick Seeler were roster locks. Marc Staal joined the team in the offseason and was expected to serve a mentor’s role. Egor Zamula and Emil Andrae were roster hopefuls. Add in Walker and there wasn’t going to be much room.

And then Ristolainen got hurt and would not be ready for the start of the season. While Zamula and Andrae both made the team, they were hardly ever going to be in the lineup at the same time. This gave Walker a chance to show he was fully healthy after missing a chunk of time with a knee injury previously. He started the season with Staal until the veteran suffered a rib injury. He then became a stabilizing force for Zamula as the two graded out positively in most offensive categories.

Now he’s primarily spent time with Seeler and the two are thriving together. The Flyers are driving play by a huge number courtesy of the pairing’s 60.31 Fenwick percentage. That has to do with any shots directed on or near the net that are not blocked, the only difference between that and Corsi. Both that and the pairing’s 56.25 CF% are tops among defensemen who regularly play together.

"”He has surprised me as he has gone through the first section of the season here and the first 10-to-12 games.,” Tortorella said about Walker before the Anaheim game. “I think he’s done some things that I didn’t expect, especially the offensive part of the puck. The biggest thing that I like about him, he’s not afraid to make a mistake…I think he’s willing to take a chance to play aggressively that way. And I think it’s rubbed off on people.”"

For Walker himself, these numbers, as well as his own individual ones, are on track for some of the best in his career. He’s also providing the team with offense as well. His 10 points are almost halfway to his career-high 24 points from the 2019-20 season. And he’s just three points away from matching his point total from a season ago. Two of his three goals have come shorthanded. He is also averaging more minutes now (21:05) than he ever has in his career.

He is no doubt drawing interest from outside sources on his potential availability closer to the trade deadline. But could he also be playing himself into a new deal with the Flyers? Depends on where this team is in a few months. If Walker keeps this up, he is likely to have more than a few suitors after him.