As we all patiently wait for the NHL playoff to start sometime at the end of July, it’s time to assess the Flyers roster as they gear up for their first playoff run in two seasons. The forward group has a nice mix of veteran and youth presence, but the blue line, is a bit of a different story.
With a group of guys mostly in their early twenties, all have little-to-no playoff experience. Ivan Provorov has six games under his belt, Travis Sanheim has four, Robert Hagg has two, Shayne Gostisbehere has 12, and Phil Myers has zero. Enter the newest members of the Flyers roster Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, who combined have 193 games of experience.
Niskanen was a perennial playoff performer with the Pittsburgh Penguins dating back to 2011. He played 39 games for the Penguins in the postseason from 2011 to 2014. Two of those were first round exits, one was a second round exit, and the Pens were defeated in the Eastern Conference Final in 2013. When Niskanen signed with the Capitals, he again saw plenty of postseason action with three second round exits, a first round exits, and capped off with a Stanley Cup win in 2018.
Justin Braun spent his entire season with the San Jose Sharks, who held a regular presence in the Western Conference playoff picture. He played in seven years worth of playoff series in San Jose finishing with three first round exits, two semifinal exits, one Conference Final defeat, and made the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, though losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I’m sure most fans never want to hear the phrase “veteran presence” ever again, but Niskanen and Braun bring just that. Provorov, Sanheim, and Hagg have only played one series, that being the disastrous 2018 series against the Penguins. Ivan Provorov averaged 24 minutes of ice time during that series while suffering a shoulder injury that limited his effectiveness. Travis Sanheim averaged 15 minutes of play through four games, though was replaced by Robert Hagg for games five and six as he often found himself in the Dave Hakstol doghouse. Hagg averaged just short of 12 minutes in his two playoff games, mainly serving a physicality role.
Since that catastrophe of a series, all three have become staples in the Flyers lineup, having played at least 200 games each, though the playoffs are a different beast entirely. The competitive nature ramps up drastically, the long series against the same team, playing through injuries, it takes players that have been there and done that to help the untested players through the madness known as the NHL playoffs. Not only did both play major rolls on the ice, Experience in situations like the playoffs is a big reason why Braun and Niskanen were brought in to begin with.
The Flyers young up-and-coming defense core has all the tools to be a Cup caliber crew right now, and with Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun’s help and tutoring on and off the ice, it exponentially raises the bar for future seasons if they can’t win the big one this season.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: inquirer.com