Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers form the Flyers’ No. 2 defensive pairing, but the coaching staff hasn’t been opposed to using them against teams’ most dangerous scorers.
“Not only did we not hide those guys, but we purposely matched them against the best lines in the league,” assistant coach Mike Yeo, who runs the Flyers defense, said in training camp the other day.
Yeo cited how the tandem was used against Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and his linemates, and Toronto’s Auston Mathews and his unit.
They played against star players because “they have that ability, and because we wanted them to grow,” Yeo said. “Really, the only way to do it is by doing it. I would say the same holds true for the playoffs.”
In other words, when the Flyers play Boston, Washington, and Tampa Bay in the round-robin seeding tournament in early August, and then advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Sanheim and Myers will get critical minutes against top players.
“We can tell them what to expect, we can work with them, do drills, all that kind of stuff, but obviously it’s a different intensity level and it’s a different pace when you get to that playoff hockey,” Yeo said. “Both guys are composed. Both guys are great skaters, and both guys have size. I really don’t expect it to be much of a factor for those guys.”
Playing against the 6-foot-3 Sanheim and 6-5 Myers in practice, right winger Jake Voracek said, isn’t easy because of their skating ability and long reach.
“You really have to use all your skills and elements to try to get around them a little bit differently than just wide or with speed,” Voracek said. “You have to think about it every time you are going up against them. ... They are very young, and it’s exciting to see them grow every single time they step on the ice.”
Sanheim, who had eight goals, 25 points, and a plus-4 rating this season, played in four Stanley Cup playoff games and scored a goal two years ago; this will be Myers’ playoff baptism. Myers had 16 points, including four goals, in 50 games, and the rookie led Flyers defensemen and was second on the team with a plus-17 rating this season.
“Obviously I got a little bit of a taste a couple years ago and just the excitement with that,” Sanheim said.
He has a “little bit bigger role now and I want to take advantage of that. I think it’s a big opportunity for me to showcase what I’m all about. I want to help this team win, and to do that you’ve got to win in the playoffs. We got a good team and a lot of good players. We have a lot of depth and looking forward to this playoff run.”
Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen will get prime minutes against opponents’ top lines, but Sanheim and Myers will also get challenges against marquee players.
Sanheim welcomes it.
“Nowadays, with how deep a lot of teams are, you see more than one line with star players,” he said. “You have to have more than one pairing to go up against these guys. For those teams, for example, you’ve got Ovechkin on a different line and then you’ve got some other stars [such as Nicklas Backstrom].
“You need a couple pairs that can match up. I got a little bit of a taste there when I was paired with Provy last season, going up against some of the top guys. He handled it well. It’s nothing new for me, I guess. I enjoy it. I enjoy the competitiveness and the challenge of being able to go against those guys.”
Said Myers: “Obviously it gives you confidence when the coaches have confidence in you. It’s a challenge that I’m embracing with open arms. I love playing against the best players.”
Sanheim, 24, and Myers, 23, have a history together; they were also defensive partners with the AHL’s Phantoms.
“I think being with Phil, our skating ability, our reach, and how we can play defensively, it’s an advantage for us,” Sanheim said.
So is their familiarity with each other.
“We’ve been able to build from Day 1 with Lehigh,” Sanheim said. “It didn’t take long when I got to play with him here that things kind of took off as well. It’s just the type of guy he is. We’re both around the same age. Communication-wise, we both feel really comfortable talking to each other and going over different things we see on the ice. I think that’s something that can benefit us.”
“He’s a great guy, and I think we complement each other well on the ice,” Myers said.
Yeo is confident in his No. 2 pairing.
“I really do feel comfortable that the experience they got this year is going to go a long way toward helping them be successful in the playoffs,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Myers said. “I’m happy that I’m going to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs. I think the intensity is going to be as high as it’s ever been for me during a hockey game. I’ll be ready.”