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Gostisbehere a name for Flyers fans to remember

Shayne Gostisbehere, a 2012 Flyers draftee playing in college, could become the puck-moving defenseman they need.

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - One month after Hobey Baker Award favorite Johnny Gaudreau netted three points against his team, the coach of the 10th-ranked team in college hockey sent the sport buzzing with his words.

For Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert, his press conference wasn't a shot at Gaudreau, the Boston College star from Gloucester Catholic High. It was just his opinion.

Appert couldn't help but gush about a Flyers draft pick after being torched by his Union College team twice in one weekend.

"I think Shayne Gostisbehere is the best player in the country," Appert said on Nov. 16. "We've played a pretty good schedule. But Gostisbehere is the best player we've seen this year. He's fast, tenacious and tough. He's fantastic."

Hyperbole? Perhaps.

Even Gostisbehere, despite Union's valiant push for him to be recognized as a finalist for college hockey's Heisman, said yesterday Gaudreau "pretty much has that wrapped up already."

Recently, ESPN's John Buccigross - the "Sports Center" anchor and college hockey broadcaster - predicted Gostisbehere will quarterback the Flyers' power play next season.

That bold projection might not be all that far-fetched.

Just don't try explaining that to Gostisbehere. He's too busy soaking up every possible minute of college life in this tiny Hudson Valley town.

"I'm a normal student," said Gostisbehere (pronounced GOSS-tiss-bare). "Everyone knows everyone. It's small. It's beautiful. The academics are great. I like being the guy in the background."

Gostisbehere, 20, lives in a humongous, off-campus house with seven fellow juniors from the No. 3-ranked Dutchmen team. He describes the living situation as "not totally 'Animal House,' but along those lines."

The boys are a brisk walk from the cozy 2,225-seat Messa Rink, where a dynamic defenseman from Florida with few Division I options has helped hang the first banners in program history and put Union firmly on the college hockey map.

Hardly a day passes, though, without a teammate prodding Gostisbehere about next season.

It is no secret the Flyers will have at least one opening on the blue line next October. Andrej Meszaros is playing out the string; Kimmo Timonen may or may not be back for another campaign. And no one in the minor leagues is banging down the Wells Fargo Center door.

Can the Flyers persuade Gostisbehere to forgo his senior season?

"People say it's about time that I leave," Gostisbehere told the Daily News yesterday. "I'm focused on what my team is doing right now. Of course, it's in the back of my mind. I'll have to think about it.

"Money doesn't do anything for me. Just because there is a spot doesn't mean it's mine. You've got to work for it. I just can't step in there. I haven't even played a pro game in my life and I've barely got college figured out all the way."

Needless to say, the Flyers are keeping close tabs on their 2012 third-round pick. They invited Gostisbehere's grandfather, a Montreal native who got him involved in hockey in Florida, to a practice before their November road game against the Panthers.

Gostisbehere said the Flyers check on him at least once a week - a text from director of scouting Chris Pryor before a game or maybe a visit from player development coach Kjell Samuelsson. Last week, general manager Paul Holmgren and assistant GM Ron Hextall traveled to Cornell and Colgate to watch him play in person.

What the Flyers' top brass saw was a wildly talented blue-liner who has blossomed from a high-risk taker into a controlled offensive force. He is smooth-skating and bursting with confidence. Gostisbehere is a one-man breakout on one of the best teams in college hockey - and he is exactly the puck mover the Flyers lack.

One game at Penn State this season, he posted 12 shots on goal and scored twice on the power play in a span of 3 minutes. His overall numbers aren't mind-blowing, but he is more controlled.

"When I first got here, coach [Rick Bennett] would call me 'Renegade' since I would just join the rush every time," Gostisbehere said. "But I've learned to pick my spots, when to go and when not to go. I'm maturing, focusing on where I am without the puck. I'm definitely reliable in the defensive zone. I think that's overlooked a lot of the time, since I'm described as an offensive defenseman - they think I don't care about the defensive zone."

Gostisbehere, listed at 5-11 and 160 pounds, is a near clone of Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, the undrafted Michigan State product, in both stature and style. Their college statistics are very similar. After 63 games in the AHL, Krug scored four goals in 15 Stanley Cup playoff games for the Bruins in 2012-13. He has 32 points in 57 NHL games this year - and could well be a finalist for rookie of the year.

Krug never made it back to Michigan State for a senior season. There are four games left before the NCAA tournament, meaning soon Gostisbehere will have to make the same choice.

Pryor said the Flyers will do "what's best for Shayne's development," but that decision is really up to Gostisbehere.

The Flyers didn't approach him last season, and Gostisbehere said he knew he wasn't ready to make the enormous jump. This year, though, sounds different.

"It will definitely be tough," Gostisbehere said. "It's a gut feeling. It's a family decision, too. My mom definitely wants that diploma. If I had to leave this place, it would be hard. I don't want to be that guy that has to hurt people like that. But at the end of the day, I need to make the best decision for my development."

Either way, Gostisbehere would like at least one trip to Philadelphia in a few weeks - for the Frozen Four - where he can skate his case for all to see.