BACK IN September, when Shayne Gostisbehere was turning heads during Flyers training camp, the 22-year-old defenseman had a simple yet practical approach to how he was grading his performances and thinking about where he'd end up.
After missing nearly all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Gostisbehere quite simply wanted to get games under his belt, whether that meant with Lehigh Valley of the AHL or with the Flyers.
He all but earned a spot with the big club, scoring three goals in three games. But he fell victim to a lack of salary-cap space. Coach Dave Hakstol said Gostisbehere, the team's third-round pick in 2012, needed to work on playing in his defensive zone and his play without the puck. That was true, but the underlying issue was always the lack of cap space.
The man known as "Ghost" has those games under his belt. He racked up 10 points in 14 games in Lehigh Valley before being called up Saturday. He said Monday that he had his swagger back.
And now that Mark Streit's injury and subsequent placement on long-term injured reserve has opened cap space and enabled Gostisbehere to show that swagger with the Flyers, this much is clear: General manager Ron Hextall must do everything in his power to clear space off the Flyers' cap in order to allow Gostisbehere to stay.
Two games into his second stint at the NHL level is more than enough of a sample size - sorry, stat heads - to say the Flyers need his youthful energy and offensive ability. There's really no debate.
Hextall has approximately six weeks - the time estimated for Streit's recovery from surgery to repair a pubic plate detachment - to figure something out.
"Everything that happens sparks thought process," Hextall said. "That's a good thing. But six weeks is a long time. We'll get our ducks in order here and think about things and we'll adjust and move when it's appropriate."
Saturday, Gostisbehere arrived in Raleigh, N.C., and was immediately inserted on the top power-play unit, taking the place of Streit. The Flyers barely had more than a minute of time on the man advantage, but Gostisbehere was crucial late in the game at even strength, dancing around a Carolina forward and firing the puck toward the Hurricanes' goal. It deflected off Wayne Simmonds and in, allowing the Flyers to eventually win in overtime.
Back on that top power-play unit again Tuesday, acting as the quarterback, Gostisbehere was fed a pass from Claude Giroux and made no mistake one-timing a slap shot past Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick for his first NHL goal. Gostisbehere called it "a dream come true."
"That's the thing he was drafted for," said winger Jake Voracek, who assisted on the goal. "That's the thing he's known for. We are excited to have him on this team."
Still, though, despite the early success, that same day-to-day approach is all Gostisbehere is focused on. It's one he learned while recovering from the ACL injury.
"I'm just looking at it as getting games in and just doing my best to stick," Gostisbehere said.
His offensive ability has given the back line a much-needed jolt of life and exuberance. His defensive play has been fine. And even if it's an area he needs to improve, the Flyers can live with the bad if the good is going to be this good.
"Hockey is a game of mistakes," Gostisbehere said. "I'm going to make mistakes, everyone is going to make mistakes. It's just how you come back from those mistakes, how you react.
"Some say I'm a high-risk, high-reward guy . . . I wouldn't say that's what I am. That's how you guys probably view it. I just try to make plays out there."
He's certainly making them.
"He's the kind of guy that if he gets a chance, he's going to get a big chance because he really deserves it," Voracek said. "He skates very well. He's a confident kid, which is really important these days in the NHL because it's getting harder and harder to hop into the game right away."
Gostisbehere has made that look easy. He's stepped right in and has been marvelous on the power-play unit. He's been a brilliant upgrade moving the puck out of the Flyers' zone and creating offense from his own end out.
In Tuesday's action-packed, three-on-three overtime session, he was a bona fide weapon.
"The opportunity is here, so you take it and seize that opportunity, push and get better every day," Hakstol said. "And that's what we're going to ask him to do."
They're asking and he's answering.
"You've got to let that kid play," Voracek said.
Surely, the general manager knows that. Now it's just up to him to make it work. He's got about six weeks to make it happen.
The Flyers had an optional skate Wednesday . . . Michal Neuvirth, who missed Tuesday's game with an apparent upper-body injury, was one of 11 players on the ice. Neuvirth said he feels fine and will be available to play Thursday against San Jose. Steve Mason is likely to get his fourth straight start when the Sharks come to Wells Fargo Center . . . The Flyers returned Anthony Stolarz to the Phantoms.