ST. LOUIS - Back when he coached the Flyers, Ken Hitchcock wasn't exactly fond of having young players in his lineup.
But the man they call "Hitch" has changed with the times.
That explains Hitchcock's fondness for defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers' smooth-skating rookie who has opened eyes since being recalled from the Phantoms.
"He's like a lot of these other young guys. They've got no fear of making plays," Hitchcock said before his Blues hosted the Flyers on Thursday night. "They've got no fear of the position. I think in years past, you used to think, 'Well, a guy's got to be 26, 27 before he can be a regular player.' Now it's the other way around and we've got defensemen who are 22, 23 years old that can play in the league."
Gostisbehere, 22, entered Thursday with eight points in 12 games and a plus-3 rating. Even though he has been with the Flyers only a short time, he began the night tied for the NHL lead among rookies with three power-play goals.
"I'm just trying to get better every day and be a two-way player," Gostisbehere said. "Take care of the defensive end; the offensive end will take care of itself."
Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, Gostisbehere starred at Union College, leading the Dutchmen to the 2014 NCAA championship.
"It just seems the coaching at college and junior level is way more advanced," Hitchcock said. "There's way more professional people coaching down there now. . . . There's ex-NHL players, ex-American League coaches, ex-pros down there coaching. These kids are the benefactors of it. They get schooling at a very advanced stage early in their lives and you see the production of it in the NHL."
The Flyers collected points in nine of Gostisbehere's first 12 games.
"Man, there's a lot of NHL defensemen that don't look like they need much more time to be elite players," Hitchcock said. "He's in the mix with a bunch of other guys where it looks like he can contribute and help you. I think also the game has changed. You used to play the third pair as a physical pair and even secondary shutdown. Those times are gone now. Your third pair has to advance the puck as quick as your first pair."
Relayed Hitchcock's complimentary words, Gostisbehere said he was flattered.
"It's nice to hear, but you can't let anything go to your head," Gostisbehere said. "You have to stay humble."