COLUMBUS, Ohio - This Ghost looks to be for real, folks.

Oh, Shayne Gostisbehere still has defensive flaws, no question. But he is improving in that area, and his speed, offensive creativity, and hockey IQ make him one of the Flyers' most exciting young players in the last several decades.

Two others come quickly to mind: Eric Lindros and current captain Claude Giroux.

When Lindros joined the Flyers in 1992-93, he brought talent that had not been seen in a player his size. He ushered in a period of dominance, even if his teams never won a Stanley Cup.

Giroux's arrival in 2008-09 created a buzz for different reasons: His breathtaking moves hadn't been observed in these parts in ages, and before long he established himself as one of the NHL's elite players.

Fast-forward to Gostisbehere. The Friendly Ghost. The 22-year-old Floridian who has made the Flyers fun to watch again. You see him pirouette from a defender to start a rush, and you sometimes think you are looking at Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, the league's most exciting young defenseman.

Yes, it's early, but in his first five weeks with the Flyers, Gostisbehere looks as if he has a chance to become a franchise cornerstone.

It is no coincidence that the Flyers entered Saturday 9-4-3 since Gostisbehere was recalled from the Phantoms. They were 5-8-3 - and difficult to watch - without him.

He had six goals and 11 points in his first 16 games entering Saturday and could threaten Behn Wilson's club record for goals scored by a rookie defenseman: 13 in 1978-79. In addition, he was leading NHL rookies with four power-play goals despite not being recalled until Nov. 14.

And though it comes with an asterisk because of the new overtime format that provides lots of open ice, Gostisbehere scored three OT goals faster than any player in NHL history, doing it in his first 17 games.

"Three-on-three," teammate Jake Voracek said, "is built for him."

Gostisbehere is an anomaly: someone who grew up in sunny Florida - not exactly a hockey hotbed - who has blossomed into one of the league's best skaters.

He is also an anomaly in that players drafted in the third round don't usually make an impact. Some of the Flyers' past third-round selections include Rob Bellamy, Garrett Klotz, and Jon Matsumoto. And Colin Fraser, Stefan Ruzicka, and Alexandre Picard. And let's not forget Chester Gallant, Milos Hilan, and Kimbi Daniels.

Most of the above spent a majority of their careers in the minors, and a couple had a cup of coffee with the Flyers.

Gostisbehere is making scouting director Chris Pryor and former general manager Paul Holmgren look like geniuses for selecting him 78th overall in the 2012 draft.

"I think he shoots the puck well, and, for a young guy, he's a great passer," said Mark Howe, the Hall of Fame defenseman who is the Detroit Red Wings' director of pro scouting. "His mobility is good, and I think he's starting to gain some trust in his ability. [I like] the way he defends and challenges and takes away time and space in all zones. Once he matures a little bit physically, he'll be able to compete a little better in that area, but he's a very effective player already, and he's pretty effective on the power play already."

Gostisbehere - who has added 15 pounds from last year and is now 5-foot-11, 186 pounds - has been dynamic on the attack but has struggled in the defensive end at times.

"It's part of the learning process," Howe said. "Anybody who has played defense goes through it. He's only been in the league [five] weeks, and this is only his second year in pro hockey, but he's got a tremendous skill level, and he thinks the game very well."

Howe said Gostisbehere has "the stuff you can't teach. The other part, you can teach . . . or learn. You can learn to play the game without the puck. I had to learn. You learn through trial and error, through practices and games. Defense is hard work and learning by your mistakes and learning the players in the league. He's just seeing these players for the first time. Once you get used to what certain players do, you put that in the memory bank, and it helps you be a better defender against those individuals.

"But you can't teach people to have offensive instincts and do the things he does on the power play and the way he moves the puck."

In other words, enjoy the process, Flyers fans. It's going to be a ride unlike any in franchise history.

@BroadStBull