Last season went about as well as possible for Union College defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
It started not long after he was picked by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 78). He won a gold medal with the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, and had eight goals and 18 assists in 36 games as Union won a second consecutive ECAC title and advanced to the NCAA East Regional final. Gostisbehere was named to the NCAA East Second All-American Team.
While the history major appreciates where he's been, the junior is focused solely on the present. And that present has looked about as successful as his past.
Through 11 games Gostisbehere has four goals and eight assists. He has an even plus/minus rating but has been a plus or even player in seven of 11 games.
If Gostisbehere makes it to the next level it will be mostly based on his high-end offensive play; his 12 points are tied for the NCAA lead among defensemen. However, his focus this season is becoming more dependable in the defensive end.
"I felt like a little bit this year I got away from that, trying to do too much offensively," he told NHL.com. "Coach [Rick Bennett] reminded me I am a defenseman and to worry about having a defense-first mentality. You have to pick your spots, and I have to learn when I can and can't jump [into the play]."
Bennett told NHL.com that part of Gostisbehere's game continues to grow, and said the development already has been exponential.
"I think he made a tremendous jump with his learning curve after the first half of his freshman year to his second half of his first year," Bennett said. "It was night and day. He really picked it up and he's carried the second half of his first year on through and every year he's gotten better and better. He's very willing to learn and he just competes so hard in practice and in games. That's why he's developed so much."
Part of that development has come from playing in all situations now, including killing penalties.
"My freshman year I didn't see one lick of PK time, but this year I'm playing a lot of PK, getting a lot of defensive-zone faceoffs," Gostisbehere said. "I like it more. I like playing defense. I like being relied on offensively, defensively, in all parts of the game. It's cool to see the transition from freshman to junior year and see how my defensive game has developed."
Off the ice, Gostisbehere's development has been sped up with his role this season as an alternate captain.
"We felt as a staff that he earned that," Bennett said. "We couldn't be happier for him. I think he leads by example out there. Anyone can say that in games, but he really leads by example in practice. He goes hard and I think all our players feed off that. He's a passionate guy and I think that rubs off on our players as well. Between being wiling and really passionate out there, I think it's a real good combination to be a leader."
Gostisbehere takes the letter on his jersey, and the meaning that goes with it, very seriously.
"It means a lot for my coaches to give me an 'A,'" he said. "Being a younger guy, they trust me to be a leader and I want to show them I'm a leader and I can handle the 'A.'
The other facet of Gostisbehere's game that has developed is his physical strength. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds; while he certainly would like to get stronger, he told NHL.com the goal is to put on a few pounds without having it affect his skating or elusiveness.
"I've packed on a few pounds and didn't lose any more of my speed," Gostisbehere said. "When I have the chance to take the body I can take it, but I'm not going to knock a guy into the second row. Putting weight on is what I needed to do. I feel I've been doing that and I need to keep on doing that."
Bennett said he isn't worried about Gostisbehere handling himself against bigger players.
"We just played a pretty big opponent and that really wasn't an issue," he said. "We've played a few big teams this past season, and the games against the bigger teams he's shown that he's got a very quick stick that really helps him find ways to make it easier on himself in the defensive zone and on the rush. As far as physicality, he's gotten bigger and bigger every year. The next progression is when he maintains weight over the course of a full season; that's a good test for the next level."
When he makes that jump to the next level remains to be seen. Gostisbehere worked extensively with Ian Laperriere, who served as the Flyers' director of player development prior to him becoming an assistant coach and also has spent time with Kjell Samuelsson, who replaced Laperriere.
"[Samuelsson said] just keep it up," Gostisbehere said. "He's already seen a couple games. He likes what I do offensively. Just the defensive side, learning when to pick my spots … on the penalty kill where I position my stick, little things like that. But he's real hopeful."