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GREENBERG: The Defense Situation

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

He has young defensemen -- Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg -- who can create room, plus another – Sam Morin -- who will take it away.

Then comes perhaps Ron Hextall’s piece de resistance -- Ivan Provorov -- a prospect so advanced and well rounded that the Flyers used the seventh pick in June’s draft to made room for one more intriguing blueliner, never mind that forward had become a greater organizational need. But any of these kids is going to have to create a space for himself on the 2015-16 team.

Hextall says development camp, which runs through Sunday, is not about evaluation, but education. Over five days, these kids will be addressed about conditioning and nutrition but the defensive prospects especially should not have to be lectured about entitlement. All they have to do is look around at the competition.

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       WATCH: Ivan Provorov
     
       WATCH: Travis Sanheim

       WATCH: Sam Morin

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Three first-rounders (Morin, Provorov, Sanheim) taken in the top 20 and a dynamic late-blooming college star (Gostisbehere) have been added in the last four drafts to an organization that hasn’t had a cornerstone defenseman since Chris Pronger, nor drafted a first-pair caliber D since Jimmy Watson in 1972. This is pretty exciting stuff.

But Hextall played enough behind enough bad defensemen in his career to know it’s not easy to develop one. These kids can get up into the play and the Flyers certainly could use a lot more of that, preferably as soon as October 8. But no, Hexy says he doesn’t get a rush thinking about the possibilities. In this league, getting ahead of yourself usually puts you offsides.

“It almost makes me want to pull back more,” said Hextall, when asked yesterday to get a gleam in his eye and throw rose petals at the feet of all these next Serge Savards, Larry Robinsons and Guy Lapointes, with maybe a Bill Nyrop thrown in for good measure. “If you go through the history of the game, young defensemen and the path they have gone on has been dangerous.

“If somebody is going to play, we are going to make sure they are ready to play.

I have told you guys repeatedly, we are not going to hurry kids. I don’t want a kid here playing 7-10 minutes. I don’t want a kid here sitting out. So that’s not going to happen. If a kid knocks us out we will make the decision at the time, depending on the moving parts.”

Even after trading Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossman, Hextall still has eight of those moving parts, including a Michael Del Zotto, who moves pretty well indeed. Even if Hextall trades one, which he would like to do, there still will be no gold-plated invitations this fall for any teenager or recent one.

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If Provorov proves as mature and complete as the scouting community universally believes him to be, he might make it a tough call, mostly because there may not be a lot more he can learn in junior. But Morin, who has completed his junior eligibility, can get plenty out of time in AHL and so probably still can Gostisbehere, who played only five games in Lehigh Valley last season before tearing his ACL.

Sanheim, who took a huge jump in 2014-15 that made the Flyers look brilliant to have taken him at No. 17, might have the smarts and the skills to hold his own with a jump to the NHL at age 19, but not yet the bulk.

Hagg, who spent last season at Lehigh Valley, can move the puck, but still is too casual about it, so he’s not about to be rewarded any time soon. This is a big season for the Swede if he wants to keep himself in the mix. Obviously, the Flyers have numbers, a good thing always.

“The prospects are really good, a lot better than the first year I was [at prospect camp],” said Morin. “I really enjoy it.”

We all are going to share Morin’s joy when he is moved into the lineup systematically, with veteran support. The Flyers have multiple shots here at developing the next Duncan Keith, but keep in mind he had 21 points and was minus-11 in his first NHL season.

It’s not easy developing defensemen. So easy, boy, easy.

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