Merely three days ago, Ron Hextall voiced his draft opinions to the media. The GM explained that in his mind, defensemen are the most valuable players in the game, which is a theory the Flyers stuck with when selecting Travis Sanheim with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft.
“He’s got a lot of up slide, and he’s a real good skater,” said Hextall of the defenseman. “He’s a big kid and he’s got great range, and he moves the puck well.“
The 6-foot-3 defenseman from Manitoba played 67 regular season games and six playoff games this past season, his rookie year with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. In total, he tallied six goals and 25 assists during the 2013-2014 run.
He continued to impress after finishing with a plus-25 rating in the regular season and a plus-five rating in the playoffs, demonstrating his skills as a productive blue-liner.
“I’m a two-way guy,” said Sanhiem when describing his game. “Pretty good skater who sees the ice really well, makes a pretty good first pass, but has the ability to jump up and rush offensively.”
In addition to playing for the Hitmen, Sanheim was also a member of the U-18 Canada World Championship team. The defenseman tallied three points and was said to be a standout on the team, ultimately earning the bronze medal in seven games.
“It’s been a crazy few months,” explained Sanheim. “I had a good second half of the year, and I was really happy to be selected to Team Canada.”
While this past year has been one filled with success for the 18 year old, his dream of being drafted was not always a reality.
Last year, Sanheim’s main focus was to make the Hitmen’s lineup. With his improvement throughout the year, not only did he accomplish that feat, but he also began to fly up the draft board over the past few months. Once listed as 167th among North American skaters, the defenseman quickly moved up to the 53rd spot by the time he was drafted.
Sanheim attributed this rise to his level of play for Team Canada, believing the tournament is where his draft stock ultimately rose.
The blue-liner’s vast improvement did not go unnoticed by the league. Sanheim had meetings with all 30 teams prior to the start of the draft, and met with Philadelphia and Hextall for an additional interview yesterday.
“Again, his path is one of those that is very intriguing,” Hextall said. “You get a kid that young and that immature and all of a sudden he skyrockets up the charts, and that was one of the things that made our decision for us.”
Hextall believes this pick will help propel the Flyers to success in the future.
“I’ve got a mental picture of the team in three or four years,” said the GM, “and I get really excited.”