STONE HARBOR, N.J. -- Philadelphia Flyers defense prospect Shayne Gostisbehere says he feels fully healthy eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"I'm good," he said during Flyers development camp in early July. "I feel like I'm at 100 percent. Some days it gets a little sore, but that's going to happen when you have major knee surgery. It's been a long road. I'm happy I'm on the right track again."
Gostisbehere's first professional season got derailed in early November.
The third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 78) started the season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the American Hockey League but made his NHL debut Oct. 25 against the Detroit Red Wings. He then played the next game against the Los Angeles Kings. He didn't have any points and averaged 12 minutes of ice time, but the experience was all positive.
Days later, things went all negative.
He was returned to the Phantoms on Nov. 2. Then on Nov. 7, in his second game back in the AHL, he injured his knee during a game against the Manchester Monarchs when he was pushed into the boards.
He had surgery days later, and spent the next three months watching games rather than playing in them.
Gostisbehere did most of his rehabilitation work in Philadelphia, and at Flyers home games he had a seat in the press box next to player development coach Kjell Samuelsson.
"He [Samuelsson] would pick some defensemen to tell me to watch, and we'd watch them and see what they do, comment on plays, little things like that," Gostisbehere said. "No one specific, just guys on teams that emulated my style of play, I played like them. More offensive guys who took care of themselves in the [defensive] zone very well. Any guy on a team who is the most offensive defenseman on that team, keep an eye on him."
Samuelsson said Gostisbehere always was engaged during their in-game conversations and would ask good questions.
"He's a very intelligent guy," Samuelsson said. "He has a high hockey IQ. He picks up bad things that the guys do and he picks up the good things."
Samuelsson said now it's up to Gostisbehere to implement those good things into his game.
"It's getting him to realize he has to play a simple game and don't complicate the game when he has the puck," Samuelsson said. "I can't really see if he's yet picked it up or he's going to do the things we talked about because he was hurt the whole time and he didn't play at the end of the season. We'll have to see when [training] camp comes around, how he picked up those things."
In addition to knowledge gained off the ice, Gostisbehere also gained strength during his rehabilitation. He's listed at 160 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame but said at development camp he has added 15 pounds. The extra strength that comes with it is necessary for him to improve his play away from the puck, which is what will earn more than a cameo appearance in the NHL.
"That's what he needs because it takes more strength to play without the puck, go down into corners and battle in front of the net," Samuelsson said. "If he's going to be a reliable defenseman in the NHL, that part of the game, he has to pick it up. To do that he has to be a little bit stronger."
The trick was adding that strength while still maintaining his mobility and elusiveness on the ice, which is what made him a top prospect. Gostisbehere credited Flyers director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin and assistant athletic trainer Sal Raffa for designing a program that allowed him to get better and bigger.
"When we look at the ACL, we know what we have to do for the knee," McCrossin said. "But we rehab the body as a whole. Any good clinician is going to do that. And by doing that you're getting bigger and stronger throughout the whole body."
For a player who relies on speed, the Flyers took a conservative approach to Gostisbehere's rehabilitation. He was kept off the ice until early February, and when he was allowed to skate, he wasn't allowed to handle pucks for the first few weeks. He was cleared for contact at his season-ending meeting with Flyers officials. It was a slow process, but Gostisbehere had patience and followed the plan.
The first real hitting won't come until training camp in September. But Gostisbehere is confident he'll be just fine, and get back to being a player the Flyers can build their defense around in the future.
"It's going to be a little weird the first time you get hit or hit someone," he said. "But it'll feel great and then you'll be back to normal."