What Will Shayne Gostisbehere's Role Be with Philadelphia Flyers in 2014-15?

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IAugust 7, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 12:  Shayne Gostisbehere #14 of the Union College Dutchmen takes the puck as Nate Condon #25 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers defends during the 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship Game at Wells Fargo Center on April 12, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Shayne Gostisbehere is the Philadelphia Flyers' most NHL-ready prospect right now after winning the NCAA Championship with Union College a few months ago.

He was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player and signed an entry-level contract with Philadelphia shortly thereafter.

After playing in the final two games of the Adirondack Phantoms' season, Gostisbehere will be looking to make a big push this summer to climb his way into the NHL.

He is exactly the kind of player that Philadelphia needs. He's a tremendous skater and has great offensive ability.

His puck handling is phenomenal, he's got a good shot and he's extremely creative leading the rush from the back. Those are all components largely missing from the Flyers' blue line right now.

But with no major trades involving defensemen for Philadelphia occurring this past offseason, there is still a major glut at the NHL level.

Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, and Andrew MacDonald aren't very good, but are all signed to sizable deals and won't easily be released.

Braydon Coburn and Mark Streit are quality players who can help anchor a defense, but they aren't working with much talent around them.

Everyone was happy when veteran Kimmo Timonen announced he would return on a one-year, $2 million deal, even though that essentially locked Gostisbehere out of a potential starting spot.

However, Timonen is back home in Finland dealing with blood clots in both his leg and lungs, according to USA Today. That's a scary and severe health issue, and we are all hoping for his safe recovery.

But as Mike Sielski of Philly.com stated, the Flyers must now deal with the very real possibility of losing their best defenseman and a big leader of the entire organization. Timonen is 39 years old, and retirement could now be on the horizon for the 15-year veteran.

That leaves the Flyers with five core defensemen: Coburn, Grossmann, Streit, Schenn and MacDonald. Other than being a dreadful core, there's the obvious fact that a new spot is now available.

On August 5, the Flyers announced that they had signed defenseman Michael Del Zotto, a 24-year-old former 20th overall draft pick of the New York Rangers.

The problem is that Del Zotto stinks now. He broke out as a rookie in 2009-10 but has never gotten back to that level since. 

He was traded during this past season from the New York to Nashville and was a only a borderline NHL-level player. There is a reason he was still on the market in August.

By adding Del Zotto, the Flyers now have four third-pairing-caliber defensemen on their roster. Coburn and Streit are both second-pairing quality, and there are obviously no elite No. 1 guys on the team.

How does Gostisbehere fit into all this? 

If the Flyers had not signed Del Zotto, I would have given the rookie a 90 percent chance of making the opening day roster as the team's sixth defenseman. The Flyers also signed veteran Nick Schultz this past offseason, but he's more of a depth guy and likely would not have blocked Gostisbehere's ascension.

But now the addition of Del Zotto muddies things up a little. He's an offensive player with a big slap shot and has some (highly questionable) potential to quarterback the second-line power play.

He's at least going to be able to hold his own as a bottom-pairing guy, and Ron Hextall probably feels safer bringing in someone with experience to at least compete for a job.

But if we are being realistic, Del Zotto isn't going to make any major impact on the team, and I would prefer giving Gostisbehere a full shot to cement himself.

As Kevin Christmann of BroadStreetHockey discussed a few weeks ago, the Flyers have had a lot of struggles developing their defensemen, and maybe bringing up Gostisbehere so soon would stunt his development.

But he is only three years younger than Del Zotto and competed against quality competition in college for the past three seasons while also playing in the World Junior Championships for Team USA.

As it stands now, here are the potential pairings for the Flyers: Coburn-Streit, MacDonald-Grossmann, and Schenn-Del Zotto.

If you're a Flyers fan and that doesn't make you cry, then you need to read those names again.

Substituting Gostisbehere for Del Zotto would not only be an upgrade from a playing standpoint (in my opinion), but it would also give Flyers fans at least some hope and excitement for the future.

But if I'm making a real prediction, I think those lines I listed above will be how Hextall and coach Craig Berube start things off for 2014-15. 

I see Gostisbehere being the first call-up if an injury occurs mid-season, and he could earn some extra playing time while a guy like Del Zotto or Schenn is a healthy scratch.

But if you're not convinced about Gostisbehere, just watch this highlight tape and then you'll join me in calling for him to be a starter on opening night.


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