Following the Flyers’ preseason game at the Spectrum against Carolina, I mentioned the play of a young defenseman trying to make the squad. In that game, Luca Sbisa impressed me with his ability to assert himself on the ice. Most rookies fail to find that balance between aggression and a cautious fear of making mistakes. Just think back to Steve Downie’s rookie campaign, fraught with the early suspension for the hit on Dean McAmmond and the numerous times Downie overplayed a situation in an attempt to impress.
Sbisa rarely falls into those traps. It isn’t so much that he never errs on the ice - he does - but that he keeps a cool head when things get chaotic. Rather than get flustered after a mistake, he stays with the play. Watch this clip from Saturday night’s match up with the San Jose Sharks. Sbisa is unable to reach the puck behind the net. As soon as he sees Vaananen coming to hit the Shark, Sbisa shifts back around his own net and uses his body to nudge Jonathan Cheechoo out of the crease. It’s a subtle but vital move. Sbisa prevent Cheechoo from being able to handle a rebound without incurring a penalty - not a rookie play by any stretch of the imagination.
And while he may not have any assists yet, Sbisa will be a major weapon in the Flyers’ transition game someday. The kid discovers spaces in the neutral zone, finding the man ready to break out from the far blue line. That type of vision cannot be taught.
As if that weren’t enough, Sbisa has the grit necessary to thrive in Philadelphia. I caught this video on YouTube from a game in the juniors. The Schenn mentioned is actually Brayden, younger brother of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Luke Schenn. But none of that lessens the hit or its aftermath.
If you had spoken to me after that game in the Spectrum, I would have told you that Sbisa would be sent down to Lethbridge before his 10 game trial period had expired. Not because he wasn’t good enough to remain in the NHL, but because the Flyers as a rule tend to favor veteran players over untested rookies. It’s also quite the gamble to keep Sbisa since he can’t be sent down to the Phantoms.
Given the Flyers’ struggles through the first five games and the injuries they’ve sustained in the defense corps, I believe Sbisa has a window of opportunity to stay in Black and Orange this season. Like many rookies, he will probably hit a wall at some point. But if he can show that he belongs among the Flyers’ top four, and they feel he remain in that position for an entire NHL season, then the sky’s the limit.