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December 17, 2015

Rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere already a must-watch for Flyers

No disrespect to the injured player but one of the results of the painful injury suffered by defenseman Mark Streit in the middle of November was the resulting opportunity given to rookie Shayne Gostisbehere.

And given that opportunity, Gostisbehere has taken full advantage and made it impossible for the Flyers to follow their steady-as-she-goes development plan for the kid called “Ghost.” Given what Gostisbehere has provided in the month, he has been called up, there is just no way he is a prospect on the path to the NHL.

Ghost is here; he is here to stay. And he has rapidly turned into a reason to watch the Flyers, knowing that no matter what the situation, Gostisbehere gives them a much better chance to provide some offense. In a league and team desperate for offensive skills, Gostisbehere has arrived on the scene and quickly reminded people that NHL hockey doesn’t have to be all about defensive systems, blocking shots, and huge goaltenders.

Gostisbehere has provided a solution to getting the puck out of the defensive zone by simply taking the puck and zooming up ice. He has turned heads with his offensive skills, but, more importantly, he has also turned opposing players inside out as he swoops past them through the neutral zone.

Gostisbehere is the sort of defenseman that can easily fit into a creative offensive rush. He can anticipate where the puck should go, and just as importantly, he has the wheels to make sure he can recover if there is a mistake.

Aside from the fans, the biggest beneficiary of Gostisbehere being on the roster is captain Claude Giroux. While Giroux’s usual partner in offense Jake Voracek struggled through the first few months ¬– and is now on another line – Giroux has a new offensive partner in the Ghost.

This is especially true on the power play … but even on five-on-five, Giroux and Gostisbehere have developed a quick chemistry. The Giroux-to-Gostisbehere combination of passes should be noted as the Key of G because the two are playing a tune on opposing defensemen.

When Giroux has possession of the puck in the offensive zone, he is not just looking to his other linemates to make a play. More often than not, there is the option of sending the puck back to Gostisbehere inside the blue line – and then getting the puck back in a give-and-go type of play. That Key of G combination is causing headaches in the video rooms of every team about to play the Flyers, and it should only get better as the two become more familiar with each other’s tendencies.

There is also the spectacular bonus of offensive zone faceoffs where Giroux is once again one of the best in the NHL at winning draws. The added value here is that even from the faceoff set up, there is a wicked option to get the puck to Gostisbehere.

From there, the Ghost has already proven to be a nifty power-play quarterback. He can move the puck into the zone, near the top of the circle, play pitch-and-catch with Giroux to set up a play, or launch that shot which has already caused goalies to flinch.

Gostisbehere is the sort of defenseman that can easily fit into a creative offensive rush. He can anticipate where the puck should go, and just as importantly, he has the wheels to make sure he can recover if there is a mistake.

Mind you, there will be mistakes, and that is where the burden of development falls to coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall.

When Gostisbehere makes a mistake, there is going to be a temptation to pull in the reigns. Truth be told, even with an overtime game-winning goal against Carolina, the Ghost probably wanted to be invisible after some defensive malfunctions. No doubt, there has to be some work on defensive responsibility, but there is just no way the downside risk is even close to the upside reward to the natural offensive Gostisbehere can bring to the team – and to the NHL.

One of the biggest problems in all of sports is that coaching tactics and systems have removed the creativity of the players. Gostisbehere is what the Flyers have needed for a very long time -- a defenseman who can take the puck out of the zone and set up the offense.

He is what the Flyers tried to get back in the day when they acquired Paul Coffey well after the peak of his career. Gostisbehere is the sort of player that the Devils had with Scott Niedermayer, who could break through any trap with his wheels.

If this was a case of a kid too big for his hockey pants, you might want to pump the brakes a little bit on the hype. But that is not the case. If you listen to Gostisbehere speak after big moments, he hands out compliments to his teammates like Gretzky used to hand out assists.

Ask him about a goal he scored, and everybody gets an apple, Wayne Simmonds for the screen he set, Giroux for the assist, maybe Raffl for digging the puck out of the corner and another defenseman for having his back on the play.

For his part, Hakstol has been pretty adept at bringing Gostisbehere along at a rapid pace. He has wisely tried to get him away from the top offensive guys on the other team – at least for now, but he has not highlighted the mistakes by stapling him to the bench when there is turnover.

This is just the beginning of what could be a truly remarkable NHL career, and with other top prospects in the pipeline, it is no longer a pipe dream to think that much brighter days are ahead for the Flyers.

Wouldn’t you know it is a Ghost who might help them find their way out of the recent darkness.