After spending nearly the entire 2014-15 season on injured reserve, expectations were at an all-time low for the former Union College defender. He had played just five AHL games, which saw him notch five points, and a couple NHL games before going down with a torn ACL.
It was his first season of professional hockey, and perhaps the most important for developmental purposes. He started last season with the Flyers AHL affiliate, the LeHigh Valley Phantoms, but when he put up 10 points in his first 14 games there, he forced the Flyers to call him up when Mark Streit went down with an injury of his own. “GhostBear” as he’s affectionately known, took this opportunity and ran with it. He began with NHL season with an assist in his first game and scored his first goal three days later. From there he never looked back.
He became known for his clutch scoring, and finished the season with four overtime goals to go along with 46 points. He did all this in just 64 games. A few other notable accomplishments include his record breaking 15 game point streak, being voted onto the all-rookie team and placing second in the Calder voting as rookie of the year.
So after a mightily impressive rookie season, what should we expect from Gostisbehere in his first full NHL season? It seems only natural to view John Klingberg as a comparable, who has an almost identical story line in that he was called up due to injury and ended up being the team’s top offensive defender. In Klingbergs sophomore season he went on to produce 58 points in 76 games and established himself as one of the best two-way defenseman in the game.
The most notable change in Klingbergs game is that he shifted from a player whose xGF% was below his teammates, to one which was significantly above them. In other words, Klingberg now helps his team score more than their opponent, when before he was hindering them in this regard. Klingberg has become one of the best players in the game at driving shot attempts, and in a league where Corsi is essentially predicting cup winners, there is perhaps no more important stat.
This is relevant to Gostisbehere because he is Klingbergs equal in many ways. If we compare their rookie season, we can see their offensive production is nearly identical, and extremely high end. Klingberg was better than Gostisbehere at driving possession, which will lead us to expect Gostisbehere to perhaps not make the jump into the elite next season. Between Klingberg’ rookie and sophomore season he went from high end second pair at driving possession to high end first pair. If we project similar growth for Gostisbehere then we can estimate that next season he will be an extremely high scoring defender who drives shot attempts at a mid-tier second pair level.
Based on the probability projectors which can be found at the bottom of the HERO chart, we can see that this prediction is the most likely outcome. Due to Gostisbehere’ limited sample size, we don’t have much certainty as to the player he really is. Was he simply a flash in the pan or will be endure and remain one of the top offensive blueliners in the NHL?
We won’t know for sure until next season, but Flyers fans have every right to expect big things from the defenseman. Coach Dave Hakstol might be best off keeping Gostisbehere off the top pair next season if possible, so he doesn’t become overwhelmed in top minutes, when he really needs to grow his defensive game in order to make the jump legit top pair defenseman. The Flyers uncovered a hidden gem, now they need to polish him to get the most value out of his exciting and dynamic playing style.
(all stats courtesy of corsica.hockey and HERO charts courtesy of ownthepuck.com)