VOORHEES, N.J. — It was as if Ron Hextall was proclaiming the beauty of patience — that hallowed belief of the Flyers’ general manager, the sturdiest pillar to his rebuild.
At Flyers development camp last week, Hextall illustrated his beloved patience by painting a picture.
His subject: Travis Sanheim.
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“Travis is the best example coming in as an 18-year-old,” Hextall said.
Sanheim, a 2014 first-round pick of the Flyers, was just starting to bloom at the time. He was a kid still growing into his body, but that’s what the Flyers liked. Far from an NHL physique, that’s no longer the case with the 20-year-old.
He’s on his way.
“Sanheim was about 172 [pounds] when we drafted him,” Hextall said, “and he has gained upwards of 25-plus pounds.”
Sanheim says he’s now between 201-202 pounds. He cautioned that the added size is good weight — gaining muscle by proper nutrition and training.
It’s also “a process” that hasn’t come to fruition, according to Hextall.
“It’s taken a good two years now and it’s not done,” he said. “It’s probably going to take about four years to see Travis’ strength develop to its maximum strength.”
And Sanheim agreed.
“I’ve definitely put on some weight and I think that’s something I said all along needed to happen,” he said. “I’ve been trying to put the work in, eating right and trying to do everything with what I can to help me get stronger and bigger. I think I’ve still got some work to do but I’ve definitely come a long ways.”
So at 6-foot-4, 200-plus pounds, Sanheim’s still filling out — a scary thought given his current size is nothing at which to scoff. Even scarier considering his offensive game is already refined.
Following a 65-point 2014-15 campaign in 67 games with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, Sanheim accumulated 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists) last season, despite playing 15 fewer games. His 53 assists were second among all WHL defensemen, while his 68 points were fourth. Fellow Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov was first at 73.
“Offensive is my game and something I want to continue to develop going forward and bring to the next level,” Sanheim said.
Sort of like a certain someone with the Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere.
The Calder Memorial Trophy runner-up was the first of the Flyers’ promising bundle of blue-line prospects to crack the NHL. Once he did, he took off with offense.
That left an impression on Sanheim, a dexterous defenseman like Gostisbehere.
“He’s obviously offensive-minded, as well, and likes the skill side of the game,” Sanheim said. “I think watching him and seeing him have success at that next level, it definitely motivates us and gives us confidence in being able to play our game and play it at the next level.”
In all likelihood, what’s next for Sanheim is AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, where last season, after finishing at junior, he played four games, tallying three points on a goal and two assists.
Sanheim admitted speed wasn’t the biggest difference between junior and the AHL. Instead, it was strength.
“Just playing against men and having guys play you hard whether it’s you carrying the puck and them trying to get it off you or them having the puck and you trying to get it off them,” he said. “Just how hard they battled and how hard it was to get the puck off them.
“To be able to get those games in at the end of the year I think is crucial for me going forward.”
So, too, is size. It’s a prerequisite of Hextall’s, one Sanheim is inching closer to fulfilling. Once he does, he may not be far away from wearing a Flyers sweater.
“All of these kids have to get bigger,” Hextall said. “Unfortunately, you can’t just snap your fingers and put on 15 pounds, because if you do, then it’s not the right weight. You’ve got to gain weight, gain strength, but also continue to keep your flexibility, your mobility, agility, speed.”
Hextall still remembers Sanheim when the Flyers drafted him two years ago.
“He’s a skinny little guy, not real strong, but then you see him the first year after being drafted and notice that he is stronger,” Hextall said. “He’s stronger on the stick, defends better, boxes guys out.
“It’s amazing how quickly it happens, but it has been two years. For me, that’s quick. For most people, that’s not very quick.”
No, that’s patience — a beauty to Hextall.