Shayne Gostisbehere had just finished a 64-game regular season in which the Flyers expended every last drip of energy to sneak into the playoffs.
Their reward was a physical six-game series with the top-seeded Capitals and a first-round ouster.
By the end, Gostisbehere looked drained. He sat at his exit-interview press conference with baggy eyes as he held up his right arm in support of his face.
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It was all justifiable.
The rookie who changed the course of the Flyers’ season had never played more than 42 games in a year at Union College and entered 2015-16 coming off a torn ACL, which limited him to five AHL games in 2014-15.
So Gostisbehere, who just turned 23 years old at the time, was visibly spent — and it wasn’t simply physical.
“It's almost more mental I feel,” he said of the NHL on April 26 at Flyers Skate Zone. “It is a grind. You've got to stick with it every day and keep pushing.”
That mental fortitude becomes even more paramount his second time around.
After a busy offseason, which included right hip and bilateral lower abdominal surgeries, the Flyers’ star blueliner is set for Year 2 in the NHL — his first with major expectations. Gostisbehere was the Calder Memorial Trophy runner-up (NHL’s best rookie), transforming the Flyers once summoned on Nov. 14.
He posted a 15-game point streak, longest ever by an NHL rookie defenseman.
He tallied four overtime winners, most ever in a single season by an NHL rookie.
He scored 17 goals, most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf put up 20 over 82 games in 2005-06.
And his 29 assists and 46 points led all first-year blueliners.
What does head coach Dave Hakstol want as an encore?
“Consistency every day,” he said last week. “Just be an everyday worker who is pushing hard to really improve himself as an NHL defenseman.”
Because of his success last season, Gostisbehere faces what every standout rookie must hurdle: the “sophomore jinx.” It can be an overused cliché, but one that resonates year after year because pressure makes repeating success that much more difficult in the NHL.
“You are going to have to deal with that,” Hakstol said. “That’s the [phrase] that doesn’t need [to be] spoken. You take care of that by doing work behind the scenes and on a day-to-day basis.”
How Gostisbehere responds physically from an offseason of recovering and recharging is a valid question. But like he said, the mental aspect may be even bigger to what’s ahead. When or if he struggles, people will notice. Moving past it will be a challenge, just as is the physical grind.
“You have to do the extra work and prepare,” Hakstol said. “You also have to understand there will be ups and downs to the season. I’m a big believer of when you do the work and have done the work to prepare, you handle the ups and downs much better because you have the confidence and ability knowing you’ve already done the work.”
Gostisbehere has done the work, and once he became a known commodity last season, he turned into a focal point of opponents’ scouting reports.
Admittedly, that was a transition.
It will only continue in 2016-17.
“I think that was the toughest part for me,” Gostisbehere said back in April. “The first 30 games that I played were a lot different than the last 30. Of course as people know you a little bit more, they're going to key on you a bit more. It's finding that adjustment period, realizing you can't do as much with limited time and space. You’ve got to make your plays and trust your teammates and keep pushing.”