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2023-24 Philadelphia Flyers Midseason Report Cards: Defensemen

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

After evaluating the forwards at the midpoint of the Philadelphia Flyers’ season, it is now the defensemen’s turn for their grades. Because there were a handful of defenseman that played for the Flyers this year for under 15 games, we will have a few notes on those, but for now, let’s focus on the crew below.

Sean Walker

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: A
Contract: $2,650,000 AAV (Final Year)
Corsi %: 51%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 49.2%
Shooting %: 6%
Projected Season Total Points: 28

Nobody in the Flyers organization had any idea that Sean Walker would be even half of what he has been for us this season. He was acquired through the Ivan Provorov trade as basically a throw in. After injuring his knee, he never was able to showcase his talents with the Los Angeles Kings. According to him, there may have also been a stylistic barrier in the way they play in L.A. The type of game that does not allow him to lean into his strengths as a player. One thing Walker has referenced was how much more free he is to get involved offensively with the Flyers.

Scoring big goals, as well as contributing to the dynamite “Power Kill” that ranks second in the NHL, Walker quickly became a fan favorite in the first half of the season. Being a right-handed shot has also given the Flyers the opportunity to run those balanced pairings coaches obsess over, LHD paired with RHD. Even though it’s likely he gets moved, he has provided a lot of on-ice value for the Flyers and should give Danny Brière an opportunity to score a first round draft pick.

Nick Seeler

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: A
Contract: $750,000 AAV (Final Year)
Corsi %: 47%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 47.7%
Shooting %: 0%
Projected Season Total Points: 13

Nick Seeler is beloved by the players and the organization. A great character and locker room leader, embraces where the Flyers are, and has been extremely reliable on the ice. Seeler is a great third-pairing defenseman who you will get some surplus value given his current contract.

It’s been heavily rumored the Flyers are looking to re-sign Seeler, and we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been able to take on a lot more minutes than you’d expect. He’s also not getting crushed, and a lot of times is driving play on the ice. If the Flyers value him as a $2 million player, you’re getting a lot of value out of his current contract. Just because he is not as skilled as guys like Jamie Drysdale or Travis Sanheim doesn’t mean he couldn’t get graded higher than them.

Considering the scope of his role, his contact, and his performance, he really does deserve all the praise and more.

Travis Sanheim

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: A-
Contract: $6,250,000 AAV (2030-31)
Corsi %: 49%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 47%
Shooting %: 4.4%
Projected Season Total Points: 47

Travis Sanheim is always going to make a play that drives you insane. Sometimes our recency bias clouds our judgement on a player on a whole. That is the type of player Sanheim is. So much so that when he had his worst year of his career, Danny Brière and the front office team reportedly attempted to move him in a deal with Kevin Hayes for Torey Krug. This one hurt after having a rough season, clashing with the coach, and then see your team do everything but get the green light to move him to a new team? Honestly, it would be hard for anyone to mentally bounce back from that.

However, despite having every reason to pout and drag his skates, he did the opposite. Sanheim bulked up over the summer and connected with his head coach in a way he didn’t last year. He’s stepped up in big ways to defend why he should be paid as much as his 8-year, $50 million extension suggests. It’s also important to note that while mainly having York on his pairing is nice, Sanheim has been the guy who’s carried them.

Projected to earn 40+ points and drive play? That’s the kind of defenseman we couldn’t get from Ivan Provorov, who came into his draft year with more defensive pedigree than Sanheim.

Cam York

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: B+
Contract: $1,600,000 AAV (2024-25)
Corsi %: 50%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 46.8%
Shooting %: 8.6%
Projected Season Total Points: 28

Cam York has been okay. I know that we were all expecting a bit more offensively, but Sanheim is going to drive the bus here. It is also important to note that it was going to be difficult for him to drive play when facing against top competition when put in the first pairing. Overall, I think he has been fine.

I do agree the offensive output could be better. It was always going to be hard to do that if you’re playing with Sanheim, who regularly jumps into play. If they pair Cam York up with someone who’s more of a stay at home, it will be easier for York to take these chances. Cam does not love taking risks, and that compounds when your partner is taking them all. Let’s see how he closes out the year.

Marc Staal

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: C+
Contract: 1,100,000 AAV (Final Year)
Corsi %: 45%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 51.4%
Shooting %: 14.3%
Projected Season Total Points: 6

Marc Staal has done his job, on and off the ice. On-ice, he has been fine. Like other defenseman on the team, he will be good on the whole, but will likely be part of most breakdowns that lead to a goal against on the ice. All in all, his attitude with rotating in and out of the lineup has been great, and that’s not an easy thing to do for anyone. He’s a guy who is what he is, and in that role, he has been acceptable.

Egor Zamula

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: C+
Contract: $775,000 AAV (Final Year)
Corsi%: 56%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 61.3%
Shooting %: 12.5%
Projected Season Total Points: 25

Yes, Egor Zamula was a train-wreck to start the year. It seemed as if he was struggling with his on-ice identity. He seemed lost on both ends of the ice, and you could tell his confidence was beginning to dip.

The power play unit may have been his saving grace, because his confidence with the puck is like night and day when he began to quarterback the powerplay. Smooth skating, strong vision and passing abilities, he brings a quality to the powerplay that we lack in. We still do not have elite finishing or high danger creations, but this is a step in the right direction. His abilities were on full display in his debut against the Senators when he scored 2 goals, and then proceeded to fumble a puck and give one up. It’s hard for me to ding a rookie for having a rough start.

Rasmus Ristolainen

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: C-
Contract: $5,100,000 AAV (2026-27)
Corsi %: 49%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 47.7%
Shooting %: 2.3%
Projected Season Total Points: 8

Rasmus Ristolainen has been a perfectly fine 3rd pairing defenseman, and personally will not find that acceptable. When a general manager is paying over $5 million AAV, it’s to be expected that person plays like a quality top-4 defensemen. I think his metrics are okay, and defensively he’s not a mess anymore. For me, it’s the scoring that’s been rough.

I know he doesn’t get minutes like Sanheim and York, and we should account for that. However, when he’s earning closer to those likes but only producing points like Marc Staal (6 points) and less than Nick Seeler (13 points), it’s unacceptable. He would be okay if he earned $3 million less, but the contract is still overpriced, and the decision to trade a first round draft pick for him hasn’t improved with time. He does whatever Seeler does, but Seeler has achieved more success. He’s a big locker room guy, but he lacks the pedigree (Ristolainen was the 8th overall pick in the 2016 draft), and earns $4 million less per year. Yeah, not great.

Jamie Drysdale

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: B
Contract: $2,300,000 AAV (2025-26)
Corsi %: 56%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 53.6%
Shooting %: 6.3%
Projected Season Total Points: 36

Jamie had a flashy start, aiding a primary assist to a power play goal in his Flyers debut against Montréal, which the Flyers eventually won in a shootout. So far, he’s been everything as advertised in terms of being a potential top-pairing defenseman. High-end skating, plus IQ and skating, you see all the tools. The right-handed defenseman can make an immediate impact on the power play as the PP1 quarterback, and find chemistry with Sanheim and York.

Consequently, Drysdale has been very shaky in terms of positions and systems. The kid was basically traded overnight, so he was expected to have growing pains since he is playing for a different team in a different system. Drysdale needs time to adjust so the coaches can figure out what their next steps are to elevate his game to the next level. We should expect that to continue until the end of the season.

Louie Belpedio

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: C
Contract: $750,000 AAV (2024-25)
Corsi %: 42%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 42.2%
Shooting %: 16.7%
Projected Season Total Points Per Game: 4 (12 games played)

I mean, Louie Belpedio did his job. A perfectly fine call-up when you’re down on defensemen. I like his energy and he generally keeps things safe. The conundrum for me is prioritizing other prospects the organization and fans are probably higher on. For now, Belpedio is a good Quad-A guy that can play minutes for you when you are inn a pinch.

Emil Andrae

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Grade: D
Contract: $925,000 AAV (2025-26)
Corsi %: 38%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 40%
Shooting %: N/A
Projected Season Total Points Per Game: N/A (4 games played)

Not good Emil, not good. Like I said above, Emil Andrae is the type of player the Flyers want to promote, call up, get playing time. Also, John Tortorella gave this kid an extended leash when they struggled. Torts tried to make it work to see if Andrae could figure things out in the NHL. Turns out he just needs more time, and that’s fine. We are in a rebuild after all.

Victor Mete

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Grade: N/A
Contract: 750,000 AAV (Final Year)
Corsi %: 23%
On Ice Expected Goals %: 40.9%
Shooting %: N/A
Projected Season Total Points Per Game: N/A (1 game played)

Victor Mete is a guy who played for the Flyers one time. It looks like he got about 10 minutes of ice time, so he did play! Honestly though, I do not really recall it, and it doesn’t seem like the Flyers did either considering this was his only game. Play driving metrics suggest he was severely outshot when on the ice, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in this guy.

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