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Despite defensive struggles, Jamie Drysdale still making strong impact on Flyers

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Since being acquired by the Philadelphia Flyers on January 8th from the Anaheim Ducks for Cutter Gauthier, Jamie Drysdale’s short tenure as a Flyer so far has been adventurous, to say the least.

One of the attractive assets of Drysdale’s game is his footwork. He is a great skater with plenty of speed and his edgework is phenomenal. That was something the Flyers knew when they traded for him, and it’s been on full display. With the way he moves, he can create offense and make plays, which again, is something that was advertised and we have definitely seen that.

However, one major ability that the Flyers knew they had to work on in Drysdale’s game was his defense. Positioning, stickwork, physicality, decision-making, everything.

He’s only 21 years old, and despite some deficiencies in his game he is making a positive impact on the Flyers in many ways, but he and the team both know he has to be better.

“I think he’s a work in progress. I think he has a lot to learn,” said head coach John Tortorella on February 8th. “I think he has a lot to learn about positioning, time and space.

”He hasn’t played a lot, he’s been banged up for the past couple years, he’s been hurt. I think the way we want him to play, which I’m not sure how Anaheim did – Anaheim played a man-on-man defense – and he’s trying to figure out how we’re playing with our zone coverage. But just the overall positioning of that play, understanding angles, understanding checking forward, we have a lot of work to do there and we expected that with a 21-year-old kid.

”But the upside with his skating and his escape, how he can escape, it’s really encouraging. But as far as his overall game, there is a ton to work on with him.”

After the Flyers’ win over Arizona on February 12th in which he scored a goal, Drysdale spoke about fitting in and how the team wants him to play.

“The guys here from coaching staff to management, everything, said they wanted me to play with confidence and get up in the play, so I think it’s about time I start doing it.

“I think, not necessarily directly at me, but the message to this team day in and day out is play fast, get the puck moving north, and I think we’re a real successful team when we do that.”

Drysdale looks comfortable with the puck on his stick. He’s not afraid to try and make plays, whether he tries to thread the needle with a tight pass from the point or if he pinches into the zone and finds himself down low.

In certain ways, Drysdale may almost remind you of Shayne Gostisbehere when he first came to Philadelphia. The smooth skating, the puck movement, the creativity in his game, it’s all there, but it’s very raw at the moment. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together on a consistent basis and also shoring up the defensive side of his game. Again, he’s still incredibly young, so this will be fixed with time.

“21-year-old kid, shocked by the trade, hasn’t played much because of injuries. Comes to a new team, I think (he) has a lot to learn,” said Tortorella on February 15th. “I think he has a chance to be a star in this league, but there is a ton of work we need to do with him in understanding how we play.

“Just everything with that position, goaltending is the most important, defense is the toughest to play. He has a lot to learn about all of that. I think I have one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Shaw, he’s just starting with him, but there’s a process for him to go through. But the upside on a 21-year-old kid, right-shot defenseman is really important for our organization.”

And for what Drysdale has lacked in defense so far, he has propelled the Flyers offensively and they have fared better with him in the lineup. In the prior 40 games before Drysdale showed up, the Flyers were 20-14-6 and had a power play converting at a measly 10.8% clip – the worst in the league. In the 15 games Drysdale has played since he joined the team, the Flyers’ power play is converting at a 19.5% rate and the team is 8-6-1 in those games, including winning five of their last seven contests (5-1-1). The Flyers are also 3-1-0 in games Drysdale records a point in.

While Drysdale may only have two power play points (1g, 1a) as a Flyer, his skating and his playmaking abilities have opened the ice up and created space for his teammates, leading to more power play goals and more scoring chances.

Since his arrival, Drysdale has played 19:07 per game as a Flyer, which is third-most on the team among defensemen. It’s also a slight drop-off from his ice-time in Anaheim since he doesn’t have to play as big of a role, but that has allowed him and his fellow defenders to remain fresh and play in different situations, and it has allowed the coaching staff to tinker even more with the pairings and find what works.

Player ATOI After Trade ATOI Before Trade Points After Trade (Games Played) Points Before Trade (Games Played)
Travis Sanheim 21:55 24:37 6 (17) 25 (39)
Cam York 19:43 22:28 4 (17) 14 (40)
Jamie Drysdale 19:07 21:35 4 (15) 5 (10)
Sean Walker 17:23 20:22 7 (17) 13 (40)
Nick Seeler 16:14 17:10 3 (17) 7 (40)
Rasmus Ristolainen 15:19 17:27 1 (11) 3 (20)
Egor Zamula 13:43 15:57 6 (15) 10 (31)
Marc Staal 12:44 13:17 1 (6) 2 (16)

Drysdale’s offensive capabilities have made him a pleasure to watch, and in due time his defensive game will round itself out. It will just take some extra seasoning, but Drysdale possesses the tools to be a successful blueliner in all three zones of the ice and is already helping the Flyers in multiple areas.

Managing Editor at Flyers Nation. Proud lifelong supporter of the Philadelphia Flyers and all things hockey related. Steve Mason's #1 fan.

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