Odd Man Rush: Injuries testing Hextall’s plan

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Halloween is right around the corner
and Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is already seeing an
unwanted “Ghost.”

That would be 21-year-old defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, whose nickname is
synonymous with the specters that decorate houses around this time of year.

Ever since Hextall was elevated to Philadelphia’s GM role in May, he has
preached not rushing his young prospects to the NHL level for the sake of
keeping the Flyers borderline-competitive.

However, he was left with no choice to turn to Gostisbehere and summon him
from the minors following news on Friday that defensemen Braydon Coburn and
Andrew MacDonald would miss about a month each with lower-body injuries.
Suddenly, he was tasked with finding a replacement for players expected to log
20 minutes a game.

So, with little cap room and no exclamation point-worthy external option,
Hextall reluctantly turned to one of his more exciting prospects.

“In a perfect world, you let the kid stay there and play, but we don’t live in
a perfect world,” Hextall told Philly.com. “You know, you come up with a plan
and vision and sometimes you have to adjust and be flexible. Assuming we don’t
make anything happen real quick here, we’ll call up one guy and get through
Saturday and go from there.”

Gostisbehere, a third-round pick by the Flyers in 2012, became a talked-about
prize after he helped Union College to an NCAA title last season while being
named the Frozen Four’s most outstanding player.

That’s big for any college player on its own, but the accomplishments carried
an added bonus for Gostisbehere as the Frozen Four took place this year in his
own adopted backyard of Philadelphia.

Gostisbehere did, in fact, make his NHL debut on Saturday versus the Detroit
Red Wings. Overall, he did nothing much to either impress Hextall or leave him
regretting his decision in a 4-2 win.

The blueliner logged 12 minutes and 27 seconds of ice time, the fewest of any
Flyers defenseman in the game. He saw action for 2:47 on the power play and
had a shot on goal with a minus-1 rating.

The goal allowed on his watch may have been bad luck, but it also showed just
how fast things can happen in the NHL. Gostisbehere lost his stick in the
neutral zone and the Flyers ended up failing to clear the puck. Detroit’s
Pavel Datsyuk then got behind both Gostisbehere and defenseman Mark Streit,
scoring a goal less than a minute after Philadelphia had gone ahead.

“I would say it’s a lot faster,” Gostisbehere said of the NHL level. “I was
going to think the preseason was definitely a little step down. The guys had
an extra gear out there and the sticks are incredible, quick sticks and stick
on pucks and everything.”

Said Flyers coach Craig Berube of his young defenseman, “I thought he was
fine. Took him a few shifts to get out there with the power play, but when he
got out there and settled down he did some good things. I thought he moved the
puck well, got up the ice, was aggressive when he had to be. I thought he was
fine. He looked fine to me.”

Fine won’t keep you in the NHL too long and Philadelphia is out of action
until Tuesday when it welcomes the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles
Kings. That starts a modest span of three games in five days, so there stands
a chance that Ghost may stick through Halloween unless Hextall can make a
quick move before facing the Kings.

“Yeah, he told me it’s not a perfect world, things happen, injuries happen of
course. He told me not to try to do too much out there just get some quality
minutes and it’s a great learning experience, and take everything in,”
Gostisbehere said of his talks with Hextall.

Kudos to Hextall for wanting to stick to his plan, but Philadelphia already
came into the season with a glaring weakness on defense thanks to the loss of
veteran Kimmo Timonen to potential career-ending blood clots.

Coburn, arguably the Flyers’ top defenseman, has not played since opening
night and now MacDonald is out as well.

If there is a silver lining, it is that Hextall has been given no choice but
to play his young guy. Philadelphia isn’t built this season to win a
championship, so why not let Gostisbehere get seasoned now?

Should Philly continue to be mediocre down the road, Hextall may eventually
submit to temptation and give fellow young prospects Mark Alt and Robert Hagg
a look as well.

Few would blame him and he shouldn’t be spooked out of rolling the dice a bit
with his youth.