5 Flyers Unsung Heroes of 2021-22 Season

The Philadelphia Flyers finished 29th in the NHL this season and traded away their captain along with a few depth players who stepped up in a down season for the team. The team was out of the playoff race earlier than most and there weren’t many positives to talk about during the season. As the Flyers were an afterthought for most, here are five players that flew under the radar and had solid performances, instilling confidence for next season.

Travis Sanheim

Among all the Flyers, I would have to argue that Travis Sanheim had the best season. It’s understandable that his name was out there in trade interest at the deadline since he was one of the only bright spots of 2021-22 and the direction of the Flyers wasn’t clear.

It was wise of the Flyers to hang on to him if they are planning on reversing their fortunes in 2022-23. Among the core defense group, Sanheim had, by far, the best numbers all around. On a team that was minus-87, he ended the season with the highest plus/minus at plus-9 while playing 22:58 a night on average in a significant role. He set career highs in plus/minus, shots, time on ice, blocked shots, hits, and takeaways in his fifth NHL season.

He tied for the lead in points by defensemen with Ivan Provorov with 31 and did so entirely at even strength. His work and execution in his own end was something that really stood out as, according to Hockey Reference, Sanheim led the team by a wide margin in defensive point shares (DFS). This is an estimated number of points contributed by a player due to his defense. He led the Flyers with 4.8 DFS when the next closest player finished the season with 3.0. He ranked first among skaters on the team with 6.3 overall point shares followed by the next man we are going to discuss, Cam Atkinson.

Travis Sanheim Philadelphia Flyers
Travis Sanheim, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sanheim made every pairing he was a part of better. Of the defensive pairings that played over 60 minutes together throughout the regular season and had over 50 goals for percentage, he was a part of four of the six. With most partners he had a positive shots for percentage as well, and that’s very impressive considering he started 60.6 percent of faceoffs in the defensive zone. Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen were the Flyers’ most consistent pair that played the most together, logging almost 1,000 minutes as a duo. Though Sanheim made Ristolainen much better this season, he is able to play both sides if needed and can mesh and make any partner better.

The Flyers will have to make a decision on him as next season is a contract year for him. His stock is high but can also be a great piece to build around on the back end for what he provides at both ends of the ice.

Cam Atkinson

Atkinson was brought in to the Flyers last offseason in a trade for Jakub Voracek in what looked like a great deal for the Flyers by saving themselves $2.375 million per season. Atkinson was looking to find the level he played at in 2018-19 and the Flyers needed some more goals. He delivered on that, scoring 23 goals and recording 50 points in 73 games while Voracek scored just six goals in 79 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Flyers finished second-last in the NHL in goals scored and it would’ve been a lot worse without this man.

The team couldn’t have asked for more offence from one player who has never scored at a point-per-game pace and is on the back end of his career while his linemates were changing throughout the season. He reached the 20-goal mark for the seventh time in his career and led all forwards in DFS and offensive point shares (OPS) while going just minus-2 all season.

He continued to be an impactful player on special teams, especially on the penalty kill by scoring more goals while shorthanded (three) than on the power play (two).

Carter Hart

Carter Hart had a big bounce-back season in which he didn’t get much help. He raised his goals saved above average (GSAA) from minus-22.6 last season to just minus-3.0 this season. Despite still being negative, he was a big reason why the team wasn’t a lot worse than they were.

Carter Hart Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He finished the 2021-22 season with a 3.16 goals-against average (GAA), .905 save percentage (SV%), 13 wins, and one shutout. But it was a major step up from last season in which goaltending was one of the major reasons they missed the playoffs.

The play of Hart instils confidence to a team and fan base that is lacking it in their organization after consecutive postseason misses for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94 and no consistency from season to season. He is young and was once considered the saviour in net for the Flyers. He still has that capability at only 23 years old and this season was a step in the right direction. With fewer moving pieces on the back end expected for next season and a new coach, Hart should get even more help and improve his numbers again.

Justin Braun

Justin Braun found himself on his way over to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline for a 2023 third-round pick. It was just his third season in Philadelphia and he really stepped up his game with the absence of Ryan Ellis for the entire season.

Braun is a third-pairing defenseman but was tasked with playing over 20 minutes a night for the Flyers on the top pairing with Provorov as well as the penalty kill. He did very well considering what was expected of him heading into the season. Braun played 61 games this season for the Flyers, scoring five goals and 16 points. Not known for, or depended on for, his point production, he raised it significantly from last season as well as doing what he gets paid for, playing defense. He blocked 114 shots for the Flyers and made 79 hits.

Braun was thrown into the fire beside Provorov playing against top lines and expecting to shut them down plus help provide offense. Braun ended the season as a plus-3 for the Flyers. A young defenseman or someone with less experience or skill would have had to step in and do the job that he did well if he wasn’t there, most likely causing more damage than good.

Derick Brassard

The second of the players that stepped up for the Flyers in the absences of key players was Derick Brassard. Originally, he was brought in to provide a bit of depth, but nobody envisioned that the Flyers would find themselves in a horrible situation with the health or their centremen so soon and he would have to slot in the top six.

Derick Brassard, Philadelphia Flyers
Derick Brassard, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brassard did a very good job providing offence in the top six, scoring four goals and 11 points in the first 16 games of the season. He ended his short stint with the Flyers by scoring two goals and five points in the final five games before the trade deadline to raise his stock by a little.

The Flyers weren’t comfortable having Morgan Frost in the lineup and in the top six at that point in time and thought it would only hurt his development if he was thrown into the fire like that. Brassard provided the safety net to move up and down the lineup with ease and still provide offence and defense for the team.

Related: Flyers’ Nick Seeler Signing Gives Young Defensemen Time to Develop

Though the season was very tough at times and there wasn’t much to cheer about, there are always players who quietly go about their business and soften the blow.

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