Metropolitan Division: The Division of the Young Defenseman

We all know what Shayne Gostisbehere did last season.

Called up to the Flyers in November, the defenseman dazzled to the tune of 17 goals and 46 points in 64 games, making a big push for the Calder Trophy and leading Philadelphia to the playoffs after two DNQs in three years.

The 23-year-old wears many hats. He might be the face of Philadelphia hockey at the moment (though Claude Giroux would most certainly have something to say about that. A native of Florida, he’s a product of the ‘non-hockey market’ circuit that has produced the likes of Auston Matthews and Seth Jones, to name just a couple. He represents the new-guard defenseman, predicated on speed and skill with the ability to jump into the rush, run a powerplay and possess a strong two-way game.

He’s also the face of the who’s who of young, promising defensemen in the Metropolitan Division.

So where might the next Gostisbehere come from, should there be one? You might not need to look much further than the Metro.

The player who is Most Likely to be Gostisbehere at this point seems to be Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who should break camp with the Blue Jackets.

Among a youthful, talented defense corps that includes Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and David Savard, Werenski might be the most talented. Selected eighth overall in the 2015 draft, he put up 61 points over two seasons at Michigan. Werenski was a point-per-game player as a sophomore (36 points in 36 games) before signing his pro contract. From there, he led the Lake Erie Monsters to the Calder Cup, posting 14 points in 17 games.

Now it’s time for the 19-year-old to do it at the NHL level. And it appears John Tortorella has every intention of giving him that opportunity. Seeing action in three of the Blue Jackets seven preseason games, Werenski has averaged 23:56 of ice time, 6:06 of which has come on the powerplay. He has a goal and assist to show for it.

The Hurricanes join the Blue Jackets in the department of young, knock-your-socks-off blue lines.

Led by a 24-year-old Justin Faulk, who is blossoming as one of the NHL’s premier defensemen, the Canes’ back line leads the charge in Carolina, which hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since making the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

Noah Hanifin, while not under the circumstances Gostisbehere was given he played in all but three of Carolina’s games as a rookie in 2015-16, could have a similar emergence. Finishing last season with eight points in his final 15 games, Hanifin has the skill and the size (6-foot-3, 206 pounds) of a go-to defenseman.

And lets not forget Brett Pesce and Jacob Slavin, who made large contributions in Carolina last season as youngsters. Haydn Fleury and Trevor Carrick could follow in the footsteps of Hanifin, Pesce, and Slavin this season. Jake Bean, taken 13th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, will hop into the line in a couple of years.

Brady Skjei, while bigger than Gostisbehere, brings a similar style of play and skillset to the Rangers lineup. The Rangers, like the Flyers last season, have a middling but talented defense corps. A strong skater with a good two-way game and an adept good puck mover, the 22-year-old had 28 points in 68 games for AHL Hartford last season before a strong showing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, one of the highlights of the Rangers five-game loss to Pittsburgh.

Skjei will be called upon to breathe life into the Blueshirts lineup.

Down in Brooklyn, Ryan Pulock brings 53 points in 105 AHL games over the previous two seasons to the Islanders. Prior to that, he had averaged 52.5 points in four seasons with WHL Brandon, with a pair of 60-point campaigns sprinkled in there. He could be the answer to an Isles powerplay that ranked 17th in the NHL in 2015-16.

Washington is in win-now mode, but 21-year-old Madison Bowey could crack the lineup, coming off a 29-point season with AHL Hershey. The former second round pick captained Kelowna for two-seasons prior, putting up back-to-back 60-point seasons while helping Canada to the World Juniors gold in 2015. Fellow Kelowna Rocket Lucas Johansen, who the Caps took with the 28th pick of the 2016 draft, put up 49 points in 2015-16, his second WHL season. A late ’97 birthday, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 until November.

Then theres Philadelphia, where Gostisbehere is all the rage. But he’s not the only youngster on Dave Hakstol’s plate.

While Gostisbehere fell short of the Calder, which went to Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, Ivan Provorov could become the first Flyer to win the trophy. The 19-year-old, who was drafted seventh overall in 2015, likely has an even higher ceiling than Gostisbehere. He’s pegged to be the ace blueliner of the future in Philly. Provorov put up 134 points over 122 games in two WHL seasons. He posted 21 goals and 73 points in 62 games in a loaded Brandon lineup that included Florida prospect Jayce Hawryluk, New Jersey prospect John Quenneville, and presumptive 2017 first overall pick Nolan Patrick as the Wheat Kings won their first Chynoweth Cup (WHL champion) since 1996.

Travis Sanheim, who rivaled Provorov’s production with 68 points in 52 games for WHL Calgary, will begin the season in AHL Lehigh Valley along with fellow defensive prospects Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg.

Just like Gosthisbehere did last season, this wave of young defensemen, who bring with them a dose of speed, skill, and hockey sense, adds a new element that the game has craved for some time.

If you’re a Metropolitan Division follower, you won’t be disappointed.

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