Grading Hak & Hex: Simmonds returns, Sanheim recalled, Brennan extension

Updated: March 13, 2018 at 12:36 pm by Wes Herrmann

The Philadelphia Flyers played four games in the past week and even though they lost three, there was some good news. Wayne Simmonds returned, Travis Sanheim was recalled and Oskar Lindblom is still with the team. Those topics, plus Jordan Weal scratched and TJ Brennan re-signed are all discussed in this week’s review of general manager Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol.

New Lines with Simmonds Back

Wayne Simmonds making a return to the lineup was enough reason for fans to be happy, but Oskar Lindblom remaining with the team may have struck a better chord.

Lindblom may not have a point in 11 NHL games, but he looks like a major league player. He’s strong on the boards, decent defensively and if he wasn’t so snakebitten, he’d have at least a few goals by this point.

With Simmonds returning and Lindblom sticking, Hakstol had plenty of options and depth to play with. He kept the top six the same leaving Lindblom with Nolan Patrick and Jake Voracek where Simmonds used to be.

The former King was moved to the third line with Valtteri Filppula and Jordan Weal, who was replaced by Matt Read in the second game (more on that later). The fourth line comprised of Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and Jori Lehtera.

Filppula has been a disappointment in the second half of this year, so that may need to be changed eventually. He’s been horrid defensively, but offensively I think he can be OK. Simmonds could help him get a higher level.

Laughton and Raffl together is always a good thing and Lehtera has a had a string of impressive games lately, easily making him a better option than Dale Weise or Taylor Leier.

The bottom six really does need to start making a bigger impact, but this is the best we’ve seen it this season. I don’t really credit Hakstol with that, but he’s done a good, yet easy job of maintaining an offensive presence in the bottom six since Simmonds returned.

Weal Out for Read

The second time Jordan Weal was scratched in the span of a week caused much less of an outroar than the first time. It helped that Matt Read — a strong play-driver — was replacing him rather than Dale Weise. But I think it also shows how Weal continues to fall.

The 25 year old got into three games between the benchings and even recorded an assist, but just hasn’t been the same offensive presence he was last year.

I know some fans are still bothered that Jori Lehtera is in the lineup. Weal is definitely the better hockey player, but the two play different roles and Weal is failing at his, while Lehtera has looked better than he did at the start of the year.

Getting back to Read, the 31 year old has been a strong defensive presence in the past three games and deserves to be over Weal in the lineup for the time being.

Sanheim Recalled, Plays Twice

Sanheim’s recall came as a surprise, but also came with the unfortunate news that Robert Hagg was injured. Most figured that if the rookie made it back to the Flyers, it would be because of an injury. That came true, but it’s unfortunate that Sanheim’s play wasn’t the main reason.

Either way, he’s here and fans should be happy about that.

Hakstol inserted him in the lineup in Saturday’s contest directly for Hagg and played him with Andrew MacDonald. The pairing remained the same for Monday’s game against the Knights.

In both matchups, Sanheim looked strong. His corsi percentage was higher than most of the other defensemen, but what I noticed most was his ability to break up plays in the neutral zone.

We all knew Sanheim could move the puck, but what he needed to improve on was stick on puck plays against the opposition. I think we saw that in his first two games.

It seemed like Hakstol saw something he liked also. Sanheim played just 12:44 against the Jets, but increased to 14:16 against Vegas. The 21 year old even played three shifts after taking a penalty that resulted in a power play goal for the Knights. It wouldn’t be odd to see Hakstol bench him after that.

It’s still the least amount of minutes among the blueliners, which isn’t a great sign. I also don’t like that Sanheim directly took Hagg’s spot.

If he’s going to stick, it would likely be Brandon Manning’s spot that he takes. I would have rather seen Sanheim with Radko Gudas to increase those odds.

However, Lindblom did earn his spot on the second line and Simmonds moved down. That doesn’t seem likely for Sanheim since a Hagg-Gudas pairing would be one-dimensional.

This is a topic to keep an eye on in the next week or so, but I wouldn’t put Sanheim’s chances of sticking much above 30 percent — though it’s rising.

T.J. Brennan Re-Signed

Brennan has been a part of the Flyers organization for nearly two full seasons but has never played a game with the big club. So why did Hextall extend the 28 year old to two more years and in March? I think Patrick Williams, who covers the AHL for NHL.com, explained the importance of veterans on the AHL club, best:

Williams was talking about the AHL trade deadline at the time, but the notion still follows with this re-signing.

I can’t comment on Brennan’s leadership, but considering he’s carved out a lengthy AHL career, one would have to think that he knows how to help young players grow. Just look at the defensemen that have passed through Lehigh Valley with Brennan.

The list includes Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. That’s also not including forwards like Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal.

That’s all without mentioning that Brennan is one of the premier offensive defensive in the league. He scored 60 points last season and has 40 this year.

Brennan may play four years in the Flyers organization without actually playing a game with the Flyers, but he may make a bigger impact than he’ll ever get credit for. Good by Hextall for keeping an important piece of his AHL team and development system for a couple more seasons.

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