LOS ANGELES — Defenseman Travis Sanheim had an up-and-down NHL debut Thursday night when the Flyers faced the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.
Prior to the Flyers’ 2-0 loss, an excited Sanheim said he was “just trying to take it like any other game. Go out there and show I belong and try to help this team win a hockey game.”
Sanheim got caught out of position on the Kings’ first goal, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. He was moving up on the play when a center-ice turnover caused his gap to be too big, and Trevor Lewis got behind him and scored in the second period.
By playing Sanheim, it seemed to indicate he was ahead of Samuel Morin in the pecking order. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Morin played Saturday in Anaheim.
Sort of an open audition for a roster spot.
One of the two defensemen will probably soon be headed back to the AHL’s Phantoms. The Flyers have eight defensemen, one more than they want to carry.
General manager Ron Hextall has said he doesn’t want his young defensemen being extras. He wants them playing.
Morin has been a healthy scratch in the first two games.
After Thursday’s loss, Hextall said a decision had not been made yet on which seven D-men will stay with the Flyers.
“We’re not going to carry eight, but I don’t have a timeline necessarily,” he said when asked when a decision would be made. “It could be tomorrow, it could be a week from now, it could be two weeks from now.”
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Sanheim was paired with Radko Gudas on Thursday, and Brandon Manning was out of the lineup. Sanheim and Gudas were paired in two preseason games and looked comfortable together.
Asked before the game if he felt it was a tryout to show he should stay in the NHL, Sanheim said, “I’m comfortable with my game. I played six preseason games and a rookie game. I’m comfortable with where my game is at.”
The Flyers have three rookie defensemen on the roster — Robert Hagg, Sanheim and Morin. Hextall said they each bring a different skill set.
“We’re just looking for the right piece of the puzzle,” Hextall said.
Sanheim struggled in the first two periods Thursday but played solidly in the third period and had some offensive chances.
“It’s his first NHL game and you have to take that into account,” Hextall said, “and as the game went on, he got better.”
Sanheim, 21, scored three goals in the preseason, tying Travis Konecny for the team lead.
A native of Manitoba, Sanheim said his parents and siblings, including his twin brother, Taylor, were unable to be at the game because they couldn’t get a last-minute flight to Los Angeles.
“It was hard to get a direct flight out,” he said. “They would have been here if they could have been,”
Sanheim had 10 goals and 27 assists in his rookie year with the Phantoms last season. Morin has played two years with the Phantoms, and the extra year of experience may ultimately give him the edge.