When Travis Sanheim was chosen 17th overall in the first round of the 2014 draft, eyebrows were raised because many scouts had him projected as a late second-round selection.
But after a breakout season in the Western Hockey League in 2014-15, Sanheim has more than justified the selection and is now among the Flyers' top prospects.
The smooth-skating, 6-foot-3, 198-pound defenseman is coming off an outstanding season with the Calgary Hitmen (15 goals, 65 points in 67 games) and is considered one of the Flyers' future cornerstones.
Now 19, Sanheim will likely play one more season in Calgary, but it's not far-fetched to imagine him in the Flyers' lineup in 2016-17.
Sanheim is participating in the final days of the Flyers' development camp in Voorhees, and he was one of 40 players selected for Canada's World Juniors camp Aug. 1-6 in Calgary. Flyers prospects Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Travis Konecny, a pair of speedy forwards, were also invited. Twenty-two players will be chosen to represent Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
Last year, Sanheim was cut from Canada's team - Flyers prospect Sam Morin was among those who beat him out for a spot - and it left a sour taste.
"Obviously, I was disappointed," Sanheim said on Thursday. "It was tough for me, but I think it motivated me for the second half" of Calgary's season.
Sanheim is part of a group of gifted young defensemen who are climbing up the organization's ladder. The group includes Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Robert Hagg.
The prospects would have to "knock our socks off" during training camp for any to make the jump to the Flyers this year, general manager Ron Hextall said.
In the Western Hockey League, Sanheim's team had numerous battles with Provorov's Brandon Wheat Kings last season.
"I know exactly what kind of player he is and how good he is," Sanheim said. "He's just a smooth skater who doesn't have a lot of weaknesses to his game. As for the other guys, I've been with them at a couple camps and I know their skill-set. Ghost has a lot of skills and great hands, and he's going to be a good player for the Flyers. Sam is a big body and just the type of guy the Flyers want as far as his style of game, and Hagg is a steady, stay-at-home D-man who moves the puck really well."
Sanheim says his improvement can be traced to working with Flyers player-development coach Kjell Samuelsson, who spent 16 years in the NHL. The 6-foot-6 Samuelson has been teaching Sanheim the nuances of his position.
"He's helped me a lot," Sanheim said. "He's been to Calgary, and he's always on the phone talking to me to make sure everything's going all right and asking about my game. He's kind of staying on top of me and I've learned a lot from him."
Sanheim was only rated 167th among North American skaters in Central Scouting's midyear list during his draft year before climbing to No. 53 when the Flyers selected him at No. 17. Now scouts are saying he is a future top-pairing defenseman who has a chance to become one of the NHL's elite.