As the few months leading up to the draft go by, most draft rankings and projections are pretty well set, save for a few players shuffling around with other players perceived to be in the same general tier. Every so often, a draft will have a late riser, though; a player who comes seemingly out of nowhere to fly up the rankings and onto the radars of draft scouts. The stock of Travis Sanheim in the 2014 NHL Draft has been soaring for several months now, with him jumping from a fringe draft pick all the way to possible-first-rounder. Will the Devils be interested in the big defender if he's available at 30 or 41?
Who is Travis Sanheim?
Travis Sanheim is a defenseman who hails from Manitoba and currently plays for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. Sanheim just finished up his rookie season for the Hitmen after deciding to stay back an extra season in the Manitoba league building his game. Sanheim is a big - if slightly lanky for the time being - player, being listed at 6'-4" and 205 pounds on the Elite Prospects website. Sanheim is middle-of-the-pack in terms of age for his draft class, having turned 18 back in March, despite only having the one season of WHL play under his belt. He has also been a part of Canada's U-17 and U-18 teams in the past couple seasons, performing particularly well for Canada in this year's U-18 World Championship.
His numbers in his one season of junior don't immediately jump off the page at you, but Sanheim came on very strong in the latter two thirds of the WHL season. Playing as a rookie after taking an extra year in the Manitoba leagues, he took a little while to adjust to WHL play, but once he got going, he turned a lot of heads playing for the Hitmen. After putting up only 3 points in his first 22 games for Calgary, Sanheim came to life, putting up 26 points in his final 45 games. He also shined at the U-18 Championships, where he played a big role for Canada and put up 6 points in 7 games. He is touted for his skills in all three zones and is an impressive skater, considering his size. He can jump up into plays on offense, is strong in transition, and while not overly physical, scouts say he has good positioning and uses his length to his advantage in the defensive end.
Where Sanheim will end up going in the draft is hard to say, but his rise in the last six months has been meteoric among those covering the draft. Just looking at the rankings from the NHL's Central Scouting will show the kind of jump he's made, going from #167 among North American skaters in their midterm rankings to #53 in their final ones. TSN Draft Scout Craig Button actually has him all the way up at #8 in his final rankings after not having him in his top 90 as recently as December. ESPN's Corey Pronman slots Sanheim in at #32 among skaters in his final assessment. Pinpointing an exact place he might go is tough, but after being a probable late-round pick just six months ago, it seems likely that he will go somewhere in the top three rounds.
What Others are Saying About Travis Sanheim
First, we look at some excerpts on Sanheim's skills in a nice profile from Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports:
Travis Sanheim is an excellent skater. He has very good top end speed in both directions, strong acceleration, and an excellent first step. His pivots and edgework are extremely good for a man his size, and it gives him strong mobility in all directions.
Defensively, Sanheim is very difficult to beat one-on-one. His excellent mobility and strong footwork keeps attacking forwards to the outside and makes him very hard to beat off the rush.
Offensively, Sanheim is more likely to join the rush as a trailer than to lead it. However he does have the stickhandling and the skating skills to move the puck out of danger in his own zone. He makes a smart first pass and can be key to starting the transition game.
There is certainly plenty to like there as Kerr pretty much praises Sanheim's play in all areas. A big reason why Sanheim has been rising so quickly likely has a lot to do with how well he skates despite his big frame. He moves the puck well and seems like he is getting stronger and stronger on offense. There is a little criticism of some tentativeness in his game, but it seemed like that improved as Sanheim's season for the Hitmen went on.
From Yahoo's Buzzing the Net blog, Neate Sager interviews Sanheim and goes through how he got to this point:
The certitude that the 6-foot-3, 181-pound Sanheim exhibited last month at the U18s, where he was effective in all three zones, owed to spending that extra winter back home with the Yellowhead Chiefs. The Elkhorn, Man., native was do-it-all defenceman on a team that punched above its weight in the Manitoba AAA midget ranks.
Sanheim worked his way into Calgary's rotation on the blueline as the season progressed, earning an increased workload when captain Jaynen Rissling went down for five weeks in December and January.
"It just took off from there," Sanheim says. "Once we got to Christmas, I was playing a lot more and with each game, I felt a lot more comfortable carrying the puck and jumping into the rush offensively and that’s when I’m at my best, when I’m doing that and creating offence."
So it appears that extra season honing his skills in Manitoba AAA has worked out well to this point for Sanheim, as he said he was really able to focus on improving all areas of his game in big minutes in the lower league. And once an injury on the Hitmen necessitated a bigger role for him in Calgary, he was able to find his comfort zone and turn heads.
At Dobber Sports, they also make note of how strongly Sanheim came on towards the end of the season:
So this just echoes more of how he was able to improve as the season played out. It seems like he has very good skills, and just needed to get comfortable using them. I suspect his great performance in U-18s in April is what has given him even more of a late bump leading up to the draft. Seven games having that much impact gives me a little pause, but it is good to see him standing out among the best in his age group.
A Little Video
Here's a very nice highlight package for Sanheim put together by YouTube account bigwhite06:
Lots of impressive stuff in there for Sanheim. His skating really does seem very strong and his ability to enter and exit the zone jumps out. His shot isn't top-end but he seems to have a good, quick release with the puck on his stick and can finish plays when they're there. It's a highlight video, so of course you're seeing him at his best, but there looks to be some good skill there.
And here from the Calgary Flames website, comes this interview from the 2014 NHL :
The Combine seems like a bit of a silly exercise in hockey, but I think Sanheim comes off pretty well in this interview. He says the 30 interviews with teams were much more exhausting than the physical tests and, for anyone who has been involved with a job interview, that's understandable.
An Opinion of Sorts
Sanheim definitely grabbed a lot of people's attention with his play the second half of this year. He went from a draft afterthought to a player who could end up going in the first round, and from what you see and read, it's easy to see why. He is a big player who has a lot of skill and has a smart, fluid game. Any team looking for an defenseman who is strong in all situations will have him on their radar. The question becomes: if you're the Devils do you think he is good enough to use one of your first two picks on him? As I've stated before with defensemen, perhaps if the Devils grab a strong forward at 30 and he's still available at 41, I'd consider taking him (though I'm still partial to grabbing two forwards with those picks). He does have some good offensive upside and looks to be someone with the potential to become a strong, complete defender, so it would be hard to be too upset in that scenario.
One thing I am slightly weary about with Sanheim is that his rise in draft value has been so rapid (not that he necessarily isn't deserving of it). But the longer a guy stays in the spotlight, the more opportunity there is for scouts to pick his game apart and find where the shortcomings are. Since Sanheim has only really had that "top-three round" spotlight shined on him for a few months now, it's possible that his value could be slightly inflated versus the guys who have been subject to scrutiny for a year or two now. Still, he seems like a fine defender and a guy who is big, but doesn't use that fact as a crutch for his game. If they're going to take any defender early, Sanheim doesn't seem like a bad choice.
So now that you've watched/read about Travis Sanheim, what are your feelings on him? Would you be satisfied if they took him with one of their first two picks? Do you think he'll even be available at 30? Is there any chance he drops into the third round in your mind? Is he the type of defender you could live with taking this early? Comment with your thoughts below, and thanks for reading.