One of the biggest late-risers in the 2014 NHL Draft class is Calgary Hitmen (WHL) defenseman Travis Sanheim. Although he doesn't get much notice among those who rely primarily on Central Scouting's ratings to determine the top prospects in each year's Draft class, the 53rd-ranked North American skater is very much on the radar screen of NHL teams to the point that it would not be much of a surprise -- or a reach by the team that selects him -- if he is taken in the first round of this year's Draft. Even in the Central Scouting ratings, Sanheim rose with a bullet from his mid-term (167th) to final ranking.
Sanheim reportedly met with all 30 NHL teams at the recent Combine. A team not meeting with a player is not necessarily due to a lack of interest (for instance, the Flyers did not meet with Sean Couturier in 2011 but selected him with the eighth overall pick). However, when a team does meet with a player, they do so because they like something about the player on the ice and want to find out a little more about him.
In Sanheim's case, the odds are pretty good that even teams that were simply doing a little extra due diligence on the player but have early first-round picks would consider taking him if they were to acquire an additional pick later in the round. If he makes it to the second round, Sanheim is a strong potential candidate to be taken by the first team that does not have a higher-ranked player on their internal list fall to them.
Sanheim fits the profile of the type of defenseman that NHL teams look for nowadays. He has a 6-foot-3 frame that still needs to fill out a bit but also has good wheels and two-way upside.
An untouted first-year WHL player, Sanheim kept things very simple early in the season. He posted three points through the first 21 games of the season as he focused mainly on positional play. His physical profile, skating and first-pass ability along with his general reliability in his own zone were sufficient to get him the 167th spot on the Central Scouting mid-term list.
Thereafter, Sanheim got increasingly comfortable and started to assert himself offensively. As his role grew into that of all-situations player, Sanheim's point totals rose steadily. Paired with fellow 2014 Draft prospect Ben Taylor, Sanheim finished the season with five goals, 29 points and a plus-25 ranking.
Sanheim also made a strong final impression on NHL scouts. Once again paired with Taylor, he had a very strong Under-18 World Championships tournament for Canada, posting six assists and a plus five rating in seven games while also taking care of business in his own of the ice.
Travis' twin brother, Taylor, is a forward whose WHL rights belong to the Brandon Wheat Kings. He was limited to nine games -- all at the Junior A level -- this season. In the meantime, Travis shot up the charts among NHL scouts. The Sanheim twins turned 18 on March 29.
Travis Sanheim's rapid development this season, which was partially hastened by an injury to Hitmen captain Jaynen Rissling (a Washington Capitals prospect), was remarkable. Rather than being a "reach" of a first-round Draft candidate, he may actually be a fairly safe pick relative to the inherent risks of drafting defensemen and nurturing them through their learning curve.
Does Sanheim project as a franchise defenseman in the NHL? No, and he may not be a number two, either. However, assuming that he continues developing and stays healthy, Sanheim has all the tools to become the type of two-way defenseman that moves the puck efficiently, occasionally chips in some timely offense and also provides reliable coverage in his own zone without being outmuscled by the league's big, strong forwards.
Players like Sanheim will never be "sexy" draft picks because they probably won't post eye-catching point totals. However, he fits the profile of many long-tenured NHL defensemen when they were his age. That is not a guarantee of an NHL career but he's off to a good start in the pre-Draft phase of his development.
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