Much of the credit for getting Shayne Gostisbehere on the radar of the Philadelphia Flyers goes to John Riley, one of their many scouts.
"Riley saw him quite a bit the previous two seasons and was really high on him," said Flyers director of hockey operations Chris Pryor. "As last year went on, it was evident that Gostisbehere was playing better and better. He had a good end of the year run as Union went to the Frozen Four and he was a big reason why."
That prompted the Flyers to draft the 19-year-old in the third round of last year's draft (78th overall) because it's hard to pass up a talent possessing a skill set that doesn't come around everyday.
"It's the way he makes plays, sees the ice, gets to pucks, and finds the open man. That skill set is hard to find," Pryor said. "He moves well at the offensive blueline and he can hold pucks for a split second longer and make those little plays. It's hard to find guys that can do that. His head and his hands are exceptional."
Gostisbehere, who led ECAC defensemen with 15 assists in league play, has a pretty good shot as well. In a recent playoff game against Dartmouth, he launched a rocket past Big Green goaltender Charles Grant. Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet opined afterwards that there wasn't a goaltender at the college level who would have stopped it.
"It's almost like a golf analogy," Pryor said. "You watch some of these golfers hit the ball and they're not very big guys but they drive the ball. It's almost like Gostisbehere -- for a slight guy right now, he's very deceptive. He has a hard shot, he gets it off quick, and it's pretty accurate."
"As with any other young man, as he gets older and more mature, his game matures," Pryor said. "Shayne has a year under his belt and he's more confident. He has gotten a lot of notoriety in the past year and rightfully so. He was on a big stage at the World Juniors against the best players in the world and he handled himself real well. He's feeling good about his game as are we."
Though the native of Margate, Florida has developed nicely in the past year, there are areas where he can still improve.
"Shayne would probably be the first to say he has to fill out physically," Pryor said of 5'11, 170 pound defenseman. "Part of that is you have to let nature take its course, but we're going to be patient with him. He has to learn the game in that every level is an adjustment from college to pro. He has a good head on his shoulders and he'll figure it out."
Pryor said it's premature to make predictions on when the budding prospect might jump to the next level.
"It's too early to say how many years Shayne will need in college hockey," Pryor said. "We'll keep monitoring him from year to year, and as with all our kids, we'll make evaluations at the end of the year to see where we're at and where they're going."
Pryor was hesitant to compare Gostisbehere to another player -- "expectations get blown out of whack when you do that" -- but he said Philadelphia is excited about the long term upside of the Union star.
"Whenever we draft a player, we like to think he has a special quality that can help him play at the NHL level," Pryor said. "We think Shayne has those qualities. No disrespect to the college game, but at the NHL level, he would be playing with the best players in the world. When he's surrounded by better players, his game will maximize.
"We're excited to think that he could be one of those offensive type defensemen down the road. We envision him playing with the Claude Giroux's and the Jake Voracek's."
However, Pryor said it's important for the blue-chipper not to look too far ahead.
"He should be more concentrated on helping Union enjoy the success they're having right now."
Union, fresh off winning its second consecutive league championship, opens the NCAA tournament on Saturday at 9 pm against defending national champion Boston College.