Glad to be back, this is my first Fan Post since early July, I’m going to get right into it. When we look back at last season for areas of improvement it doesn’t take a very long look to determine we need some defensive help. Pronger is done, Timonen is aging, and Matt Carle hit the jackpot with a multi-year 30+ million dollar deal with Tampa Bay (I wouldn’t have given him that amount of money, but good for Matt and I wish him the best), and the lack of any true blue chip prospects is becoming evident with the amount of journeymen on the tail end of the defensive rotation right now (Lilja, Gervais, newly signed Kurtis Foster). There was one key addition to the defense last season in the familiar face of Luke Schenn, brother of current Flyer, Brayden Schenn. For the price of former second overall pick, James van Riemsdyk, the 2008 5th overall pick, 6’2” 230 lb. defensemen Luke Schenn became a Flyer.
While is its generally perceived throughout Flyerdom that JVR will fit nicely in Toronto’s top-6 and be a productive forward for years to come due to his flashes of brilliance (most notably the 2011 playoffs vs. Boston and Buffalo), there is some doubt as to what Luke Schenn’s current ability level is and as to what his potential is. There are a lot of Flyer fans out there who will point to his mediocre development thus far (last year he had 22 points, the same amount as the year before, both being career highs) and the fact that he was a healthy scratch for a few games on a horrible Toronto team as signs that Luke Schenn will never develop into a top-4 defender let alone a true “shut down guy.”
Before we take a detailed look at the numbers and some comparisons (BSHers love to use the term Dopelgangers or something along those lines???) I want to talk about development in general. There is generally a right way and a wrong way to go about development. There are exceptions like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who can be thrown into NHL situation where he centers the top line, faces opponent checkers and still dominates with over 50 points in around 50 games, but most guys need to be brought up the right way to pan out and Luke Schenn was not. Luke Schenn as an 18-year-old was asked to play 22 minutes per game against above average competition, which is an extremely tough thing to do and rarely can any 18’s make the jump from juniors to the pros on the blue line. Its not like he was brought up to play sheltered minutes with a good defender to learn from, in his first year he played 28% of his minutes with Ian White and 25% with some guy named Finger (White is 28 and is with his 5th NHL team already and Finger is a 33 year old and only played 65 games in an NHL season twice).
It wasn’t until Luke’s third NHL season when he was finally paired with an established NHL defender in Tomas Kaberle (55%). Luke’s average time-on-ice bounced back to 22+ minutes per game mark after taking a hit to below 17 in his second year. His 5 goals that year tied a career high and 17 assists set a new one. His advanced metrics were okay that year as well. Against roughly average competition and with good teammates his Corsi Rel was above zero for the first time in his career. Last year was his fourth year in the NHL and with tons of expectations in Toronto his ice time dipped o 16:02 per game (lowest in his career by almost a full minute) and his scoring leveled off with another 22 point performance. What was the difference from year three to year four? He changed defensive partners from Kaberle to then 21-year-old Jake Gardiner. That’s two 21-year-olds in the same pairing for those keeping score at home, not a lot of experience.
What if I told you that the Flyers have a current player on their roster who has had a very similar career path to Luke Schenn. Any guesses? How about Braydon Coburn. Lets track the two players from their junior days until their 23rd birthday to see how alike they really are.
As fifteen year olds Luke played in 60 regular season junior games for the Kelwana Rockets and 12 more playoff games while Coburn only managed 2 regular season games and 14 playoff games for the Portland Winter Hawks. As 16-year-olds Luke had 29 points in 72 games, Coburn had 37 points in 68 games. The following year Schenn had 28 in 57 (and was named alternate captain) and Coburn had 19 in 53. Both players represented Canada in their U-17 years with Braydon doing so twice. Both players also played for Canada’s U18 team with Braydon captaining the squad his year. After their 17-year-old season’s both got drafted in the first round---Luke in 2008 was 5th to Toronto, and Braydon, in 2003 was 8th to Atlanta. This is where things go differently. This is where “good development” and “bad development” kick in.
Luke played 70 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an 18-year-old on a horrible team that finished dead last in its division. Braydon on the other hand was sent back to juniors and was chosen as the captain of his Winter Hawk squad. His 30 points in 55 games was an upgrade over his 19 in 53 the prior year. Luke played okay in tons of minutes to get his feet wet but only had 12 points. As 19-year-olds nothing really changed, Luke had 17 points in Toronto (who finished dead last in their division again) while Coburn again captained his team, tallying 44 points in only 60 games along the way. After Coburn’s season ended he was able to play in 3 regular season and 18 AHL playoff games. Coburn also was able to play in the World Junior Championship (U-20) for the second time in as many years, while Luke only played once---albeit it was when he was only 17.
After a two year separation in level of play, the now 20-year-old version Braydon Coburn finally reaches the show. He mixed in 9 NHL games (1 assist) into a solid rookie AHL campaign in which he scored 6 goals with 20 helpers in a full 73 game season. Luke had a bounce back year (partnered with Kaberle) progressing to 22 points and 22 minute per game. Things were looking up for both former top-10 picks.
Going into their 21-year-old seasons Schenn and Coburn each had the sky as their limit, however sometimes things just don’t work out. Luke’s minutes, as mentioned before, plummeted to 16 and he was even a healthy scratch for three games. As for Braydon, HockeysFuture.com describes his season best:
“Coburn was acquired by the Flyers at the trade deadline for veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik. The 6’5, 220-pounder had been unable to crack the Thrashers’ top six defensive rotation early last season. He split time between leagues, appearing in 29 games for the NHL team due to injuries (in which he registered four assists) and in 15 games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL (one goal, 10 assists).”
From that point Braydon Coburn has gone on to become a mainstay in the Philly top-4, but what was the difference than in Atlanta? According to behindthenet.ca Coburn’s first year with the Flyers he was paired with Derian Hatcher 37% of the time, then captain Jason Smith 23%, and Kimo Timonen 23%. That’s being on the ice with a legitimate top-4 NHL defender by your side for 83% of the game. That is much better than guys like Ian White, Finger, Kabere and Exelby, that’s for sure. His second year with the Flyers Coburn was with Carle for 60% of the time, his third year with Timonen for 46%, fourth year with Timonen 72% and this past year with Timonen 49%.
While Coburn and Timonen has been nearly a sure thing since he’s been here, signs are pointing to that changing. Last year in the playoffs, Coburn was with Nick Grossmann for 52% of the time, but they started playing with each other a few weeks before the playoffs started. Although thus far through training camp Coburn has been paired with Meszaros and Grossmann with Gervais it wouldn’t surprise me if they got re-paired later on in the season. Also paired together at camp, you guessed it, Luke Schenn and Kimmo Timonen.
Using behindthenet.ca we can predict what defensive pairs will be most aligned with forward lines using previous data. For example, going back five years here are the top 5 forwards per year who played with Timonen: Hartnell, Giroux, Jagr, Voracek, Simmonds/ Carter, Giroux, Richards, Briere, Hartnell/ Hartnell, Carter, Richards, Birere, Grioux/ Richads, Knuble, Gagne, Carter, Hartnell/ Knuble, Briere, Hartnell, Carter, Richards. Here’s the same results for Coburn: Hartnell, Giroux, Talbot, Couturier, Jagr/ Carter, Giroux, Richards, Briere, Hartnell/ Carter, Hartnell, Briere, Giroux, Richards/ Carter, Hartnell, Richards, Lupul, Knuble/ Carter, Knuble, Hartnell, Briere, Richards.
Both guys have pretty much played with the top defensive centers for the past five years and one would assume they’ve been used to check the opponents top forwards and they are pretty similar, Timonen vs. Coburn. Now check out Timonen’s 2012 playoff results: Giroux, Briere, Voracek, Hartnell, Jagr. Not a lot of change. What did change was the fact that Matt Carle was paird with him for 72% of his ice time---the firs time they’ve ever been paired together anywhere close to that percentage. Coburns results: Talbot, Couturier, Giroux, Wellwood, Hartnell.
The playoff results provide a clear conclusion: Braydon Coburn was used with the checkers most often (Talbot/Wellwood/Couturier) while Kimmo Timonen played with the scorers more often (Briere and Jagr come to mind).
What does this all mean? When you consider that Toronto couldn’t have attempted to derail Luke Schenn’s development any more than they actually did he is coming to the Flyers at the same exact point in his career as Braydon Coburn did roughly six years ago. He’s most likely going to be paired with the same exact guy who helped turn Braydon Coburns career around, Kimmo. If the Flyers front office and coach Peter Laviolette stick true to the signals that they have been giving out about the usage of the defense it is that Timonen will be paired with Luke Schenn and while they may share some of the shutdown duties, they will not have to shoulder the load due to the fact that it looks like Braydon Coburn and his new partner will be at least taking a portion of it.
One more final thought. HockeysFuture.com has a prospect rating system. A 10 is like a Crosby/Gretzky type player. A 9 is an “elite” player, for defenders, Pronger, Lidstrom, and Chara were examples. An 8 is a “#2 defensemen” and Kimmo Timonen and Dan Boyle were the examples. A 7 is a 2nd pair guy. Braydon Coburn was rated a 7.0A. The “A” means he’s a near lock to live up to his potential. A “B” means he could drop one full number down, a “C” means he could drop two full numbers down and so on. Luke Schenn’s grade? 8.5B. Considering defenders don’t reach their potential until at least their mid-to-late twentys, I would stop asking the question of “is Luke Schenn going to be a top-4 defender?” The answer to that question is yes. The only question to me is will he be a top-pair defender?