With so many question marks surrounding the Flyers this season, one fact is undeniable.
The success of the 2013 Flyers is largely based around the development of Luke Schenn.And while his numbers with Toronto over the past seasons may suggest otherwise, it is my contention that Luke will play a key part in a very deep Flyers run this season. Obviously, the stats from the last few seasons suggest otherwise, but here is a list of reasons why Luke Schenn may develop into a top 4 defenseman in the coming months.
1) Kimmo Timonen (see Braydon Coburn): Obviously, the 6 million dollar man is the best defense man the Flyers have. In fact, I would argue that he is the best D man they have had since I have started following the team (I'm a '91 birth, never understood how great Eric Desjardins was before watching highlights, and always thought the Pronger addition did more harm than good). My main point here is Braydon Coburn. Coburn's strengths seem to be much the same as Luke Schenn'sl which is to say he has some solid skating skills and he has a great defensemans body. I guess my point is this. Think about it. Braydon broke into the NHL around the age of 20. The immediate knock on him was that he was not physical enough. After being traded to the Flyers, he was paired with Timonen for the better part of 3 or 4 years. Today, he is a steady top 4 defenseman who plays the body as well as anyone on the Flyers. Granted Braydon has a few inches on Luke, but their weights are similar and their playing styles are close enough to inspire confidence.
2) Peter Laviolette: If Luke Schenn is going to succeed this season, a lot will depend on Lavy. No matter who he is paired with on defense during the season, a key will be to ensure he is not on the ice with the B. Schenn - Briere - Simmonds line whenever possible. As appealing as the idea of the Schenns playing together may be, the fact remains that Luke needs time to develop. To do so, he needs some help from his forwards. Right now, he is a #4 defenseman at his absolute best. Give him time, and pair him with the solid two way lines with Coots and Giroux at center, and he could become more. Put him in a situation where he can never take a chance at the offensive blue line or where he always has to play conservative in the defensive zone and you could seriously stunt his growth. Luke needs to be paired not only with Timonen, but with an offensive line that can help him in the defensive zone and allow him to make mistakes without constantly being punished for them.
3) Bryz: Make no mistake, the Flyers are going to give up some chances this year. In fact, it is my belief (and I am sure that I am not alone) that they really only have 4 definite NHL defensemen right now with a lot of question marks on the third line. Which means Bryz needs to be big. No more easy goals, no more big rebounds. At the start of last season, the Flyers defense was a huge strength. Now it's a big question mark. So Bryz needs to step up and prove that he can help out a defense that appears to be sub par.
4) Coburn - Grossmann. This needs to be our #1 pairing without a doubt. Not only that, but they need to average at least 22-24 minutes per game. And the reason for that goes beyond them being our best paring. Both play a similar style to Luke Schenn. They are big guys who can skate well and move the puck with some efficiency, but struggle in the offensive end. In particular, Braydon makes some great decisions in tough situations with the puck. Luke can learn a lot from watching this paring both on the ice and on film, and the Flyers need to take advantage of that.
5) Patience: Face it, this year's Flyers team is not winning the Cup. At least not as it is right now. They need help on the blue line in the worst way. But let's think for a minute. Luke has the perfect body for a top defenseman, just like Coburn did a few years back. Pair him with a guy like Timonen and he could turn into the same sort of player if not better.
Here are the facts. Luke Schenn has not had great success over the past few seasons. He's been a -13 over the past 2 seasons and has averaged under 20 minutes of ice time on bad Maple Leafs team. But he is only 23. Overreacting to a few bad years on a bad team would be unfair. Give him to learn from Kimmo and he could develop nicely. A top 4 next year of Braydon, Mez, Grossmann, and L. Schenn (if Kimmo retires) sounds nice if Luke can come into his own. So let's not throw him under the bus just yet. I'm going to give him the season and hope that Lavy brings him along correctly and that Kimmo teaches him how to play some D. If that happens, we could be looking at a very solid defenseman.