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Feet, Hands, Head - The Difference Between Schenn and Couturier.

While I enjoy this site at times, rarely is there much actual X & O or player-mechanics discussion going on. The conversation is predominantly Corsi, Cap and Combos (line).


With that, I thought it would be an interesting topic of discussion to actually talk on-ice analysis and player skill-set, in combination with my ongoing quest to change the public mindset about Brayden Schenn, while presenting the case for Sean Couturier. Couturier is the player you build around in compliment to Giroux, Schenn is a player that probably will never reach his projected "potential". Here’s why:


Feet

Schenn: slow, often off balance, flat foot.

Slow – in open ice ever notice that Schenn is a step to half step behind the play, or, the defending players are either in front or parallel to him? The only time Schenn actually has a step on the play is when he had the opportunity to build up his speed by carrying his momentum (usually crossing over) and then picking up the puck – often this occurs for him circling in the neutral zone and then attacking the line flat foot riding his momentum (we’ll get into that in a moment).

The largest issue with Schenn’s over-all speed is his lack of "burst" from a standstill. While it does look that he is moving his feet quickly with the appropriate on the ball of his feet, up on his toes, short, choppy strides, it’s this period where it appears his upper body weight and bulky frame might actually slow him down. Schenn has momentum-speed, not a natural NHL-level-burst.

Schenn’s lack of over-all quickness at the NHL level is why he is not producing, nor in my opinion will he ever produce like the elite NHL player he was projected to be. Speed is something you cannot teach. Most prospects have the burst already built in to their skill set, it’s the over-all body strength (Schenn has the NHL level physical strength) and learning the speed of the natural NHL lanes that is the bulk of the learning curve (which is actually a Schenn strength – we will see in the "Head" section).

If it wasn’t already taken, a great charity would be "Schenner Down". Schenn makes Hartnell look like Dorothy Hamill. This is not a joke – Schenn falls down almost once a shift. He falls after delivering a hit, he falls after taking a hit and he falls simply on his own. This again has a lot to do with his foot speed in relationship with his upper body frame. We really should track this – does he fall once a shift? Ok, maybe it’s 85% percent of his shifts, but the point is if you are laying on the ice and you don’t have an NHL level burst nor NHL level speed you will forever chase the play.

Ever notice that Schenn rarely ever delivers an open ice hit? This too has a lot to do with foot speed. Schenn leads all forwards in hits – that’s because they almost all come from along the boards while the opponent is flat foot trying to handle a puck or make a pass. Think about a guy that most like to compare Schenn to, Mike Richards, and how often Richards hit people away from the boards. Schenn does not do that because he arrives late to the contact, another indicator of foot speed.

Last thing about Schenn’s feet – this is something that can actually be fixed – as soon as the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone he stops moving them.

The best example of this is the Penguin’s game on March 24th. The play was a 3-on-2 where Simmonds made a nice pass to Schenn coming over the attacking blue line providing a clear shooting lane for Schenn from the top of the circle in. Around the hash marks Schenn shot the puck directly into Fluery’s belly, rebound fell to Fluery’s feet in which he easily covered up, unchallenged.

This play was incredibly disturbing. Why? Mechanics. Schenn stopped moving his feet as soon as he received the puck, put his head down to look at the puck as he shot, and the worst part and what really disturbed me, he did not follow up his shot. Schenn ended up below the goal line almost in the corner. Why? His feet. He allowed his momentum to carry him into the corner rather than following his rebound…and since Mite every player is told to "follow your shot", yet 100 games in the NHL when the team needed a goal Schenn didn’t.

Hands

Schenn: skilled at passing, something odd in relationship to feet, not anticipating NHL level lane speed.

Mario Lemieux once said that goal scoring starts with the feet. Another Schenn mechanical trait is the inability to handle the one timer. He does have a pretty good set of hands, there is no disputing that, but with that in mind, why can’t he handle the one timer? Think about the amount of point blank chances Schenn has either missed or never got a shot off over his 100+ games so far. Often within this same scenario Schenn is off balanced after the attempt. I am not asking him to be Stamkos, but when you look at the elite players they have the unique ability to bend their knees, keep their shoulders square and their feet under them in order to handle a pass and shoot in one motion. Think about all those Brett Hull pictures of him shooting with one knee on the ice.

The only thing I can point to with Schenn’s shot is that his hands and the puck are often in front of his body, or his is taking the puck to the heal of his back foot for a very long release – which will not work against an NHL level defender – they will poke check or get their stick in the way of the follow through almost every time. Schenn actually telegraphs when he is about to shoot which is a mechanics issue.
Passing and play making wise, ever notice that a lot, and I mean like 50% of the time, Schenn’s passes (and shots for that matter) are tipped by a defender? This, I hope, is a matter of learning the speed of how quickly NHL lanes open and close. The same issue plagued Carter and Richards their first year, but they adapted and both had break out years in their third season (143 games in for Carter, 138 for Richards, 124 for Giroux, Schenn is at game 105, Couturier is at game 118 but is the youngest of the 4 same point in time).

Head

Schenn: great lanes, poor anticipation, where is the "vision", poor defensively, why doesn’t he play PK?

This should be the greatest conundrum for anyone that has actually read this far and still wants to dispute my analysis. Why doesn’t Schenn kill penalties? No, it’s not because they have other guys for that. Carter and Richards both killed penalties. Giroux and Couturier kill penalties. Why not Schenn? My guess is the coaching staff doesn’t think he has the head for it.

Killing penalties, much like defending 5-on-5 requires an anticipation of lanes. It’s really that simple. That’s why "slow" players still make effective PK’ers and defenders –they’ve got the head for it (see Betts, Blair). This would also explain why Schenn is poor defensively.

Schenn’s lanes (physical position) both offensively (why he gets so many point blank chances) and defensively are there. He is rarely if ever out of position if the play is contained within the zone (non-rush). In fact, offensively, Schenn has a unique knack for getting open and finding space – a goal scorer’s trait. Defensively, he has made marked improvement this season, yet is still a -10 on the season and a -15 over the last 23 games since his 2 goal game Feb 23 against Winnipeg.

Vision - This one might just be all head, as in he is having trouble anticipating the NHL lanes. I hope that if he remains a Flyer that like Carter and Richards before him (Hitchcock pounded NHL defensive responsibility into their heads their rookie year) he learns how to anticipate the NHL lanes, and fast. Remember that great 5-on-5 chance that was created off the Schenn pass? Me neither, and that’s while playing 100+ games with top 6 wings or as a top 6 wing himself AND on the #2 PP unit.

Recap of Schenn:

His problem starts in his feet – they are slow by NHL standards. The feet leads to the hands –his passes and shots are constantly being deflected and he’s often off balance when attempting a point blank chance (which is afforded to him because he does have an NHL level goal scorer’s ability to find the open space). His head does not seem to be able to compensate for the lack of foot speed, thus he is poor defensively.

Ultimately, my concern about Schenn’s head is his over-all NHL-level- IQ. Poor decisions with the puck, stupid penalties and a lack of anticipation might be as big a downfall as his foot speed, and why he has yet to show that "elite" promise.

Now on to Couturier.

I will freely admit upfront I am biased. Couturier is one of my favorite Flyer to come along in years. Some of my other favorites were thinking man’s players: Brind’amour, Desjardins, Recchi, Gagne, Richards, and Blair Betts…yes, I said Blair Betts. Why? The guy was a hockey-fundamentals-robot when healthy and was one of the most underrated reasons for the Cup run of 2010.

Feet

Couturier: slow burst, rarely off balance, great feet.

Let’s start with the last one. Why would I write "great feet"? All you have to do is look at Couturier’s performance against Malkin last post season. Why was Couturier so effective against one of the best players on the planet? His feet. Couturier was almost always in position to defend Malkin. Break it down further and it’s Couturier’s rare ability for a big man to be able to pivot swiftly.

Next game, watch Couturier’s feet. They are always square and under his shoulders unless he is skating full stride with the puck attacking through the neutral zone in a forward posture. This amazing and rare foundational element is the core reason Couturier is such a phenomenal defender and PK’er (addressed in "head"). Same thing could be said for Jordan Staal.

Much like Staal, because of Couturier’s reach he can compensate for the lack of NHL-level burst that makes him appear "slow". Couturier straight away speed with momentum (like Schenn) is far from slow as he has been showing over the past 10 games. Last thing – same as the Schenn-down-count, count how many times Couturier hits the ice. Different games physically, but Couturier does not shy away from board battles and is very strong in recovering loose pucks all the while maintaining his balance.

Hands

Couturier: skilled at passing, great at finding loose pucks, elite NHL level shot release.

One of Couturier’s most underrated assets are his hands. Think about how many times he either finds the puck in a puck battle, deflect a pass through a lane or make a key clear in a game. Those are things that do not appear on a score sheet but have a big impact, and it is due in large part to the speed of his hands (and his reach).

We are just starting to see what Couturier can do with wings that actually belong in the NHL. 118 NHL games, 115 of them playing with the likes of Rosehill, Knuble and Rinaldo and yet a career .35ppg vs. Schenn’s .42ppg. Just imagine if the roles were reversed…which I think it will occur over the next 50 games or their careers.

The thing that has struck me most about Couturier offensively is the speed of his release and the accuracy of his shot. Simon Gagne is the most pure shooter I have seen since Tim Kerr, and Couturier could come close – their release are that similar. The only way I can describe it without stick and puck is the distance the puck travels while within their possession – it’s middle back foot to the toe of the same foot…less than 12" in total travel on the blade before the shot is released.

The issue with Couturier is that his chances never come anywhere near proper shooting lanes – which in part is a "head" issue.

Head

Couturier: great defensive lanes, poor offensive lanes, starting to show "vision", needs some of Schenn’s swagger.

Couturier’s defensive and PK prowess is well documented, so let’s skip it…and pick on his scoring and offensive zone lane play.

Honestly, I can’t tell if the lane play is correlated with the weak wing combination and a lack of confidence, but if one was to combine Schenn’s lanes with Couturier’s skills the Flyers would have a franchise player on their hands. That’s promising if you believe, like I do, that Couturier will develop this awareness and confidence as he starts to evolve from 4th line defensive center to 2nd line playmaking threat. The reason I feel so strongly is due to the feet, hands, head and his last 10 games: 2g 5a 7pts +3. You can see it in his play that Couturier is just on the envelope of emerging.

Recap of Couturier:

His foundation starts in his "elite" feet – they are slow on the burst by NHL standards, but are a key reason why this kid is so good defensively. The feet leads to the hands – his passes are sharp he is starting to create space and show vision and his shot release is one of the fastest I have seen in a long while.

Ultimately, my concern about Couturier is his confidence. Did Laviolette bury this kid as nothing more than a 3rd line checking center and PK player, or can Couturier see the play clear enough to take risks and allow his feet, hands and head to turn him into a very productive two way player? Time will tell.

Feet

Schenn: slow, often off balance, flat foot.

Couturier: slow burst, rarely off balance, "elite" feet.

Hands

Schenn: skilled at passing, something odd in relationship to feet, not anticipating NHL level lane speed.

Couturier: skilled at passing, great at finding loose pucks, elite NHL level shot release.

Head

Schenn: great lanes, poor anticipation, where is the "vision", poor defensively, why doesn’t he play PK?

Couturier: great defensive lanes, poor offensive lanes, starting to show "vision", needs some of Schenn’s swagger.

This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.

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