Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Brayden Schenn

Elsa

Brayden Schenn just completed the best season of his young career. So why did it feel so disappointing?

Brayden Schenn

Age: 22 (August 22, 1991)
Contract Status: Restricted free agent

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
82 15:45 20 21 41
Corsi For % Corsi Rel % Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
47.9 (9) -2.9 (9) 27.9% (10) 54.9% (6) 101.5% (3)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 14 forwards.)

Most frequent forward lines

Linemates Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Wayne Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier 42.3% (+11 / -15) 44.2% 67.2%
Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell 70.6% (+12 / -5) 52.6% 62.3%
Michael Raffl, Wayne Simmonds 50.0% (+5 / -5) 55.8% 61.5%

A unsatisfying step forward

In 2013-14, Brayden Schenn set career highs in goals (20), assists (21), points (41), and shots on goal (178).

It's a testament to the expectations surrounding Schenn in Philadelphia that his season has been so universally viewed as a major disappointment.

After dealing with an assortment of injuries in his first season as a Flyer, and then watching the lockout cut his sophomore season in half, 2013-14 was the first time for Schenn to showcase his talents over a full, 82-game schedule. What many fans were hoping for was a third season leap similar to the one that saw Mike Richards go from inconsistent offensive threat to point per game player in 2007-08.

Unfortunately, Schenn's development path would not mirror that of the former Flyers captain.

Schenn's overall point production did go up this season, both from a raw accumulation standpoint and in terms of time-on-ice rate statistics. But the 22-year old's junior campaign was not much different than his first two seasons, in that Schenn alternated between spurts of effectiveness and extended slumps, and he again failed to impress in terms of possession statistics.

In addition, he was a total disappointment in the playoffs, scoring only three points (all assists) and getting consistently pinned deep by the Rangers during almost every close situation throughout the series.

Sean Couturier, the other still-developing, much-hyped young forward on the Flyers roster, can experience offensive slumps while still helping the team as both one of the league's top penalty killers and a tough minutes center. Schenn, on the other hand, has not earned a role at 4v5, and has been consistently sheltered in terms of ice time by both Peter Laviolette and now Craig Berube.

For Schenn to provide value, he needs to score. His contributions aren't coming from anything else.

Back to center

At the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, it seemed that the Flyers had determined that Brayden Schenn's long-term position was no longer at center. Schenn spent a great deal of the lockout-shortened season at wing, and the conventional wisdom was that Schenn's aggressive, crash-and-bang forechecking style would fit better on the outside, with decreased defensive responsibilities.

When Paul Holmgren unexpectedly signed Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year contract to replace Daniel Briere as the team's second line center, the implication was clear - Philadelphia did not view Schenn as capable of stepping into the 2C role at any point in the near future.

But Lecavalier's ineffectiveness and injuries opened a door for Schenn to reclaim the spot, and he made the most of it. His comfort level on the ice seemed to increase when playing in the middle, and Craig Berube recognized that, using Lecavalier on Schenn's wing more and more as the season progressed.

At this point, it appears that the organization sees Schenn as primarily a center, even if they believe he also can play wing if necessary, as former GM and current team president Paul Holmgren mentioned at the conclusion of the season:

I don't know. I do think [Schenn is] a center deep down. I think you all know I like having lots of centers. I believe that center is huge. I think it's easy for centers to play wing.

The comment about it being easy for centers to play wing aside (and not something that all would agree with), the Flyers seem to recognize that in an ideal world, Brayden Schenn would play center for Philadelphia. But of course, it's not that simple.

The Lecavalier effect

For the first two seasons of Schenn's career in Philadelphia, he was primarily featured on the second line, which also contained a clearly declining Daniel Briere. It was fair to wonder how Schenn would do on a line that did not include a center who failed to drive possession and was undoubtedly losing a step.

When the Flyers used a compliance buyout on Briere in the 2013 offseason, it appeared that Schenn would finally get that chance. Instead, he got Vincent Lecavalier.

The line combination of Schenn, Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds received extensive playing time this season, with Schenn and Lecavalier splitting time at center. But regardless of the forward in the middle, the line was a mess.

While together, the trio posted a shot attempts for percentage (Corsi) of 44.2%. For reference, that percentage was better than the overall possession numbers of only three NHL teams in 2013-14 - Toronto, Edmonton, and Buffalo.

Schenn surely contributed to the poor play of the line, to a degree. But the primary culprit was Lecavalier, who dragged down the performance of nearly every single player on the Flyers' roster. On the other hand, Schenn did succeed from a possession standpoint on other line combinations.

The trio of Scott Hartnell, Schenn and Simmonds looked like a terrible idea on paper but actually worked quite well on the ice, as the line proved to be very strong on the forecheck and at establishing a cycle in the offensive zone. The Michael Raffl-Schenn-Simmonds line also looked strong in limited minutes.

Brayden Schenn may have had an inconsistent season. But ignoring the fact that he was forced to spend over 400 even strength minutes with the Flyers' least effective top-nine forward is totally unfair to Schenn.

It's reasonable to be frustrated with Schenn. Just don't forget that in each of his seasons in Philadelphia, he has played alongside a player in obvious decline.

Before giving up on Brayden Schenn as an impact scoring forward in the NHL, it might be best to see his full-season production when not tied to an aging player like Briere or Lecavalier.

Preseason expectations

Let's check back on our season preview for Brayden Schenn and see what we thought could happen with him this year.

Best case...

Schenn moves over to left wing with ease and has his breakout year alongside Vinny and Wayne. He tops 20 goals and 55 points, and helps make the second line that much more threatening, which helps take the pressure off the lines above and below him in the lineup.

Worst case...

Schenn doesn't adjust well to the shift over to the wing, and despite playing with Simmonds and Lecavalier he doesn't really improve at all and it starts to look like he's plateauing and what we see is what we get. That, or he's put on a defensive line and can't handle the responsibilities of it, all while his offensive game already starts deteriorating.

Verdict

Considering that our best case scenario saw Brayden Schenn scoring 20 goals and 55 points, his actual production (20 goals, 21 assists) doesn't seem so bad, especially accounting for the fact that the Vincent Lecavalier experiment proved to be such a disaster.

But frustration with the 22-year old center is understandable, as well. Schenn remains a streaky scorer, and did not establish himself this season as a contributor in any other ways (5v5 defense, penalty killing, puck possession). In addition, he failed to provide much value on the power play, as the team's second unit remains significantly less dangerous than the Giroux-Hartnell-Simmonds-Voracek-Timonen top unit.

What Schenn seems to be lacking is a particular standout skillset. He isn't slow, but he's also not a burner. He's a good but not great passer. He can score but lacks a sniper's mentality and has solid but not elite hockey sense.

The Mike Richards comparisons that Schenn received at the start of his career were meant to be complementary, but glossed over a key point -- even in his prime, Richards was far from the most skilled player on the ice. Aside from great vision on the power play, his best attribute was his relentless playing style, which manifested in his ability to take tough 5v5 assignments and rack up shorthanded points on the penalty kill.

Schenn showed flashes of that style during the 2013-14 season, but it wasn't visible on a nightly basis. Holmgren mentioned in his end of season interview that Schenn took a leap when he realized he had to play "a hard game" all of the time. That seems to be a fair assessment of Brayden Schenn's talent, and what he needs to do in order to reach his full potential as a player.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Brayden Schenn's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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