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Brayden Schenn's future: Is he still on track to be an elite player?

Brayden Schenn has struggled so far in his time as a Philadelphia Flyer. Is he still on track to become the elite player we think he can be?

Rick Stewart

I've heard some of the fanbase expressing concern and/or skepticism about Brayden Schenn's future. I've even felt it myself at times. So I wanted to take a look at what the numbers say about his career arc to date.

I'll use the updated NHL Equivalencies calculated by Scott Reynolds a couple of years ago. These basically tell us how a player will perform at the NHL level based on performance at lower levels of hockey.

He found the same translation factor as Hawerchuk got for Major Juniors to the NHL (0.29), but a slightly higher conversion for the AHL to NHL (0.48). Using those values, here is what Schenn's performance in each league translates to over a projected 82-game NHL season:

Year Age League NHL points per 82
2007-08 16 WHL 26
2008-09 17 WHL 30
2009-10 18 WHL 40
2010-11 19 WHL (27 games) 47
2010-13 19-21 AHL (47 games) 44
2009-13 18-21 NHL (66 games) 26
2011-13 20-21 NHL (57 gms in PHI) 27

At all points except his NHL production, this looks like a player who is progressing nicely. Hawerchuk has shown that the average player continues to improve another 20 percent or so from Schenn's current age to his eventual peak, so aside from his NHL numbers, Schenn looks to be on target to have ~55-60 point skill at his peak. He might have a 70+ point season or two mixed in, but will average closer to 60 at his peak.

Of course, not everyone develops the same way. Add some uncertainty to that projection of how he grows from here and maybe he becomes a 75-point talent or maybe he plateaus at 45; still, he seems to be on pace to be a good-to-great player.

The problem, of course, is that I keep having to say "except his NHL production". Someone who's only seen him at the NHL level would have a very different perspective on his future, which opens up the question: What's a better indicator of his future performance?

In most cases, looking at his NHL production thus far would seem to be the most useful, both because it's the most recent and because it's the most relevant. But as we know, over small samples (he's still well under a season of NHL play), simple variance can play a role. Sometimes shots go in and sometimes they don't, and it takes longer for the bounces to even out than most people realize.

Schenn's career NHL shooting percentage is 10.8 percent; it's been 12.0 percent since he came to Philadelphia. It's hard to know where he'll end up in the long run, but this doesn't seem out of line -- especially when we note that he shot 13.8 percent in the AHL. So it's probably reasonable to guess that his shooting percentages (and therefore his goal totals) are reasonably reflective of his talent.

Of course, to get assists, he relies on his linemates' shooting also. In his juniors career, he averaged 1.7 assists per goal. In his shorter AHL career, the average was 1.4. In Philadelphia, it's been 0.6 -- and the low assist total is why his point total seems low. If he'd had 1.4 assists for each of his goals in Philadelphia, he'd have 29 points in 57 games, a 42-point pace that's right in line with his historic trends.

When we look at his teammate shooting percentages, we can see why Schenn is finding assists hard to come by. At 5-on-5, the average team shoots 8.0 percent. Last year, despite his own shooting percentage being solid, with Schenn on the ice the Flyers shot just 6.2 percent, because his linemates were collectively all the way down at 4.9 percent. Players don't have much control over their linemates' shooting percentages, so this low figure is not a worrisome sign that he struggled; it just means that he didn't get the bounces. We should expect his linemates' shooting percentage to turn around, and when it does, his assist total will come up with it.

Whether Schenn becomes a 50-point player or a 75-point player depends on how he develops from here, and is open to guesswork. But don't let his linemates' bad luck last year fool you into thinking he's less than a 40-something point player right now.