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Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Is Luke Schenn up for another step forward?

Luke Schenn surprised some people with his first season in Philadelphia. At 23, will he show further improvement this year?

USA TODAY Sports

Luke Schenn

Age: 23 in November
Depth Chart: Second pairing defenseman
Contract Status: $3.6 million per year through 2016
2013 Frequent Linemates: Kimmo Timonen (48.6% of time), Oliver Lauridsen (22.0%)

2013 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
47 21:52 3 8 11
Corsi On Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC OZ Start % PDO
-1.1 6.9 0.683 45.8 999

The bad from 2013

Despite clear steps forward (which we'll get to in a second), some obvious shortcomings in Schenn's game were on display last season. He doesn't offer a whole lot offensively, and he definitely had some rough plays and turnovers in his own end that got him in trouble. He's not the smoothest or quickest skater and found himself getting beat thanks to that every so often.

The good from 2013

Even with some issues out there at times, Luke Schenn's first season with the Flyers was almost certainly the best of his five-year career to date. We wrote a bit about the year he had back in May, and you can read there for the long version, but to summarize it here:

* The team put him and Kimmo Timonen in fairly difficult situations in terms of competition and zone starts, and he/they responded by posting positive possession numbers through the first two and a half months of the season.
* While his performance dropped in the later part of the season, the team was still trusting him (over, say, Timonen) with tough minutes despite pairing him alongside a seventh-round AHL defenseman in Oliver Lauridsen.
* He was probably the Flyers' best penalty-killing defenseman, which is saying something for a team that was fifth in the league at penalty killing.

Certainly not perfect, but not bad for a guy who, a year earlier, was the sixth-best defenseman on a crappy Leafs team.

What should we expect this season?

It's really hard to say. As we wrote in the piece linked above, Schenn -- a stay-at-home type of player-- is the kind of player who works best with a more mobile, puck-moving type of defenseman. We saw it work last year with Timonen, so my initial thought was that they would keep those two together.

However, so far in the preseason and in practices it looks like Schenn's defensive partner (at least to start the season) will be new acquisition Mark Streit. That's a pairing that should, in theory, work, given that Streit's a player in a similar mold to Timonen in the way that he's mobile and can pass and break out the offense and whatnot.

If that's the pairing they go with, however, it does probably mean that there's going to be more responsibility on the defensive end going to Schenn. Streit is, in my opinion, a better player at generating offense at even strength than Timonen is, but Timonen's almost certainly a better player in his own end. There's going to be pressure on Schenn to pick up the slack there, and whether or not he's up for it will go a long way towards determining his success this year.

Schenn will also be one of the team's top penalty killers, and hopefully his success there from last season carries over as well.

Best case...

Schenn not only holds up his success last season, but improves upon it, as he and Streit perfectly complement one another and are able to control the play fairly nicely. He's able to log a ton of minutes against respectable competition and do fairly well in them, while also being a rock on the penalty kill once again.

Worst case...

Last season's successes for Schenn end up being a bit of a fluke, and the version we get this year looks a lot like the one we saw in Toronto right before he was traded: slow, sloppy, and can't handle the play against weak opponents. All of this puts that much more pressure on Timonen, Coburn and Streit.

Bottom line

Heading into last season, there was a lot of skepticism about what Luke Schenn -- coming off of a poor season with the Leafs -- could actually bring to the table. The results were actually fairly surprising and pleasant. But no one will deny that Schenn's still got some work to do to improve as a defenseman, and it looks like he'll have to do even more this year to be successful and keep making that progress.

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