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Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Brayden Schenn's breakout has to come now

Two years after being the centerpiece of the Mike Richards trade, Brayden Schenn has been moved to the wing. He's shown potential in flashes, but can he keep it up for a full year and break through?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Brayden Schenn

Age: 22
Depth Chart: Second line left wing
Contract Status: $3,110,000 per year through 2014, RFA when it expires
2013 Frequent Linemates: Wayne Simmonds (52.8% of time), Danny Briere (38.5%)

2013 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
47 15:32 8 18 26
Corsi On Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC OZ Start % PDO
-4.0 2.9 0.523 52.8 977

The bad from 2013

Expectations were high for the younger, slimmer Schenn coming into the 2013 season, for a number of reasons -- improved performance down the stretch and in the playoffs last year, the chance to stay under the organization's watch with the Phantoms during the lockout, being joined by his brother, etc. People were expecting a huge step forward for Schenn.

Unfortunately, his season was marred by some degree of inconsistency. After a real good first five weeks or so of the season that saw him at near a point-per-game clip, Schenn went almost the entire month of March (from March 5 to March 28, spanning 10 games) without scoring a point -- surely a part of the team's struggles in that month that put them just about out of playoff contention. A season that started really strongly for the sophomore definitely cooled off as it went on.

The good from 2013

Well, as mentioned above, his month-long scoring drought was prefaced by quite the start for Schenn. Playing largely on the second line and second power play (with a few cameos on the top line and top power play), Schenn opened up the year with 19 points in 22 games. That's quite good, even though it wasn't totally sustainable.

His total numbers on a per-game basis were improved from his first year with the team, and he managed to improve in just about every underlying metric out there (while his individual Corsi rates went down, certainly a lot of that can be attributed to the team's possession numbers as a whole worsening).

Couple that all with Schenn being the third-best Flyers forward at carrying the puck into the offensive zone (and one of only two Flyers to increase their percentages there from 2011-12 to 2013), and it's clear that it wasn't all bad for Baby Schenn, even if his sophomore season was almost universally projected as a disappointment.

What should we expect this season?

While we're unsure of what the middle two lines are going to look like, it seems like a pretty safe bet that Schenn will begin the season as a left winger. For a while, it looked as though he was a sure bet to be on the wing next to Vincent Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds, but now with all of the talk about how great Michael Raffl's chemistry has been with those two, there's a chance he could be bumped to another line -- likely the third, with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. [Ed. note: this article was written before Friday's cuts.]

If it's the former, and he's with Lecavalier and Simmonds, then there's no excuse: the third year in the NHL has to be a breakout year for Schenn. Lecavalier is a massive upgrade at center over Danny Briere with the way he played last season, and Simmonds is just now really hitting his prime. Schenn showed high potential in flashes last season and he's certainly still young enough that we should expect him to improve offensively. Basically, if he's in a top-six role, we should expect big things from Schenn -- hopefully upwards of 50 points, if not more -- and anything less would be a disappointment.

If Schenn is dropped to the Couturier line, things change a little bit. We still don't know how much defensive, heavy-lifting responsibility Laviolette is planning on giving that line. But odds are that no matter what he won't be in quite the position to put up big points, and instead we'll hope to see production similar to what he had last year while also playing good a strong two-way/possession game.

Remember, Schenn was a guy who initially projected as a Mike Richards-type of center when he was traded here, and that comparison involves high awareness and competence in his own end. Schenn's made strides in that area of the game, but there's no denying he still needs to improve there. That should be expected of him no matter what, but especially so if he ends up on Couturier's line.

In any case, he'll likely also be on the second power play unit, probably with Couturier, Read, Mark Streit, and one of Lecavalier or Scott Hartnell. The addition of Streit (and probably Lecavalier) will hopefully make that a good second PP, which may further improve Schenn's offensive production 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.

Bottom line

Two years ago, Brayden Schenn was "the best player not in the NHL yet", and looked like he could eventually be the heir apparent to the guy he was traded for. With due respect to Schenn, he's currently the second-best Flyer who was involved in that trade. He's shown that he has the potential to make that jump to quality, no-doubt top-6 forward, and at 22, now is as good a time as ever for him to do it.