Yesterday's profile of Ivan Provorov was the final one in our 25 Under 25 series that profiled someone who could realistically be called a "prospect". If you've been following along, you likely know that our final two spots on the countdown belong to two guys who have each played nearly 300 games already at the NHL level. And while a few of the guys we've already profiled are probably more exciting to the fanbase at large right now, in 2015, than the two guys left on the countdown might be, the fact that ten people on our 12-person panel had these two individuals at No. 1 and No. 2 speaks to some points about the nature of prospects and the value of young but still-established NHL players.
Namely, it reminds us that as excited and optimistic as we are about all of them, a pretty good number of them are probably not going to be what we're hoping they will, and that a few of them may not even turn into full-time NHL players. And that, in a similar vein, guys who are still young but have already proven to have the floor of a proficient NHL player are pretty valuable guys to have around.
That even applies for guys who, themselves, were once prospects who had fanbases dazzled and dreaming of their potential. Which brings us to Brayden Schenn, the guy who was supposed to be the crown jewel of the infamous Mike Richards trade.
Ever since he came up big in the 2012 playoffs against Pittsburgh and New Jersey, each offseason has seen Flyers fans wonder if next year is the year that Brayden Schenn takes "the leap" and proves himself as a guy who can be considered a core member of this team moving forward. And each year, Schenn has (debatably) taken a small step forward that ultimately still wasn't near where fans wanted him to be.
At the certainly-not-old-but-not-exactly-that-young-by-NHL-standards age of 24, and with four seasons under his belt at the NHL level, it's more than fair to wonder whether or not we've already seen the best that Schenn has to offer as an NHLer. We're hoping not, but it's certainly possible.
But whether or not Schenn is still growing, there's also plenty of debate within the Flyers' fanbase on Schenn. Many see him as a disappointing liability who's far too inconsistent and has too many shortcomings and not enough obvious strengths, while many others see him as a definite top-6 player who's improved every year despite never having much stability around him.
The reality, in all likelihood, is somewhere in the middle.
He's a streaky player, and while that's true of most NHL forwards, it does seem to be especially true of Schenn, who more than anyone else on the Flyers can be the best player on the ice one night and then not do anything of note for the next week. He's not a particularly strong defensive player or possession driver, making it all the more important that he does produce offensively at a high level.
After three years of getting moved between the wing and the center and being primarily stuck on lines with declining, off-position forwards such as Danny Briere and Vincent Lecavalier, Schenn was given a golden opportunity to succeed: Craig Berube played him -- for about 30 games across a few different stretches during the season -- on the left wing of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the team's two best players. Many saw a breakout alongside those two as almost inevitable.
Yet it never really materialized. While on the ice with Giroux and Voracek, there were spurts of effectiveness but also prolonged stretches where that group just wasn't able to get much going. The fact that Schenn wasn't able to produce much while on a line with two of the NHL's elite forwards -- and the fact that those two generally seemed much, much more comfortable with Michael Raffl on their left wing -- is probably not a great sign for him.
Meanwhile, when not with those players, Schenn was shuffled between lines and positions again, as he frequently had been in the past. But while it's not ideal to see him on lines with the likes of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Ryan White, the way he was at times this year, he often left Berube with no other choice.
With that all said, there are some easily-forgotten positives in how Schenn's season went.
For all of the talk about how his development has stalled since getting here, Schenn has seen his total points improve in every one of his seasons with the Flyers, and this year he set career-high in points per game. Not to mention, 47 points in a season puts him in decent company among his peers.
He was tied for 87th in the league among forwards in scoring, which would put him right on the fringe between a first-line forward vs. a second-line forward. That he did this despite spending the healthy majority of the season as a winger (a lower-scoring position than center) suggests that his point totals, while not elite, are in line with those of a top-6 player in today's relatively low-scoring NHL.
Schenn also stepped right up into Scott Hartnell's vacated spot on the top power play unit, which -- as our own Andrew D. wrote about -- didn't miss a beat with him playing a key role. While he never quite mastered that high-slot one-timer that Hartnell feasted on in the same spot, he was key in facilitating those high-percentage cross-ice passes, as Scott T. at Pattison Avenue pointed out, from/between/to Giroux on the left-side wall and Voracek on the right-side wall. At worst, Schenn proved to be an effective cog in an already-well-oiled machine; at best, he was actively making the machine even more efficient.
All of which is to say, more or less, that even though Schenn can be quite frustrating and streaky at times, his production this year was respectable. It's true that he was given more opportunity to succeed this year than he was in years past, and it's fair to want more out of him given his reasonably cushy minutes and shortcomings defensively. But he's proven he can contribute offensively.
We could break down the numbers a little further on Schenn if we wanted to (Why did his individual shot rates go in the tank this year? Can we expect his on-ice shooting percentage to bounce back next season? And how much do we buy into his late-season success on the right wing?). And we will probably do that when we get closer to the season. But whatever we can find, the big picture is still very unclear when it comes to Schenn's future with the organization.
Schenn, signed on a $2.5 million contract this season, is a restricted free agent when this year is up. Shortly after signing Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek about a month ago, Ron Hextall shot down the idea of an early extension for Schenn, and said that he anticipated the team waiting until the year plays out to see how to handle him. Perhaps that's what Schenn wants as well -- apparently his own agents never even approached the topic with Hextall anyways.
And maybe the reason neither side wants to get a deal done now is because no one knows what the heck Brayden Schenn even is. The team still hasn't even decided what position or next to whom he should play (he played all three forward spots at different points last season and had nine different regular linemates). And the points are there, but is there any room for them to improve? And if not, how much money are you comfortable giving a guy who can score, but is streakier than most players and is pretty rough defensively?
It surely sounds tired to call this year a prove-it year for Schenn, because every dang year now has been a prove-it year for Schenn. But with him on a contract for one year, heading into what will be a crucial 2016 offseason for this team, before which his GM has suggested that he still needs to prove his long-term worth? It may still be the case.
Charlie wrote last summer's season review of Brayden Schenn, and what he said in closing is largely still true:
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 complimentary, 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.
Schenn showed that he can stick on the power play, but otherwise, there are still a number of questions about his ceiling as an NHLer.
There are times where you watch plays like, say, this one, where he knocks a guy off the puck, then sets up a goal from the ice, or like this one, where he gets the puck off the faceoff, controls it all the way around the net, then puts a perfect spot on Matt Read's stick for an easy finish, and you think "this guy could be really good". But then there are times where you watch him lose track of the puck right near the net or whiff on a golden opportunity, and you remember why we're still asking the same questions about him that we have been for three years now.
Is he able to bring that "hard game" that Holmgren mentioned every night, or at least close to it, in order to become a franchise piece? Or is he just the streaky, adequate-but-unspectacular player that his critics think he is? It's not the answer anyone wants to hear, but we may just need one more year to find out.
How we voted for Brayden Schenn:
Who we voted for at No. 2:
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