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2016-17 Flyers season review: Brayden Schenn needs to better at even strength

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Great on the power play, awful at even strength. How do we fairly evaluate the season of Brayden Schenn?

Kate Frese Photography

The long-awaited breakout season finally came for Brayden Schenn in 2015-16. After four seasons of hovering somewhere in between “perfectly solid” and “perpetually disappointing,” Schenn rode a stellar final four months to the best scoring rates of his young career. He finished with 59 points in 80 games — tied for 41st in the NHL among forwards in total points and comfortably in first liner territory.

Yes, it helped that Schenn had earned a full-time role on one of the league’s best power play units. But his point production at even strength was also strong (1.95 Points per 60 at 5v5) and his play-driving metrics (49.78% score-adjusted Corsi, -0.25% Corsi Relative) were at least passable. With his play in 2015-16, Schenn truly earned the four-year, $20.5 million contract that the Flyers gave him last July.

The concern surrounding Schenn was more with regards to his future performance. After all, his previous-best in terms of full-season scoring was 47 points, 12 less than his total in the breakout 15-16. Schenn’s play in a contract year may have justified the size of the deal, but there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t regress back into the 40-50 point player who constantly frustrated fans.

But Schenn’s scoring this season didn’t regress much at all. In 79 games, he racked up 55 points, and exceeded the 25-goal threshold for the second straight season. By the boxcar statistics, Brayden Schenn followed up his breakout season with an almost-as-good year that established him as a impact scorer at the NHL level.

Yet if all of that is true, why didn’t Schenn’s year feel like an unqualified success?

Brayden Schenn

Category Status
Category Status
Position C/W
Age 25
Contract Status Signed Through 2019-20 for $5,125,000 per year

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
79 25 30 55 38 178 14.0%

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60 Penalty Differential Average Shooting Distance
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60 Penalty Differential Average Shooting Distance
1.27 0.93 9.89 0.53 -3 24.44

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
47.94% -3.83% -4.1% 48.25% -0.80% 46.75% 99.42

5v5 Manually-Tracked Metrics

Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
First 30 Games 17.87 (11th among Flyers forwards) 51.46% (7th) 20.47 (8th) 17.18 (14th) 55.56% (3rd) 14.14% (2nd) 50.26% (11th) -7.25% (14th) -19.12% (14th)
Final 38 Games 16.6 (14th) 66.67% (1st) 24.95 (4th) 20.83 (5th) 56.5% (3rd) 15.25% (4th) 50.44% (13th) -7.65% (10th) 4.51% (5th)
All 68 Games in Dataset 17.11 (14th) 60.25% (3rd) 23.14 (5th) 19.36 (6th) 56.16% (2nd) 14.86% (1st) 50.37% (14th) -7.48% (13th) -4.77% (11th)

Schenn truly is fantastic on the power play

During his breakout 2015-16 season, Brayden Schenn’s power play production was nothing short of stellar. His 11 PP goals tied him for 12th on the NHL leaderboard, and his 22 total points placed him 34th. He truly was one of the better power play forwards in the league.

This year, Schenn was even better.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

He matched his assist total from 2015-16, but this time was able to chip in with 17 power play goals, which placed him in a tie for first in the entire NHL alongside Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin. Yup, you read that right — Schenn scored as many power play goals in 2016-17 as one of the most feared snipers in league history, a player who is able to create all of his goals from the exact same spot because his one-timer is basically unstoppable. Schenn matched him goal-for-goal this year. The boost in scoring allowed Schenn to jump into the top-10 leaguewide in PP points, finishing seventh behind only Claude Giroux (fourth) among Philadelphia forwards.

It’s been argued by many (including myself) that Schenn might be “replaceable” on the top unit — at least relative to teammates Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Shayne Gostisbehere. The thought process behind that theory was that much of Schenn’s PP success was a product of the talent around him. Yes, a player must have a fast, accurate shot to rip one-timers in the slot past opposing goaltenders, but it’s much easier to do so when the player is on the receiving end of perfect passes from Giroux and has the benefit of a goaltender screen courtesy of the best netfront man in the NHL. It’s hard to envision the Flyers’ top unit humming along without Giroux as QB, or Simmonds making netminders miserable, or even Shayne Gostisbehere ripping shots from the point. But Philadelphia already survived the loss of one slot trigger man (Scott Hartnell) on the PP, and it seemed like it would be much easier to find an in-house replacement for the “lefty shot who can tee up one-timers” role than any other on the top unit.

After this season, I’ve changed my tune. Schenn has become a far more versatile, complete package on the power play than ever before, and it’s a major reason why his goal production spiked this year.

Let’s start by reviewing Schenn’s 11 power play tallies from last season, and place each into distinct categories that describes the way that the goal was scored.

2015-16 Schenn PP Goals

Goal Type Goals Scored Percentage
Goal Type Goals Scored Percentage
Slot One-Timer 5 45.45%
Anticipation/Rebound 4 36.36%
Slot Tip/Redirect 2 18.18%

We get three types — one-timers from the slot, rebounds, and deflections. While each type requires high-end skill to execute, it’s fair to note that each are heavily dependent upon teammates to create the initial shot. There’s also a high amount of reliance (45.45%) upon the slot one-timer, which goes back to the initial skepticism regarding Schenn’s PP prowess — that he’s just a creation of Claude Giroux.

Now, we’ll review Schenn’s categories from this season, and it’s immediately obvious that the 25-year old was able to diversify his goal scoring.

2016-17 Schenn PP Goals

Goal Type Goals Scored Percentage
Goal Type Goals Scored Percentage
Anticipation/Rebound 5 29.41%
Slot Tip/Redirect 4 23.53%
Slot One-Timer 3 17.65%
Created Own Shot 2 11.76%
One-Timer from Voracek Spot 2 11.76%
Scored on Rush 1 5.88%

No longer is the slot one-timer Schenn’s primary weapon. He’s getting better at the deflection play, continues to showcase great instincts when the puck is loose in front, and is even finding new ways to score. On two occasions, Schenn surprised the penalty kill by temporarily moving over into the right faceoff circle (Voracek’s usual spot) to blast away, and he even scored twice by carrying the puck into a more dangerous area before beating the opposing netminder. Schenn’s 2016-17 PP goal-scoring profile is not that of a player that can be easily schemed out of the game by a smart coaching staff. Instead, it’s hinting at one who can beat opponents in any number of ways. Last year, seven of Schenn’s 11 goals came on what could probably be categorized as “set plays.” This time, only seven out of 17 deserve the same designation. The rest were either creative or instinctual, and it’s my belief that those skillsets are far more difficult to defend.

But what about Schenn at 5v5?

Considering Schenn’s improvement in power play scoring in 2016-17, it’s a bit surprising that his overall point production took a slight dip this season versus his breakout year in 15-16. That’s until one takes a glance at Schenn’s performance at even strength, however, and then the answer comes into focus quickly. Brayden Schenn’s play at 5-on-5 this season was basically a mess.

Over the course of Schenn’s first five seasons in a Flyers uniform, he established something of a predictable pattern to his 5v5 play. Schenn’s scoring rates were generally fine, usually somewhere between that of a good second liner and a decent third liner, while his play-driving metrics were poor but not devastatingly so. The total package was that of a middle-sixer at 5v5, as Schenn could be reasonably expected to score like a second liner and drive play like a third liner. This year, however, his statistical performance cratered.

Yearly rank among NHL forwards with at least 300 minutes at 5v5.

I would not recommend using just one statistic to measure scoring or play-driving efficiency, but Points/60 and Corsi For% RelTM at least give us a basic ballpark of where Schenn ranked in the league among his peers over each of his last five seasons. If we assume that 1-90 is first line quality, 91-180 is second line, and so on, we can approximate around what level of performance Schenn posted in each of these categories. Before this year, Schenn always scored like a top-nine forward at 5v5, and while his play-driving was never especially strong, the point production generally counterbalanced that weakness.

In 2016-17, however, Schenn’s scoring rates dipped into fourth liner territory and the play-driving went completely into the red. When playing with Schenn, teammates saw their Corsi For drop (on average) by 4.1 percentage points, an impact that was the 365th-best among regular forwards this year. For reference, it was identical to the impact that Chris VandeVelde had on his linemates this year, and that’s not exactly company that Schenn wants to keep.

In Schenn’s defense, he performed a bit better (-0.80% Relative after score-adjustment) when it came to on-ice Expected Goals, which attempts to weight the quality of each shot attempt for and against. But from a pure territorial standpoint, Schenn was a massive drag on almost all of his linemates. Giroux had a 48.4% with Schenn; 53.1% without him. Simmonds was 47.2% with Schenn and 52.3% without him. Jakub Voracek was the worst — 46.4% in his 160 minutes alongside Schenn and 51.7% away from him.

It’s no surprise that the Flyers only scored 46.8% of the goals with Schenn on the ice at 5v5 this year — they were consistently losing the shots battle when he played, even when placed with star talent.

Was Schenn better at wing?

In his early years with the Flyers, Brayden Schenn was a man without a concrete position. Originally drafted as a center, Schenn bounced back and forth between the pivot position and the wing for years. But last season, he seemed to finally find his niche as a top-six winger at the NHL level. He had his best scoring season as a professional, and was especially impressive in terms of underlying metrics over the second half of the year. Last offseason, it was difficult to imagine Schenn ever returning to the middle.

A month into the 2016-17 season, however, and Schenn was right back to center. First, it was the combination of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare predictably flailing in the 3C role and Nick Cousins failing to earn his coach’s trust at center that pushed Schenn back into the middle. Then, it was the knee injury suffered by Sean Couturier that drove Hakstol to elevate Schenn to 2C, a role which he held for over two months. In the end, Schenn had 41 games in which he took at least three faceoffs, and 38 primarily on the wing — almost an even split.

Schenn did finish the season strong, and his best play coincided with a return to wing, brought on by the acquisition of Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline. So was Schenn’s disappointing play at 5v5 the result of the Flyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when it came to Schenn’s position? It sure seems like a sound narrative, and it fits with the general consensus that Schenn’s defensive limitations keep him from being an effective NHL center. There’s only one problem — the underlying metrics provide murky supporting evidence.

Schenn - Center vs. Wing

Position Games Played Score-Adjusted Corsi Corsi Rel Score-Adjusted xG xG Rel Points/60
Position Games Played Score-Adjusted Corsi Corsi Rel Score-Adjusted xG xG Rel Points/60
Center 41 48.17% -2.12% 46.84% -0.07% 0.81
Wing 38 47.68% -5.71% 49.82% -1.38% 1.73

His play-driving metrics weren’t great at either position, but surprisingly, his statistics relative to his teammates were actually worse at wing than at center. On the other hand, Schenn scored at a significantly better rate at wing, but a good portion of that was driven by the fact that the Flyers converted on their shots at a 4.62% rate with Schenn on the ice during games when he played center, and 9.79% when at wing. Shot quality may play something of a role there, but plain old luck can’t be ignored either.

I do believe that Schenn is a better fit for wing than center. My guess is that it’s one of the reasons why his Controlled Zone Entry percentage skyrocketed into team-leading levels (66.67% over his final 38 games) and his Primary Shot Contributions (the amount of shots and passes that directly led to shots) per 60 also jumped up near the end of the season — the decrease in defensive zone responsibilities allowed him to focus primarily on creating in the other two zones. But I also don’t believe that Schenn’s 5v5 struggles — particularly his play-driving — can be primarily blamed on his time spent at center. Schenn’s two-way game was underwhelming last season, regardless of role.

Is Couturier the key to unlocking Schenn?

Schenn is 25 now, and will be 26 years of age once the 2017-18 season begins. Considering the fact that he’s more than a few years away from the unforgiving part of the average NHL forward’s aging curve, it’s highly unlikely that Schenn’s awful metrics at 5v5 were the result of him “slowing down.” The forward is still in his prime years, and theoretically should be fixable.

But in order to “fix” Schenn, it helps to identify exactly what his weaknesses truly are. The general consensus is that Schenn’s primary issues are defensive — that the Flyers bleed shots and chances against when he is on the ice. Let’s test that theory by breaking down Schenn’s shot creation and prevention metrics at 5v5, and see how his teammates perform with him, and without him.

Shot and Chance Creation and Prevention

Year Corsi For Per 60 RelTM Rel xG For Per 60 Corsi Against Per 60 RelTM Rel xG Against Per 60
Year Corsi For Per 60 RelTM Rel xG For Per 60 Corsi Against Per 60 RelTM Rel xG Against Per 60
2016-17 -2.11% +0.08% +7.20% +0.08%
2015-16 +1.01% +0.02% +3.84% +0.14%
2014-15 +2.11% +0.07% +2.05% +0.06%
2013-14 -3.16% +0.27% +1.59% -0.19%
2012-13 +1.19% +0.43% +1.35% +0.06%
2011-12 +2.79% +0.27% +1.99% +0.18%

There are a ton of numbers and complex-sounding statistics in this chart, so let’s break everything down to its bare essentials.

Corsi For Per 60 RelTM and Rel xG For Per 60 are measures of offense; specifically, whether Flyers players create more shots (Corsi) and chances (xG) when skating alongside Schenn. For these two metrics, positive rates mean that Schenn is providing a net benefit to his teammates.

Corsi Against Per 60 RelTM and Rel xG Against Per 60 are similar, but deal with shot and chance suppression. In this case, being positive is actually a bad thing — it means that the Flyers allow more shots and chances with Schenn playing than they would otherwise.

When you look at the offense-focused stats, Schenn grades out pretty well on the whole. He was negative in CF60 RelTM this year and in 2013-14, but aside from those two seasons, he’s been a net positive to his teammates in shot creation, both raw (Corsi) and weighted (xG). Shot and chance suppression is another story entirely. Through his entire career with the Flyers, Schenn has never been negative (remember, negative is a good thing in this case) in CA60 RelTM, and has only graded out well in the weighted metrics once (2013-14).

Basically, the conventional wisdom is right in this case. Schenn absolutely helps out offensively at 5v5, but gives back much of his gains on the other side of the ice. That’s a driving force behind the theory that he fits best at wing long-term, as centers deal with more responsibilities in the defensive zone than do wingers. With the acquisition of Filppula, it does appear that Schenn will be at wing full-time next season (barring injuries). If only the Flyers had a defensively-responsible center for Schenn to flank who could cover up the weakest part of his game!

Of course, the Flyers do have a player fitting that description. And any evaluation of Brayden Schenn’s season would be incomplete without noting that his play took a dramatic step forward after being placed on a line with Sean Couturier for the final month of the year. Over the season’s final 15 games, Schenn chipped in with six goals and seven assists, a very strong finish. Even more striking was the fact that only three of those 13 points came on the power play, as the line of Schenn, Couturier and Dale Weise proved to be a force at even strength.

Now, it’s perfectly fair to be skeptical of the line’s long-term sustainability. While the word “chemistry” was thrown around a lot in the Flyers’ locker room to describe their success, there are a number of other possible explanations. For one, you had three players who had underperformed career norms at 5v5 all season long prior to the late surge — maybe this was a case of them getting the bounces all at once. Or maybe it was the simple fact that Sean Couturier was finally healthy after coming back too soon from a knee injury in January.

However, there is another, more intriguing theory — that the duo works because the two players have complementary skillsets. Couturier is a “do-all-the-little-things-right” player who often needs help in creating shots and goals in the offensive zone. Schenn, on the other hand, thrives in boosting offensive zone efficiency (as shown by his power play prowess and on-ice shot creation metrics) but can’t seem to get out of his own way without the puck. Put the two on the ice at the same time, and maybe you solve both of their issues.

Despite the fact that the two players have been NHL teammates since the 2011-12 season, they haven’t spent much time on the ice together at 5v5. Per Corsica.Hockey, there have been only five line combinations including both Schenn and Couturier that have been kept together for longer than 20 minutes. We’re not dealing with a terribly large sample here, but the performance of those five lines is worth a look.

Schenn with Couturier

Line Combination 5v5 Minutes Together Score-Adjusted CF% Score-Adjusted xG%
Line Combination 5v5 Minutes Together Score-Adjusted CF% Score-Adjusted xG%
Schenn-Couturier-Weise 149.18 51.46% 59.57%
Schenn-Couturier-Read 140.4 47.19% 52.20%
Schenn-Couturier-Raffl 95.87 54.00% 58.73%
Schenn-Couturier-Simmonds 72.54 42.83% 45.42%
Schenn-Couturier-Gagner 36.42 57.58% 75.43%

A couple things stand out. For starters, this month-long experiment with Schenn on Couturier’s wing with Dale Weise on the other side is the longest amount of time that the Flyers’ two young forwards have spent together on one line. Second, the combination has not dominated the territorial play when together, even if they’ve generally held their own. But most interesting is the gap between Corsi (raw territorial play) and xG (adjusted for shot quality). In each instance that Couturier and Schenn were paired together, the resulting line outperformed its Corsi when looking at their xG.

Now, this could easily be a fluke. Corsica’s version of xG has been found by its inventor to be not as predictive as Corsi in terms of future outcomes (other xG models, such as DTMAboutHeart’s, do claim superior predictivity to Corsi). However, we know through the work of Ryan Stimson that shot quality, if tracked via the correct means, should not be ignored in attempting to predict future goal-scoring outcomes. I don’t believe it can be ruled out that Schenn and Couturier’s skillsets truly complement each other, allowing for them to create more dangerous chances in the offensive zone than the average forward duo can.

Combine that with the fact that the tandem has passed the eye test both recently and in the past, and that the duo makes intuitive sense based upon their respective skillsets, and I see no reason why Schenn and Couturier shouldn’t be given a long look together to begin the 2017-18 season.

The bottom line on Brayden Schenn

Brayden Schenn’s 2016-17 season was simultaneously encouraging and disappointing. On one side of the coin, Schenn proved his 59-point breakout year was no fluke by racking up 55 more points, and he also proved to be one of the league’s most potent power play weapons, matching even Alexander Ovechkin in terms of PP goals scored. However, his performance at 5v5 took a major dip, as he scored at the rate of a fourth liner and was a major drag on the territorial play of almost all of his teammates.

The power play prowess appears real. Not only did Schenn score more goals than ever before, he used a wide variety of methods to do so, as opposed to years past when he was more dependent upon the work of others to earn his points. Schenn didn’t luck into 17 goals with the man advantage — he earned them due to becoming a more versatile, less predictable player in the situation.

But the struggles at 5-on-5 cannot be ignored entirely, even if the raw point totals generally met expectations. In the past, Schenn has proven capable of producing like a perfectly capable middle-sixer at even strength, either scoring enough to outweigh play-driving issues, or improving his two-way game temporarily to offset underwhelming scoring rates. This season, however, both aspects of his 5v5 play fell off a cliff, a concerning development.

The poor results don’t appear to have been the result of bad luck, or even circumstance. Schenn ranked ahead of only Roman Lyubimov among regular Flyers forwards in terms of Neutral Zone Score, a component of play-driving that isolates results in the middle of the ice, and has been proven to be far more repeatable than offensive or defensive zone shot-based results. This implies that his poor territorial metrics weren’t the result of random chance — Schenn truly was playing this poorly at 5v5. In addition, his extended time at center didn’t serve to drag down his metrics either, as he actually drove play a bit better at pivot versus the wing in 2016-17.

Still, his long-term home is most likely at wing, simply due to his clear weaknesses in terms of on-ice shot and chance prevention. Schenn is clearly a useful and valuable player — his point totals prove that — but the Flyers need to put Schenn in a situation moving forward where his disastrous 5v5 play from 2016-17 is not likely to be repeated. Pairing him with Sean Couturier may be one way to avoid that possibility. While the duo has not dominated in terms of raw territorial play in their limited time together, they’ve been able to put the puck in the net, and consistently outperform their Corsi metrics when adjusting for shot quality. There could be real potential here.

The smart money would be on Schenn’s 5v5 performance improving next season, simply because he had never been quite this bad in the past, and he remains in the prime of his career from an age standpoint. But Schenn is just not a player who can be fairly expected to carry a line at even strength. He must be placed in favorable situations, and with the right linemates in order to maximize his success. He clearly has the power play figured out, but even strength remains a nut that Schenn has been unable to fully crack in his career.

The optimist would say that if Schenn can retain his power play gains from this year and bounce back even a bit at 5v5, he could be a 60+ point forward. Pessimists would hold that he probably doesn’t have the PP true talent level of Ovechkin, and if Schenn regresses even a bit in that area, his even strength struggles become even more glaring. It’s up to Schenn and the Flyers to ensure that 2017-18 is more in line with the optimist’s take.


All stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey, Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, or the manual tracking work of Corey Sznajder at The Energy Line. On-Ice data derived from Corey’s manually-tracked metrics courtesy of Muneeb Alam.