Earlier today the Flyers announced that defenseman Justin Braun will miss the next few weeks with a groin injury, and is expected to make his return following the All-Star break. It’s unclear when the injury occurred.
Injury update: Justin Braun (groin) is out tomorrow for #PHIvsCAR and is expected to remain out until after the All-Star break. Robert Hagg will be in the lineup.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 6, 2020
Braun was acquired over the Summer in a trade with the San Jose Sharks, and has appeared in all 42 games for the Flyers this season. A staple on the penalty kill, Braun has been a part of the team’s resurgence in that area this season, and his absence won’t go unnoticed. When the Flyers are shorthanded, they’ve allowed fewer shots and dangerous chances against with Braun on the ice than any other regular defenseman. Among NHL defensemen who have seen at least 25 minutes on the penalty kill this season, only P.K. Subban has a better Corsi-against per 60 minutes.
At 5-on-5, Braun’s shot impacts are the best on the Flyers by a significant margin. And while he’s primarily been used in a third-pair role, per PuckIQ’s quality of competition metric Braun has performed well against the league’s best. In just over 177 minutes against elite competition, Braun has a team-high 58.4 Corsi-for percent, and is behind only Matt Niskanen in dangerous Fenwick-for percent.
(Dangerous Fenwick is a metric that weights shots based on location and shot type, similarly to expected goals.)
With just six healthy defensemen on the roster, Robert Hagg will draw back into the lineup tomorrow night in Raleigh. With at least seven more games without Braun, the Flyers will likely look to add a seventh defenseman to the roster. And with a right-shot defenseman out of the lineup, there’s no better time for Mark Friedman to get his first stretch of games in the NHL.
Last month we talked about how the Flyers need to fix their third pair, and if they decide to give Friedman this opportunity — and should he run with it — there’s a chance that he can be part of the solution. It would be a numbers games once Braun is ready to return, but whether Hagg is an NHL-level defenseman is debatable, and Shayne Gostisbehere hasn’t exactly been playing like one either of late.
In 28 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Friedman has two goals and eight assists. To this writer’s point of view, he’s been the team’s most consistent defenseman this season, possibly even their most consistent player overall. He’s been one of the team’s best play-drivers since his rookie season, and this year has been no different.
He’s a fast skater who plays a tough brand of hockey, and has a knack for goading opponents into taking penalties. He made his NHL debut in the final game of the 2018-2019 season, and while losing Braun is a big loss for the Flyers, this should be Friedman’s chance to show what he can do in the big league.
Data via Evolving-Hockey unless specified otherwise.