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Justin Braun is flying under the radar as key part of Flyers’ improved defense

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Justin Braun is showing his value as one of the most underappreciated Flyers this season.

Philadelphia Flyers v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

When the Philadelphia Flyers traded for Justin Braun last offseason, some weren’t sure what role he’d play. The Flyers already had enough young defensemen to fill out the roster, so what was the point? Well, Braun has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers.

Braun has been one of the most underrated and under-appreciated members of the Flyers so far this season. He recently missed time with a groin injury, but didn’t miss a beat in his return and continued his strong play.

The veteran, right-handed defenseman has been just what Chuck Fletcher said he would be: a quality defender that brings a steadying presence. Braun has been slotted in on the right side with a few different defensive partners, performing well with nearly every one of them.

Like Matt Niskanen, who is exceeding expectations thus far, Braun has been the reliable veteran on a pair with a young defenseman throughout most of the season.

Braun has played significant minutes with Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere, while also getting some time with Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg. The defensive-minded Braun has meshed well with the more offensive-minded blueliners like Sanheim and Gostisbehere.

However, with Gostisbehere out and Sanheim paired with Philippe Myers, Braun is on the third pair with Hagg. They have not played very well together.

The two similar-style defensemen have struggled with a 37.91 CF% and 40.07 xGF%. Luckily, they’ve only given up one goal despite that — due to a .978 on-ice save percentage.

With Gostisbehere due back soon, hopefully Braun will have a more offensive-minded defenseman to work with, which has proven to be beneficial this season.

Braun’s most common partner this season has been Sanheim. He has played over half (nearly 342) of his 706 5-on-5 minutes with Sanheim and that pairing has done wonders for the Flyers.

Together, Braun and Sanheim have a Corsi-For (CF%) of 56.68 percent and an Expected Goals-For (xGF%) of 53.53 percent while playing balanced minutes. The pair has nearly equal zone starts in the offensive, neutral and defensive zones.

Of the Flyers’ most-used pairs, Sanheim-Braun has been the best. In fact, of 68 NHL pairings that have played at least 300 minutes together, Sanheim-Braun have the fifth-best CF% and 16th-best xGF% per MoneyPuck. That’s not too shabby for two defenders playing together for the first time.

Braun has also played with Gostisbehere (161 minutes), but not with the same success as Sanheim. In more sheltered minutes (66 offensive zone starts vs. 44 defensive zone starts), the pair has a 47.86 CF% and 46.18 xGF%. They aren’t getting any bounces either, as the Flyers have been outscored 9-3 with Gostisbehere-Braun on the ice together.

Braun has also seen nearly 95 minutes with Ivan Provorov. That pairing has worked extremely well with a 56.13 CF% and 60.04 xGF% while getting more defensive zone starts (49) than offensive (29).

The defenseman has also brought improvements to the penalty kill.

Braun has the best shot suppression numbers among Flyers defensemen. He has a team-best 68.45 CA/60 (shot attempts against per 60 minutes), compared to Provorov (78.66) and Niskanen (79.22) for reference.

Not only is Braun one of the best at shot suppression on the Flyers, but his CA/60 of 66.85 is the lowest in the league — with Sanheim’s 71.32 being the second-lowest – among 90 defensemen with at least 90 shorthanded minutes.

Unfortunately, he also has one of the lowest on-ice save percentages of .793 so his team-best expected goals against of 9.20 does not match up to the 12 power-play goals allowed in his 90 minutes.

Braun has been able to use his size and stick to suppress shots and play solid defense in all situations.

There were some thoughts that the Flyers had to overpay for Braun at the time, with their 2019 second-round pick (41st overall), and 2020 third-round pick going back to San Jose in the deal.

However, Braun has been a rock for the Flyers on the blue line and right-handed defensemen are becoming harder and harder to find in today’s NHL. The Flyers needed a third right defenseman to slot the young left-handers into their proper roles, and they got that in Braun.

Braun has slotted in nicely as the Flyers’ No. 4/5 d-man, averaging 17:29 per game this season. That is fifth among defensemen with Gostisbehere (18:21) just ahead of him.

When Gostisbehere returns, the Flyers will once again have three strong defensive pairs to roll out, and a solid seventh defenseman in Hagg on top of that. Trading for Braun (and Niskanen) has given the Flyers that defensive depth and the results are being seen on the ice.

Acquiring Braun wasn’t a big splash for Fletcher and the Flyers, but he’s showing his value in all facets of the game.

Stats via NaturalStatTrick and MoneyPuck