Image courtesy of Amy Irvin (38Photography)

Image courtesy of Amy Irvin (38Photography)

Is Brayden Schenn Actually Good? A Truther’s Case

Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)

Since arriving in Philadelphia as the centerpiece of the hotly contested, debated-ad nausea trade of Mike Richards to the LA Kings, Brayden Schenn has been under the microscope. He was labeled the “best player not in the NHL” at the time of his trade and was compared favorably to the departing Richards by Paul Holmgren at his introductory press conference.

Since then, it’s been tough to label Schenn’s NHL career as anything but a slight disappointment.

Season Games Goals Points G/60 A/60 P/60 CF% ZS% CF% Rel Most Common Linemates
2011-2012 54 12 18 0.76 0.48 1.24 50.9% 32.2% 0.3 Simmonds (53%), Briere (27%)
2012-2013 47 8 26 0.61 0.82 1.43 47.8% 32.4% 0 Simmonds (53%), Briere (38%)
2013-2014 82 20 41 0.8 0.8 1.6 47.8% 33.9% -2.1 Simmonds (75%), Lecavalier (40%)
2014-2015 56 11 32 0.48 0.87 1.35 49.8% 38.4% 0.7 Simmonds (51%), Voracek/Giroux (31%)
2014-2015 (proj.) 82 16 47 0.48 0.87 1.35 49.8% 38.4% 0.7 Simmonds (51%), Voracek/Giroux (31%)

 

He’s produced at a decent level every year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s been put in favorable positions to succeed every year with high offensive zone starts and he’s played nearly all of his career in the NHL on a sheltered second scoring line. This year, he’s spent almost a third of his TOI on the top line with Giroux and Voracek and hasn’t produced as one would hope despite that. He can be described as a net neutral possession player at best, and he’s certainly not a driver of possession for the team.

Player CF% Together Schenn CF% Apart Player CF% Apart
Simmonds 48.80% 49.10% 48.90%
Schenn, L. 48.70% 49.00% 48.20%
Coburn 49.10% 48.90% 50.40%
Streit 49.20% 48.90% 50.10%
Voracek 51.70% 48.10% 54.60%
Grossmann 46.60% 49.50% 45.90%
Hartnell 50.40% 48.60% 53.20%
Giroux 49.10% 48.90% 52.90%
Timonen 53.20% 48.10% 54.20%
Lecavalier 44.50% 49.80% 47.20%
Gustafsson 45.30% 49.60% 50.10%
Briere 49.00% 48.90% 46.40%
Meszaros 48.20% 49.10% 46.50%
Read 50.60% 48.70% 48.40%
MacDonald 48.60% 49.00% 46.30%

 

This is a chart showing Schenn’s WOWY stats with every player he’s played at least 10% of his Flyers career minutes with since he’s arrived in Philadelphia. A couple things stand out here. Firstly, Nick Grossmann and Vincent Lecavalier deserve lifetime achievement awards for their dogged commitment to not possessing the puck since joining the Flyers. Secondly, the elite possession players Schenn has played with (Voracek, Hartnell, Timonen, Giroux) have shown the ability to increase his possession stats, but they all perform better away from him. Otherwise, aside from the Grossmann/Lecavalier duo Schenn’s possession stats generally hover around a middling level without much variation.

But it’s possible I’m being hard on Schenn. While it’s obvious now that the Flyers unilaterally won the Mike Richards trade (and arguably won it even if it was just Schenn or Simmonds straight up for Richards, much less both), I was admittedly a massive Richards fan and I’ve always been a little skeptical of Schenn. So I decided to run a comparison of Schenn to his peers. I sorted on Hockey Reference’s Play Index for players under age 25 from 2011-2015 who, over that 4 season time frame, have scored at least 40 goals 100 points and played at least 200 NHL games. The 31-name list (excluding Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Wayne Simmonds, all of whom passed 25 in the middle of this stretch): John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jakub Voracek, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Logan Couture, Derek Stepan, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James van Riemsdyk, Evander Kane, Kyle Turris, Sam Gagner, Ryan Johansen, Marcus Johansson, Jeff Skinner, Tyler Ennis, Adam Henrique, Nazem Kadri, Mikkel Boedker, Craig Smith, Cody Hodgson, Colin Wilson, Josh Bailey, Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Lars Eller.

Among the names on this list, Schenn ranks 21st in games played, 26th in goals, 28th in assists, 28th in points, and 28th in PPG. So there’s some evidence to suggest that while Schenn has been overall pretty good relative to his peers in his age group, he’s not the elite young player that many segments of Flyers fans and seemingly by a large portion of the larger NHL audience view him as.

 

This graph from Arctic Ice Hockey shows how NHL scoring is affected by age, and the numbers are interesting. While its natural to think that Schenn is still young and developing, the fact of the matter is that statistically speaking, he should be entering his prime in the next three seasons. If Schenn doesn’t start to show some improvement, Flyers fans might soon have to face the realization that Schenn, for better or worse, is what he is: a scoring winger who doesn’t drive possession, needs to be sheltered defensively, and doesn’t score at an elite level.

And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that! Schenn is still a useful player now, and he has the potential to be even more useful down the line. For whatever reason, he’s struggled to fit with Giroux and Voracek on the top line, but there’s nothing wrong with being a roughly 20 goal, 50 point player as a 2nd line forward. Especially at a cost-controlled $2.25M for this year and next, that’s a steal. But it’s clear at least to me that Schenn is never going to be a bona fide top line forward, and his lack of possession driving, defensive acumen, or generally any other NHL skill means, to me, he’s expendable in the right deal.

schenncomp

This picture showing Schenn’s rankings relative to other NHL forwards from the start of the lockout season until now does a great job of breaking down my biggest issue with Brayden Schenn: he doesn’t do any one thing particularly well. He’s not particularly big or fast or sound defensively or elite offensively. He doesn’t have a great shot. He just sort of exists, playing top-6 minutes and performing decently but somewhat unspectacularly in them.

Am I looking to move Brayden Schenn at all costs? No, certainly not. He has value, especially on his current contract. I still think Schenn has some game left in him that he hasn’t tapped yet—I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t end up hitting 20 goals and 50 points multiple times in his career–but if the Flyers can commandeer a bona fide top-line LW or a young, relatively cost-controlled top-4 defenseman with Schenn as the centerpiece of the package, the Flyers would be remiss not to at least consider it. And if you’re asking me whether I would rather have Scott Laughton or Schenn going forward, I’d take Laughton: he’s got probably 75% of the upside and he’ll be cost-controlled for much longer, an important factor for a cap team like the Flyers. The idea of Brayden Schenn as an elite young NHL forward is a nice one and it’d be great if it was true, but the fact of the matter is that Schenn’s star as well as his future NHL potential have both been dimming in recent years and I’d rather another team find out that he’s not what people thought he’d be before the Flyers do.