Brayden Schenn buried Vinnie Lecavalier’s feed like Schenn needs to bury last season. In game number one, he took a passout and snapped it past goalie Jonathan Bernier even faster than people forget Schenn still is only 22 years old.
Los Angeles has a Stanley Cup and Philadelphia just one series victory since the Flyers traded a captain at his peak, Mike Richards, for a kid who had played in nine NHL games. So nobody really wants to hear that the Flyers are on a youth kick. But to a large extent they are.
Some of the older defensemen (Andrej Meszaros, Nick Grossman, Kimmo Timonen) need to be healthier than they were last season. And one, 28-year-old Braydon Coburn, has to be much better. But the Flyers’ goalie with the upside, Steve Mason, is only 25, and of their forwards only Lecavalier, Scott Hartnell and Max Talbot are over that age.
Up front, the Flyers are a work in progress, and because progress halted last season, restlessness settled in as early as Wednesday night, when fans were booing at the end of a contest that territorially their team won decisively. That said, Schenn’s goal was the only one the Flyers got in a 3-1 loss. So they can tell themselves this was a game they win eight times out of ten, but they won’t unless they can score.
Not only do the Flyers young feet have to accelerate, they need finish to prove they are not finished in this era as a serious Cup contender. With a lot of the same elements of a power play that was the only bright spot in 2012, plus the addition of a solid point man in Mark Streit, one would think goals with a man advantage will not be a problem. But power plays can be fickle from year to year and, besides, the Flyers need to start scoring at even strength.
So Schenn must develop into the 30-35-goal scorer the organization expects him to be. And too much also is invested in Sean Couturier – Jeff Carter for Jake Voracek and the draft choice that Couturier became – for him to settle for being a career-long defensive specialist. To watch him in the opener, it seemed like a long time ago that Couturier had a hat trick during the 2011 playoff series win in Pittsburgh while frazzling Evgeni Malkin besides. But Couturier did contribute offensively. Still only 20, he may be the third-line center for as long as Lecavalier is playing at a high level, but ultimately Couturier must become a good No. 2 to justify an eighth-overall selection.
Voracek, 24, emerged as a point-a-game player last season, a reasonable expectation of the level expected of him for the peak years he is entering. Matt Read’s 2012 numbers projected over a full 82 games were comparable to what they were in his rookie year. Already 27, Read probably is near his peak. But the guys with plenty of room to grow can’t shrink in 2013-14.
“No question, it is a big year for both Brayden and Sean,” said Paul Holmgren, just as it has become a big one for the GM to have those kids justify the boldest moves of the GM’s career. Both Schenn and Couturier have been given offensive support – Lecavalier centering Schenn, Voracek on the wing with Couturier – so let the full flowering begin.
“A year ago neither were where we need them to be,” said Holmgren. “But I don’t think it was as bad (26 points for Schenn in 47 games, 15 for Couturier in 46) as what people made it out to be.
“Project their totals from 48 games to 82 and they were close to what they had done as rookies. The team stumbled out of the gate, they never got their feet under them, and with other things going on with the team, more fell on their plate, maybe unfairly. Sean also had a lingering injury (sustained in the AHL) coming out of the lockout.
“Maybe, like a lot of second-year players, they took the moderate success of their rookie years for granted, but overall I think [their struggles] were more a function of the whole team.”
The whole team has a mandate for 2013 to prove last season was an aberration of injuries and the short schedule. Schenn’s mandate is to bang, break for the holes and when the pass comes, be as sure of himself as he was on Wednesday night. Couturier’s mandate is to not settle for being a generic checker, but force the big stars he is marking to respect his ability to counter. He has to want to be a 50-60 point a year producer in order to become one.
“There is more there,” said Holmgren. “I think he should be the perfect example of a good two-way player, smart defensively, rarely out of position and a good penalty killer.
“If we used him on the power play, he would produce there. I think he wants to be in offensive positions. During the exhibition season, he put a pass to Hartnell though a couple of sticks to set up a goal.
“Brayden is sill learning the little puck battles that come with experience. Sean is ahead in that regard, has put on some weight to improve his base.”
Going into last season, the Flyers needed defensive help in the short run and invested in a high pick, Luke Schenn, who should be in Philadelphia for the long run. But to get him they traded James van Riemsdyk, a No 2 overall pick who has blossomed as a 30-goal caliber scorer in Toronto.
The Flyers could use some blossoming to go on around here, too.
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