A year and a half ago, Chris Pronger was the unquestioned leader of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Former captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were shipped out of town. Pronger was the de facto choice to wear the captain’s patch.
Thirteen games into his captaincy, Pronger’s career was over.
Pronger could command a locker room with his presence alone. No words were needed. Today Pronger uses that same presence to help the Flyers in a different way. Although he may never play another meaningful NHL game, Pronger’s impact is still felt in the Philadelphia locker room. Just ask defenseman Luke Schenn.
During last season’s training camp, the Flyers’ Twitter account posted a picture of Pronger and Schenn together. Fifteen years his senior, Pronger decided to make the 23-year-old his project. The results speak for themselves. The elder Schenn was the surprise of the 2013 season.
On paper, no. 22 looked good last year. He led the team in blocked shots, led all defensemen in hits and was the most durable defenseman, missing only one game because of the flu.
Schenn also logged big minutes with the club, which shows the faith coach Peter Laviolette had in him. In his final season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Schenn averaged just 16 minutes of ice time per game. During the 2013 season, Schenn averaged nearly 22 minutes per game. What may have been his most impressive feat came April 15 against the Montreal Canadiens. Schenn played nearly 33 minutes against the Habs. The next day, Schenn logged just over 24 minutes.
Advanced statistics tell us Schenn faced many tough opponents and held his own against them defensively.
So what caused this dramatic improvement? Schenn told James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail about his session with Pronger.
“He’s been helping me out since the start of training camp,” Schenn said. “He always checks up on me, and it’s a real luxury to get his help. After the last game, he came and sat with me on the plane and we watched some video and he showed me a bunch of things.
“A lot of these things, probably the best coaches couldn’t pick up, just because he’s a future Hall of Fame guy and won at every level. He just has a lot of little tips that a guy like Chris Pronger can only give you.”
Pronger aided Schenn on his defensive positioning and how to play defensively with the stick.
As the draft approaches, rumors have surfaced that the Flyers may be eyeing a defenseman if he is the best available player at no. 11. Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen and Schenn are a part of a young group of players poised for a future with the Orange and Black. Looking toward the future, this young crop of defensemen could make great leaps with Pronger as their mentor.
(H/T to Broad Street Hockey for the breakdown on Schenn.)