This week Darren Dreger reported that the Edmonton Oilers offered the Philadelphia Flyers three 2nd round draft picks in exchange for defenseman Braydon Coburn at the 2013 NHL entry draft. Paul Holmgren turned down the offer, to the distress of many Flyers fans. Over the past few years, Coburn has become the latest Flyers defenseman that is easy to hate. The fact that he was drafted 8th overall, and has all of the physical tools to be a great defenseman makes it even more upsetting when he struggles to succeed.
This season, however, Coburn has emerged as the Flyers top defenseman. He logs big minutes, he makes smart defensive plays, and he uses his skating to break out of the zone smoothly. He is still prone to the occasional mental breakdown, but his mistakes have been kept to a minimum this year. There are a few reasons why I believe Coburn has emerged this season:
CRAIG BERUBE HAS CONFIDENCE IN COBURN
Craig Berube was promoted to the Flyers coaching staff in October of the 2006-2007 season. Coburn was traded to the Flyers at the trade deadline of that same season. Coburn turned 22 three days after being traded to the Flyers and Craig Berube has had a front row seat to his career. Berube has seen the ups and downs, and he knows Coburns’ game as well as anyone.
I do not presume to know anything about their personal relationship, but it is clear that Berube trusts Coburn based upon his ice time. Coburn leads the Flyers in ice time with 22:39 a night and plays an average of 4:02 per game on the penalty kill. Over the Flyers last four games he is averaging 24:45, including an astounding 28:31 against the arch-rival Penguins.
Coburn may not be much of an offensive dynamo, but with Berube’s new defensive minded system, Coburn may just be the guy he needs. Coburn is a smooth skater and is making smart decisions. His size and skating ability make him a great fit for Berube’s system.
COBURN IS A PART OF THE TEAM’S LEADERSHIP GROUP
During the Flyers preseason games, fans got a look at the team’s leaders within the locker room. With the team split on September 16 and the captain out with an injury, six guys had to wear an ‘A’ on their sweater. One of them was Braydon Coburn.
Having been a part of this team for over six seasons gives Coburn a perspective of the team that many of the younger players do not have. Coburn is now 28 years old and is right in the middle of his prime. He is no longer a prospect, and he has shown that by his play and his leadership. During the Flyers early season struggles, you could tell that Coburn had a firm grasp on the reality of the situation by the way that he handled himself and the things that he said.
COBURN HAS BEEN REUNITED WITH TIMONEN
During much of his time in Philadelphia, Coburn has been the defense partner of Kimmo Timonen. Late in the 2011-2012 season the Flyers acquired Nicklas Grossmann and he was immediately paired with Coburn. The duo formed the team’s “shut-down” pair for the 2012 stretch run and the 2013 season. Timonen, on the other hand, was paired with Luke Schenn last year.
At the start of this season, Peter Laviolette reunited Timonen and Coburn. However, Craig Berube put Coburn back with Grossmann upon his ascension to the head coach position. Coburn and Grossmann do not play poorly together; however, they are a one dimensional defense pair. As a unit, they generate very little in terms of offense or puck movement. Coburn and Timonen, on the other hand, have a great mix of size, mobility, defensive awareness, and offensive ability. Being placed with Timonen (who started off VERY poorly this season but is beginning to show glimpses of his former self) gives Coburn more freedom to utilize the special areas of his game.
Following last season, I would have told you that Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson were poised to become the Flyers top blue liners in 2013-2014 and for many years to come. I would have also welcomed a trade of Coburn. However, this year, Braydon Coburn has made himself essential to the success of the team. Coburn may never again reach his 2007-2008 offensive output of 9 goals and 27 assists, but he does not have to. The things he does this year are more important. Coburn logs the most, and hardest, minutes of any Flyer and the trust that Berube has in him is palpable. He has emerged as a leader on this young team and is reunited with his long-time defense partner Kimmo Timonen.
You may not notice Coburn on a nightly basis, but Bryan Way put it best last night, “as is the hallmark of all great defensive defensemen, he goes unnoticed most nights.” If I had to pick a winner of the Barry Ashbee trophy (Flyers best defenseman) at this stage in the season, the answer is clear: Braydon Coburn.