The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October.
In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances.
Today we will be looking at Justin Braun's first season as a Flyer.
There was a lot of controversy at first when the Flyers traded for Braun, but I’ve always viewed the move as pretty low-risk. Giving up draft picks always has the potential to come back and haunt a team, but after spending years of building up their prospects, it was time for the Flyers to use some picks in a different light.
Bringing in a well-experienced veteran on the blue line for one season has very little downfall — and even though he might not have checked off every box in regard to expectations, it was still a significant upgrade to what the Flyers were looking like leadership-wise on defense.
Braun often blended in with play — which is actually a pretty good thing. While he isn’t the flashiest of players, he rarely stood out in a way that hurt the Flyers during a game. His style also balanced out Travis Sanheim when the two were paired together, which allowed the young defenseman to prosper and become even more reliable than in previous seasons.
Through his 62 games played, he averaged 17:16 of ice time, had 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) and was tied for second on the Flyers in blocks with 84. The 33-year-old has worked well in Philadelphia and given his experience in the playoffs during his time with the Sharks, he’s sure to be a strong asset moving toward the postseason.
Braun gets a B from me.
While previously spending his entire nine-year career in San Jose, Braun added yet another veteran presence to the Flyers' blue line in the offseason. Chuck Fletcher had many goals when building this team and a big focus was improving the blue line — which had a major responsibility for the team allowing the third-most goals against in the league in 2018-19.
Braun had NHL experience of defending against some of the league’s best and that experience paid off, especially when the Flyers had been up against some of the top teams in the league. His presence was utilized in different ways throughout the regular season, wherever he was in the lineup or whoever he was paired with. Him and Sanheim were solid when they were on the second pair during the regular season — I believe he helped improve Sanheim’s game tremendously.
The Flyers knew they weren’t going to get a high-scoring defenseman out of Braun, but that’s not what was most important. They wanted a player that would overall improve the defensive group and be that steadying presence they so desperately needed.
He gets an A-.
The thing I’ve really liked about Braun is the impact he’s had on some of the young defensive players around him. There was a good chunk of the season when Braun was paired with Sanheim and during that time I recall Sanheim saying Braun’s presence made him feel more comfortable getting involved offensively.
Beyond that, he’s added a calming veteran presence in the locker room and brings lots of postseason experience from his years with San Jose. He was a mainstay on the Flyers' penalty kill and logged upward of 17 minutes of ice time per game. Pretty much contributed what you’d hoped a veteran defenseman would on the ice and in the locker room.
Braun was brought in to provide veteran leadership on the blue line, which he did. However, it appeared for much of the season that the veteran had lost a step.
That’s not to say Braun didn’t have moments, particularly later in the season, when we saw the true value of his presence in the lineup. The true value of a guy like Braun may be yet to come however — with 84 playoff games under his belt, his experience could prove to be a huge asset in the playoffs. Braun has been in the playoffs each of his eight previous seasons.
For Braun, I’m going to give him a C. Quite frankly, if a defenseman who has been in the league as long as Braun cannot pull at least a C, he probably should not be in your lineup.
Early on, as Braun showed some difficulty staying in front of opposing skaters attacking on the rush, people were incited to debate why the Flyers gave up a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2020 third-round selection last summer for the veteran defenseman.
The questioning of the trade was fair. Braun is a keep-it-simple, don’t-do-too-much type of blueliner who is at his best when he’s quickly killing plays, utilizing his active stick and limiting time in the defensive zone, which he was struggling to do.
But when Braun was healthy and the Flyers surged, he was very good.
After his rough start and missing time in January because of a groin injury, from just before Christmas up until the stoppage, he was one of the Flyers' best defensemen (14 points and a plus-11 rating in 26 games).
He was a factor in the Flyers’ drastic goal-prevention improvement from last season as the team went from allowing 3.41 goals per game in 2018-19 to 2.77 this season. The Flyers also acquired a second-round pick last summer on Day 1 of the draft and then moved up on Day 2 to take Bobby Brink at 34th overall, so losing that second-round selection doesn’t sting as much.
With all that said, how about a B- for the 33-year-old Braun, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
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