With the 2019-20 NHL regular season likely over, we can fully evaluate individual players from the Philadelphia Flyers. This time we look at Justin Braun.
Because of the moves that the Philadelphia Flyers made to bring in the likes of Kevin Hayes and Matt Niskanen last offseason, their acquisition of defenseman Justin Braun for the price of two draft picks went largely under the radar. And that’s fitting, because it’s how Braun has played his whole career.
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For nine years, Braun was a steady presence on the blueline for the San Jose Sharks, an un-flashy type who could give you about 20 points per season but who had most of his value in a shutdown role. The Sharks iced some extremely talented and deep teams during that time, with Braun being relied on to keep opposing offenses at bay while his more offensively gifted defense-mates supported the forward group and handled the scoring. The Flyers had no illusions about what they were getting with Braun.
The problem was that Braun seemed to be missing a step for the last couple seasons, and all signs were indicating that a player on the wrong side of 30 had now entered his decline. Still, the Flyers liked what they saw and thought he could have value as part of a very young defense group and youthful team overall.
Braun has delivered about what you’d expect offensively this year with 3 goals and 16 assists in 62 games, though his point totals have been bizarrely bunched, with all three of his goals coming in a five-game span around New Year’s and Braun tallying a pair of three-assist games back in February when he was playing some of his best hockey this year. He’s basically put up more than half of his points on the year over a couple “hot weeks”, at least for him.
But more important is his work in his own end, which has been fairly good this season. For starters, Braun has received just 17:16 of ice time per game with the Flyers, a far cry from the 20+ minutes per night that he averaged in San Jose over each of the last six years. It’s hard to tell if the Flyers planned to use him this way all along or if they’re merely doing their best to shelter him while Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers take on bigger roles. Either way, you can see the logic in it.
Braun topped the 19-minute mark nine times in his first 36 games played this year, but he hasn’t done it a single time in his last 26 games. And it’s largely worked, as Braun hasn’t looked out of place and has never been in danger of losing his slot in the lineup. Plus, this way, he’ll be fresher for the playoffs, if they ever arrive.
Still, one wonders if this is the end of the road for him, with decreased usage and an expiring contract that the Flyers might only be willing to extend at a bargain rate with the understanding that Braun would be a 6D/7D swingman-type, going in and out of the lineup on a regular basis.
Overall, Braun has been effective enough. His advanced analytics show that he hasn’t been a liability for the club, and he’s playing at the same level or perhaps slightly better than he has for the last few years. Meanwhile, he seems to have brought some kind of leadership to the room, which was probably a big selling point for the Flyers to begin with.