Time for Schenn to Shine?

Time for Schenn to Shine?

Last spring,
there were few bright spots in the Flyers' playoff appearance. They
bounced a hated bunch of Buffalo Sabres in the first round, but at no
point during the regular season's stretch run nor their two rounds of
postseason play did they resemble a team that could win the Stanley Cup.
The "run" will forever be remembered for the club's inability to settle
on a goaltender, a problem they immediately sought to remedy in the
off-season to follow. 

The one true positive we could take from the playoff
experience was the elevated play of James van Riemsdyk. JVR was at
times the best player on the ice, and nearly always the best Flyer. He
was dominant with the puck, using his size to shield off defenders while
also showing great stick skills, scoring seven goals in 11 games. The
tallies came when it really counted too, with a goal in each of the last
three games of the Buffalo series, followed by three goals over the
first two in the Boston matchup, when the team was in shambles around
him. 

After the Flyers were bounced and Paul Holmgren
overhauled the roster, the hope was that JVR's progress would continue
in his third NHL season. For a variety of reasons, most notably
injuries, it did not. But a number of players have stepped up their
games, including veterans like Scott Hartnell, Max Talbot, and Wayne
Simmonds (still just 23, but technically a vet) while Claude Giroux
brought his to the Hart Trophy level. For the Flyers to enjoy any
success this regular season and in the playoffs though, their deep cast
of rookies will need to be major contributors. 

Surprising rookie Matt Read is a big part of the
Flyers' scoring depth and will be called on to continue lighting the
lamp, while first-round pick Sean Couturier will be charged with slowing
the league's hottest attack. Along with Eric Wellwood, a handful of
rookies are critical to the Flyers' chances for eliminating the Penguins
and could prove to be breakout performers in the playoffs, but for the
purposes of this post, let's take a look at why Brayden Schenn should
continue his rise when the bright lights are on, emerging as a
difference-maker like JVR did last year.

Pedigree and Stepping Into PotentialMike
Richards is one of the league's best two-way forwards, gritty, and the
club's former captain, so the price for his services was going to be
high. Schenn was seen as an elite NHL prospect when the Flyers acquired
him along with Simmonds, and we've lately begun to see why. He picked up
a huge goal against the Pens in the season finale before the game went
to the zoo, and he played some of his best hockey of the season. Harry Z
may have been the name added to the lineup when Giroux was scratched,
but Schenn took it on himself to be the force that replaced G. 

Not just a scorer, Schenn's shown no reluctance in
mixing it up. You may have seen a clip or two about him nonchalantly
crosschecking Sidney Crosby to the ice
in the penultimate Flyers-Pens
game of the season series.

Briere's BackAlthough he had a down
season production-wise and has had to battle injuries up to and
including the final week of the season, Danny Briere is a primetime
playoff performer. He makes those around him excel too, as we saw when
he centered the previously quiet Ville Leino and the previously slumping
Scott Hartnell two springs ago. They went on to be among the most
productive lines in Flyers postseason history. Now flanking Danny? A
versatile power forward having a career year and a fifth overall pick. 

Hopefully Danny is healthy after taking a jarring hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale. He is expected to be ready for game 1.

Wayne TrainSimmonds
has been crashing crease parties like a boss, resulting in some tip ins
and garbage goals for #17 (not to mention one off his FACE), but also
some screened efforts from others. He's also been tireless in pursuit of
pucks along the boards. Both could result in some good opportunities
for Schenn, as well as Briere.

Shadow of the G UnitThe Penguins will be
trying to get their best defenders on the ice when Giroux, Hartnell, and
Jaromir Jagr take their shifts. That should provide a slightly better
set of matchup circumstances for Briere's line. Every skater will be
feeling the pressure of postseason hockey and the energy of a packed
building, but there could be an advantage to not being the guy
everyone's expecting to carry the team.

In all, the Flyers appear ready to dress six
rookies: Schenn, Read, Couturier, Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman
Marc-Andre Bourdon. Reliance on rookies isn't often cited as a means
toward a successful Stanley Cup run, and the Flyers are certainly
counting on young players not to wilt in a playoff battle against the
team believed by many to be the favorites to win it all. 

Will these rookies have enough to hold off a veteran
group that includes some of the league's elite, players who know what
it takes to win for two spring months? 
Who do you think is the most likely Flyer to have a breakout performance in the postseason?

Hopefully this isn't one long jinx for Schenner...


US Presswire photos

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.