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Schenn's spot, Mason repeat among Flyers' X-factors

by Adam Kimelman

The biggest question surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers this season is how their new coach, Dave Hakstol, will handle the adjustment from NCAA hockey to the NHL.

Hakstol is the first coach to jump from the college ranks to the NHL without having played or coached in the League since the Calgary Flames hired Bob Johnson in 1982. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is confident Hakstol will be a success.

"I think Dave is a really good leader," Hextall said. "I think that's the biggest thing that our group is going to notice, his leadership skills. They're off the charts. From what I knew prior, watching him coach and watching him operate, the way he carries himself, his work ethic, he's very calm under pressure. He's got a lot of really good attributes. When I look at it, Dave was like a player in the draft. You're looking at a guy with potential. So when I looked at Dave, it was no different than looking at a player we drafted in this past draft. You see his potential and you get excited."

The Flyers have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice in the past three seasons, including last season when they finished 14 points out of the second Eastern Conference wild card.

Though coaching certainly will play a big role in their fortunes this season, here are three other X-factors that could determine their success:

Finding a position for Brayden Schenn: It's been an up-and-down four seasons for Schenn with the Flyers. A natural center, he's played all three forward spots. He had an NHL career-best 20 goals in 2013-14 and last season had 18 goals and 47 points, a personal best. But three times in the past two seasons he's gone at least six straight games without a point, and 11 times he's gone at least six straight games without a goal, including a 15-game slump last season.

Schenn found his most success at right wing on a line with center Sean Couturier and left wing Matt Read late last season; in eight games together, Schenn had four goals and four assists.

However, there's no guarantee that line will be reunited this season.

"He might have played his best hockey on the right side," Hextall said. "Dave's aware of that, Brayden's aware of it, [but] I don't know if you can take an eight- or 10-game segment and say he's a right winger because he played a good eight or 10 games there. … I'm not going to stake Brayden's future on eight games, but it certainly looked like that was a possibility."

Schenn, unsigned beyond this season, said all he's worrying about is getting off to a solid start.

"Just looking forward to a big year and trying to get better each year," he said.

Steve Mason repeat performance: Mason won 18 games last season, but some of that can be blamed on the defense in front of him; 14 times he allowed two goals or fewer and lost, and he also had overtime losses in two of his three shutouts. He also missed time with injuries to his right knee but said after a long summer that he's feeling 100 percent.

He's also building a rapport with goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh, who was hired July 3.

Hextall worked with Dillabaugh when they were with the Los Angeles Kings and has no doubt the relationship will work well for both.

"Kim has a real good way of handling people," Hextall said. "… Kim is the type of person that will feel [Mason] out and see what he likes to do, go with that, and if he can add something to it, he'll add something. I don't see that being a huge transition for either guy."

Finding room for the kids: The Flyers' top five prospects are defensemen; finding room for one of them will be tough since they started training camp with eight defensemen on one-way contracts. However, most of those players were part of a group that struggled last season against speedy forwards and in transition.

Ivan Provorov (No. 7) and Travis Sanheim (No. 17), their first-round picks at the 2015 and 2014 drafts, respectively, were returned to their junior teams Wednesday. Hextall had said he isn't a fan of the rule that allows teams to keep junior-age players for nine games; if they weren't making the team out of camp, they were being sent back

"If they come in, they're going to have to prove to us and the staff that they're going to make us a better team for 82 games," Hextall said prior to the start of camp.

Samuel Morin (2013, No. 11) was sent to the American Hockey League. Shayne Gostisbehere (2012, No. 78) remains in camp.


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