X-Factor: Coburn has developed into glue on blue line
When Braydon Coburn arrived in Philadelphia in 2007, he was viewed as big, rangy, offensive-minded defenseman with outstanding skating ability.
Five years later, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Coburn has emerged as the Flyers' top shut-down defenseman, using his world-class speed to blanket opposing scorers and skate the puck out of trouble in the defensive zone.
Coburn's performance against the best players from other teams has been a major reason for Philadelphia's success this season. It has also been an absolute necessity in the absence of Chris Pronger, who has been out for all but a few games this season and has been ruled out of returning during the postseason.
"He's playing a lot of minutes against real good players and has done a really nice job of defending," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "His importance on the team, it flies under the radar when you talk about Pronger being out of the lineup or Kimmo [Timonen] was out for a little bit, yet he quietly comes in here every day and does an amazing job for us. We need to have that from [Coburn]. He plays a lot of minutes, and they're important minutes … and he's done a nice job."
Coburn averages more than 22 minutes per game and is among the plus/minus-rating leaders among the team's defensemen. He also ranks in the top five on the team in in blocked shots, hits and takeaways. Additionally, he's on the top penalty-killing unit, on the ice in any key defensive situation and consistently head-to-head against the opposition's best lines.
This defensive makeover is a role Coburn has come to relish.
"I enjoy playing against the other team's top players," Coburn told NHL.com. "It's fun. It's a real good test every single night. It's a good way to make sure you're staying sharp because you know those guys are so talented. Every team has players that are world-class players. It's always fun to play against those players."
While he may be drawing more attention for his shut-down skills in Pronger's absence, Coburn is the same now as he's always been, according to Laviolette.
"Since I've gotten here, he's been a reliable guy that's been available consistently to go out and play a lot of minutes against the top players in the League," Laviolette said. "People have asked me about him and if he's picked up his game. He's been really good since I've gotten here. … He's been a steady influence on our back end. It really hasn't changed since a guy like Chris has been out. Maybe his role picks up a few extra minutes here and there, but he's somebody we counted on two years ago and somebody we're counting on tonight."
While he holds a position of importance on the team, Coburn said he doesn't mind existing outside the spotlight.
"Whatever they ask me to do, that's what my goal is and my focus is, to do the best I can," he said.
While Coburn doesn't mind being overlooked, his teammates know just how valuable he is.
"He's one of our defensive specialists," Claude Giroux told NHL.com. "He racks up a lot of minutes on the penalty kill and 5-on-5. And any time it's down to the wire at the end of the game, he's always on the ice because we need him there."
Coburn may have the most points he has had in three seasons, but the veteran defenseman says he measures his value in one stat:
"Team wins," he said.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK