Flyers' Braydon Coburn: This isn't his first rodeo

ASSOCIATED PRESS Braydon Coburn has come a long way from being 'a skate-as-fast-as-I-can-all-over-the-place kind of cowboy.'
ASSOCIATED PRESS Braydon Coburn has come a long way from being 'a skate-as-fast-as-I-can-all-over-the-place kind of cowboy.'
Posted: February 12, 2013

HE HAS BEEN in Philadelphia longer than Kimmo Timonen. Longer than Danny Briere, too, and Scott Hartnell. Take it further, Braydon Coburn's tenure here exceeds Doc Halladay's and Cliff Lee's and Shady McCoy's and, well, pretty much every pro athlete in this town save the thirtysomethings who still make up the core of the Phillies.

He is in his seventh season as a Philadelphia Flyer, Coburn is, and it seems finally, that we may be warming to him. Still only 27 years old, he is no longer the defenseman fans dread seeing out there in a big moment, is no longer the defenseman that he himself described the other day as "a skate-as-fast-as-I-can-all-over-the-place kind of cowboy."

He meant the old, er, younger Braydon Coburn, the one who arrived here in a trade with Atlanta in February 2007, a few days shy of his 22nd birthday and with just a few dozen NHL games on his resume. The Braydon Coburn who now skates onto the Wells Fargo ice is no cowboy. He is one of the Flyers' most dependable ranch hands.

"A rock," his coach, Peter Laviolette, called him the other day.

Laviolette has watched the transformation take place from the first day he stepped foot in the Flyers' dressing room until now. In truth, he has facilitated it.

"The first day I walked in here, you would notice Chris Pronger right away," said the coach. "Then Kimmo. There's been an expansion of his role and his value to the team since. And I don't mean to devalue his role when I first got here . . . but I thought that when we went through the playoffs that year and got to the finals, I thought you really did notice how he and Matt Carle escalated and were really outstanding.

"We had other good defensemen, too, but those four . . . really anchored things. And by the end of those playoffs, I thought you really realized how important Coby was to this team."

Well, maybe he did. Appreciation for Coburn has been slow and subtle, though, from the demanding Flyers faithful. Some of that has to do with first impressions and some of it has to do with his style of play. Coburn, who is 6-5, 226 pounds, is neither intimidating or particularly prolific. He can hit, and he can shoot, and his speed - especially on this bigger, slower, reconstructed Flyers defense - has been invaluable.

But including his one this season, Coburn has scored just a dozen goals over the last four seasons, and has eclipsed 30 points just once in his career. He's not often the first, second or third star of the game. Even when he really is.

Some of it also has to do, to be honest, with lasting impressions - once a cowboy, always a cowboy. Whether it had to do with his youth or living up to his status as a first-round pick (eighth overall in 2003), or a combination of both, but Coburn's first few seasons here were memorable for the wide disparity in his play. For one night, one week, sometimes as many as 10 games, he could look like an emerging star, using his legs, wide reach and judicious physicality to bottle up some of the league's better snipers. But then those maddening lulls would occur, marked by horrific giveaways and those yeehaw runarounds of his.

"Not to speak just about Coby, but there's always players who battle with their confidence," Laviolette was saying. "A guy like Danny Briere, I don't know too many guys who have scored more playoff points than him since the lockout. He may be one of the better ones of all time. But I know for sure he's gone through stretches when he hasn't scored in eight games, and you bring him in to talk to him and he says, 'I just don't have any confidence right now.'

"On defense, it just shows a little bit more. When a forward doesn't score, there's not a direct reflection on the scoreboard. When a defender doesn't defend, there's something bad happening in the back of your net. But I think everybody battles that at least a little bit at some point."

Sitting at his dressing room stall after practice last week, Coburn smiled when told that it seems like he's been in a Flyers uniform even longer than he has: that he now seems much older and wiser than his 27 years.

"Personally, time's gone by pretty quick," he said. "Like getting here was yesterday. But in the same breath, I think of some of the teammates I've had and some of the guys who were here when I got here. Guys like Hatch and Lappy [Derian Hatcher and Ian Laperriere]. These guys are upstairs. Prongs is gone . . . "

Hatcher was the veteran defenseman when he arrived. Pronger's arrival seems to have triggered a settling down of his play, or at least served as a catalyst. Coburn's seat in the dressing room was alongside Pronger's when he was here, and remains a short distance from Timonen's. Hatcher, when he played, was along that row, too.

"You kind of learn a little bit from everybody," Coburn said. "With Prongs, you kind of knew exactly knew when to bear down . . . He would always tell me, 'Just be strong. Be strong!' With Kimmo, it's more cerebral. He's trying to figure out what a team is doing before they're doing it. Hatch was really a combination of both. You watch guys like that and try to be a sponge and absorb as much as you can.

"The way these guys step up to the challenge and the way they do things out on the ice - they always present themselves as if they're in control. You try to learn from that."

That, more than anything, is what Coburn brings to the ice these days. These days, Laviolette calls him "a 30-minute guy." It is the greatest compliment a coach can bestow upon a defenseman, an endorsement of his ability, intelligence and, above all, professionalism. Braydon Coburn is the veteran nowadays, the pro's pro from whom someone else is learning.

"When I got here, I was a young guy, 22 years old," he said. "A lot has happened in my life since then. I've grown up a lot . . . I've been married and had a kid, too. There's a maturation process for everything. And you start putting things in line, start figuring out how to be a pro. You have to do things that you know you need to take care of yourself and be ready. And make sure you're putting your best foot forward with the team while also taking care of being an everyday person and having a family. You learn from your parents and from your friends and from your teammates.

"Really, it makes you feel more complete."

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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