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A trade for the better
Year as Flyer leaves ex-Hawk more savvy in a lot of ways
To be traded was 'really odd' for Braydon Coburn, but nearly one year after he was dealt from Atlanta to Philadelphia, the former Portland Winter Hawk defenseman couldn't be happier.
After all, the Flyers have given him playing time, let him roam free with the puck and recently signed him to a two-year contract extension worth $2.6 million.
'I went through a little learning stage in Atlanta, and it helped me when I came to Philly,' says Coburn, a mainstay on the Flyers' blue line. 'I can show what I'm able to do and, with that, I'm building my confidence and getting more savvy on the ice.'
Coburn quickly learned the challenges of pro hockey when he left the Winter Hawks after playing here from 2000 to 2005.
He initially wallowed in the Atlanta system, supposedly not a favorite of coach Bob Hartley's. He spent much of his time with the team's American Hockey League Chicago affiliate and began last season there.
'I thought I was playing pretty well (with Atlanta), getting some good ice time in some games, some not,' says Coburn, 22. 'I was learning some valuable lessons.'
But Atlanta was making a push for the playoffs and wanted to add a veteran defenseman to the mix.
'I was expendable, as a young guy,' Coburn says.
So the Thrashers sent Coburn to the Flyers on Feb. 24 for Alexei Zhitnik.
Six winless games into this season, Hartley was fired.
'He liked to play veteran guys and play a short bench,' Coburn says. 'Some games it was tough to get into it - maybe one shift a period. It wasn't that I wasn't getting a chance … but once I got to Philly, I got to taste the other end of the spectrum.'
Coburn had scored two goals and produced 11 assists through 35 games for the Flyers (17-14-4), who sit last in the NHL's five-team Atlantic Division. But things are looking up for Philly, which went from 101 points in 2005-06 to 56 last season.
Coburn will be a restricted free agent - and maybe a much different commodity in the NHL - when his two-year deal expires.
Coach John Stevens, who also got a contract extension, says that with Coburn, 'we're just scratching the surface. If you look at his skill package, he's got great quickness. He's got a combination of quickness and speed.'
Coburn can really skate, and he hasn't changed his game since turning pro. Despite being 6-5 and 220 pounds, he doesn't take dumb penalties with fights or retaliations but tries to stay on the ice, where the team needs him the most.
'Solid' has been the word most used to describe him.
He says he has adjusted to the speed of the game and is 'making decisions quicker, being strong in my own end.'
The toughest adjustment has been away from the game, although he has a pretty good head on his shoulders, having been a good student at Milwaukie High and a Winter Hawk captain.
'You have such support, a support group (in junior hockey), with everybody really close and in high school with you. You're living with families,' he says. 'Here, you find your own place, get your furniture, set up your TV, cook your meals, make sure you're up and get to practice on time. It can be an adjustment. … I was prepared, I knew that day was coming, turning pro. My billets helped me, helping me become responsible.'
Still, it stung to be traded. It tweaked his confidence. He had been the king in Portland, a two-time player for Canada's junior team.
'When I talked with Atlanta, previously, they always made it clear that I was a big part of their future,' he says. 'They tried to make a different deal, but Philly was set on trying to get me, and I was the price tag (for Zhitnik). Once I got here and got settled, I'm definitely happy to be in Philadelphia.'
It'll be tough to make the playoffs, though. Coburn's Flyers stare up at four teams, including the New York Rangers, who sport former Portland teammates Brandon Dubinsky and Marcel Hossa.
Coburn recently played against Buffalo, which includes former Hawk captain Paul Gaustad.
In the future, Coburn might see former Hawk Cody McLeod with the Colorado Avalanche; McLeod scored his first NHL goal last Wednesday night.
For now, all is good in Coburn's world. He missed the worst of it in Philadelphia, where fans love the new players and the return to the Flyers' storied, rough-play past.
He hasn't been booed yet, but he also knows Philly fans aren't so friendly when things go badly.
'They really care a lot,' he says. 'You can't ask for anything else from fans.'