Brayden Schenn, only 19 but talking like a big-market player

Brayden Schenn, acquired in trade for Mike Richards, works out at Flyers SkateZone.
Brayden Schenn, acquired in trade for Mike Richards, works out at Flyers SkateZone. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff photographer)
Posted: July 07, 2011

IT'S JUST SHORT of a declarative statement, but the Flyers expect Brayden Schenn to play for the big club all of next season - and maybe play big for it, too. Yes, Wayne Simmonds also will be a valuable piece, and yes, they still expect to come to terms with him on a new contract, but if the kid is toiling with the Phantoms in Glens Falls in October and Mike Richards is pumping them in on the Left Coast, there will be quite the queasy feeling around here.

It has made answering questions more challenging than usual this summer for Paul Holmgren. The Flyers' general manager said again yesterday that none of the fresh faces on the ice at SkateZone this week have a job sewn up, but any time the conversation extended from there it appeared that he has made at least one exemption. Holmgren is already fond of dubbing Schenn, the highly touted prospect who was the linchpin to the Richards trade, "the best player outside of the NHL last year," and if you take this literally, it means Schenn is right now better than Jaromir Jagr. So why wouldn't he be part of this team?

He will be, of course. I'm told the club is even quietly seeking housing outside of Philadelphia for the 19-year-old, if you get the drift. Because he's so refreshingly honest, Holmgren also slipped in Schenn's name yesterday when discussing what the team might look like when it opens up in Boston on Oct. 6. Asked again whether the Flyers had taken a step back trading away its two homegrown stars in a span of hours, Holmgren quickly responded, "Not in our mind. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That's our goal every year."

By definition then, Schenn and the others acquired should be expected to contribute this season, not the next. Right?

"Absolutely," Holmgren said. "But there's some insulation there when it comes to the other guys around him. Claude Giroux and Danny Briere and Max Talbot. Guys like that who are experienced and have played a lot of playoff games over the last few years . . .

"It's not like we're asking them to make a huge impact."

By "them" he means not just Schenn, but the unsigned Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and first-round draft pick Sean Couturier, who was also on the ice yesterday. But it's Schenn wearing the bull's-eye. If he develops slowly, if he proves to be just OK, and Richards flourishes in a less-scrutinized environment, this is the deal that taunts and haunts the Flyers for years to come.

Schenn gets this, embraces it even. "There's a lot of expectations on us," he said of himself and Simmonds. "But for us, we can't change anything we do just because we got traded for a big-name player like Mike Richards."

That's Brayden channeling older brother Luke, who plays in pressure-packed Toronto and who was in the car when his little brother got the news of his trade 2 weeks ago. Luke Schenn is about to enter his fourth season as a stay-at-home defenseman with the Maple Leafs, and his career so far has vacillated from being named to the All-Rookie team one season to being a healthy scratch at times the next. By the end of last year however, Leafs coach Ron Wilson had described him as "great" during one span of games, and he even wore an "A" on his shirt for a short period during a spate of injuries.

"Playing in Toronto there's tons of media there," his little brother said. "Every game, every practice. Everyone watches your every move. You've got to act professional. There's obviously a lot more pressure playing in a bigger market."

There was excitement in his voice as he said this. The younger brother has had his own hockey trials already, struggling two winters ago as a member of Team Canada during the World Junior Championships, then bouncing back last winter to tie Canada's points record in the same tournament and being named MVP, despite suffering a separated shoulder during a quarterfinal game.

Brayden Schenn said it taught him a little about expectations. And pressure. "First year there I was a little timid," he said. "Second year you feel like you want to be that guy, that top player or top forward."

When he, Simmonds and Voracek were introduced to the local media here a few days after the trade, Voracek dismissively answered a question about moving from small market to big market, saying that hockey is the same game regardless of where it is played. Schenn's not thinking that way. "Obviously it makes a difference," he said. "Some guys in a small market do better. Some guys thrive in big markets.

"That's the player I want to be.

"Just talking to my brother, I think I know how to handle it. If you have a bad game or you stink one night, you've got to face everyone. That's the reality of the game. Playing in a big market like this or Toronto, there's huge expectations. More than other markets. But that's a good thing."

You know what else is a good thing? That he thinks that way. At age 19.

Makes you think that queasy feeling may never come.

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