VOORHEES, N.J. – It was easy to miss amidst all of the excitement of nearly 4,000 people descending on Skate Zone for the opening of Flyers training camp.
After the applause died down and the smart phones and cameras were fired up to get photos or video of the hockey team the fans hadn’t seen since last May, just watching drills and skating was candy for the eye.
And while it was just thrilling to see all those orange, white, black (and grey) practice jerseys skating with coach Peter Laviolette barking instruction and tweeting his whistle, a more trained eye would have taken note who was getting all the work on the right wing with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
It wasn’t Jakub Voracek, as so many expected. Instead, it was Brayden Schenn.
And while the first day of training camp shouldn’t be assumed to be an indicator of what the season will bring, Schenn on the top line will be more than a one day experiment.
And why not?
Much like a lot of teams around the NHL viewed him when he was drafted, the Flyers saw a future top line stalwart in Schenn when they acquired he and Wayne Simmonds from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Mike Richards prior to last season.
Schenn had trouble getting off the blocks last season with a few significant injuries limiting his time.
But once he got into a groove, Schenn was a good forward for the Flyers with a lot of promise. He played well against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.
And then this season, during the lockout, Schenn went down to the Adirondack Phantoms and was the best player on the team, scoring 33 points in 31 games.
Now, in just his second season with the Flyers, he is poised for a breakout campaign – and no better a chance to have that kind of season then by playing with Giroux.
“Opportunity is the first word that comes to mind for me,” Schenn said. “It’s a great opportunity for me and I need to take advantage of it. I get to play with one of the top players in the league and we have a big body on the left side in Hartnell who had a great season last year too. So, I’m getting a chance and I have to make the most of it.”
A natural center, Schenn is just as comfortable on the wing, saying he only has to make minor adjustments to play the position.
He played briefly on the wing last season with Danny Briere and has played on the wing a little with Sean Couturier with the Phantoms.
Expectations are definitely higher for Schenn, as well as fellow second-year forwards Couturier, Zac Rinaldo and Matt Read.
“They’ll all play a bigger role,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “They all had a great experience in the minors where they got an opportunity to experience [an expanded role].
“I went down to see them and you always like to see guys playing games as opposed to practice because you get more of a feel for what somebody does, how a coach uses them and how they handle those situations and how they respond. That was a benefit of sending a lot of our players down there.
“There’s no question that the expectation is a lot of our young players will see expanded roles to penalty kill or power play, or moving up to play higher up in the lineup and playing more minutes. It’s a natural progression with young players and we’ll certainly see that with our group.”
We saw it the first day with Schenn on the top line and Couturier on the second unit as well as both working together on the second power play unit with Matt Read, Andrej Meszaros and newly-signed defenseman Kurtis Foster.
But Schenn will see the spotlight on him a little more if he plays on the top line. The Flyers wanted to see if he could handle it, and had him on the top line for the Phantoms, also playing top unit power play as well as in shorthanded situations.
“You go down there and play 25 minutes a night and play in all situations and just play hockey and not worry about the lockout, it helped us,” Schenn said. “It built the confidence up and I feel ready and great going into this year.”
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