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by Anthony SanFilippo / Philadelphia Flyers

PHILADELPHIA – Every Sport has an age or experience threshold that is supposed to be the tell-tale for a player’s talent potential.

In baseball, hitters are supposed to have that big year when they turn 27-years-old. In football, wide receivers are supposed to finally become a focal point of the offense in their third season.

Like their gridiron counterparts, hockey forwards are expected to have that coming-of-age season in their third NHL campaign.

It’s usually a contract year, a make-or-break season for a player where they either land the big money deal and become an upper echelon player, or the year where they fall off the prospect shelf and the following season find themselves hunting for work or a team to gamble on them on the cheap.

The Flyers have several such forwards – Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo and, of course, Brayden Schenn.

Technically this is the fifth season Schenn will play in the NHL, but the reality is he played one game as an 18-year-old and eight games as a 19-year-old with the Los Angeles Kings before coming to Philly.

Nine games in two years does not a season make, so while it’s officially his fifth NHL season, It’s really only the third campaign where Schenn is a full-time member of the big club.

Brayden Schenn thinks he can have his best NHL season to date in 2013-14 for the Flyers.

Nevertheless, it’s going to be a big year for Schenn for a number of reasons, but a motivating factor is the fact that he becomes a restricted free agent at season’s end and is going to be looking for a new deal.

But, it’s also an effort to prove his worth to a team where he can be a solid fixture for years to come if he has that breakout season both he and the Flyers are hoping for.

“I expect big things out of myself this year,” Schenn said. “I always want to keep progressing, keep producing more and continue to move forward in my development. I expect a big year out of myself here. I’m entering my third (full) year and it’s obviously a huge year for me. I look forward to the increased opportunities as well as the challenges ahead.

“It’s a big year, not only for me but for this team. As a team we have big time expectations. We are a really good team on paper, now we all have to go out there and prove it.”

Schenn, 22, need only look to his brother Luke to see how the big step can be taken in that expected year of experience. While the common belief is that it takes forwards three seasons to have that spike in production, there is an equivalent ideology that suggests it takes defensemen five years to have that cathartic season.

Luke Schenn’s fifth season was with the Flyers in 2012-13, and it was one where he went from a shaky prospect – as he was in Toronto – to a solid and reliable defenseman, as he proved to be with the Flyers.

“Luke took those strides last year as one of our stay-at-home, go-to, type of defenders, playing a lot of minutes and playing in different roles for us,” coach Peter Laviolette pointed out. “I think when you talk about younger players like Brayden, you want to see where they go and what their development is, but there are certain expectations we have too, not just for individual players, but all of our players collectively.”

One of those expectations for Brayden Schenn this season may be a permanent shift to left wing.

The Flyers have experimented with that over the past year – starting Schenn on the left wing with Sean Couturier at center while the two were playing for the Adirondack Phantoms during the lockout, and then later trying Schenn out as a winger with Claude Giroux and later with Danny Briere.

“My natural position is center but if they’re going to put me on the wing, I have to be comfortable there too,” he said. “The past couple of years when I played with Danny I played on the left wing. I never did that in my career until I came here, but now I’m more used to it and more comfortable. Wherever they put me I’ll be sure I’m comfortable and ready to go.”

And where he ends up remains a mystery at this point in camp.

Laviolette has been juggling guys around a little bit trying to find the right fits.

It’s pretty certain that Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek will be together and Vinny Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds will be together, but beyond that, the opening night line pairings still appear to be in flux.

Schenn could just as easily end up on any of the top three lines, playing left wing with Giroux, Lecavalier, or even on a third line with Couturier and Read.

Schenn's versatility, allowing him to fill several roles in the lineup, is what makes him so valuable to the Flyers this season.

“You never know how it’s going to unfold,” Schenn said. “But whatever opportunity arises, I’m going to try to take full advantage of it. Whether I’m playing center, or on the wing – we have two elite centers in [Giroux] and Vinny. They’re top players in the game and other guys on the line are important too, so I’m just going to do what I can to contribute in whatever role I’m asked to play.”

And while Schenn doesn’t know yet where he’ll end up, the fact that he’s capable of playing in several roles is what makes him all the more valuable to the team this season.

“Anytime a player can move around the lineup in different positions,” Laviolette said. “And Brayden, along with Matt Read can really do that for us – they can play the point on the power play, they can kill penalties they can play physical, they can play a checking role or a more skilled approach - that versatility not only helps the team, but it also helps the player individually as they learn their place within the team.”

And Schenn is thrilled that he still has a place on the team, despite rampant rumors at the end of last season and leading into the summer months with the draft and free agency that the Flyers would have to break up their young core if they were going to make things work within the salary cap.

Yet, Paul Holmgren and assistant general manager (and resident capologist) Barry Hanrahan found a way to make it work, and kept this young collection of third-year pros together for another run together.

“It’s unbelievable that [Holmgren] was able to do that,” Schenn said. “All of us are really close and really tight. We’re a good bunch of young guys and we’re really loose around each other and have a lot of fun. But it is our third year together now so we have to get going. It’s a huge year. We have to prove that we are a contending team and not just say that we are.”

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37

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