Sunday, April 15, 2012

Brayden Schenn: Getting to Know a Future NHL Star

By Larry Wigge

Brayden Schenn used to get ready for a hockey game by ...

"I used to walk around my house with my skates on," Schenn recalled, laughing. "We had a rink in our yard and by the time I was three years old I was out there with my dad."

The Schenn's, Brayden and his brother Luke, weren't rich ... but they were ready to play hockey at a moment's notice.

"We definitely had the car talks and I remember sitting around the kitchen table and I'd be doing my math homework and hockey would come up and he'd be telling me about this and that," Schenn continued. "But he wouldn't force it on me, it was always me asking him questions because I trusted him and whatever he told me I'd apply and it seemed to work."

We'll get back to that match homework later on. If you ask Brayden or Luke Schenn what they would do with their life if they weren't hockey players, their answer would be the same.

"My dad's a firefighter. If I wasn't a hockey player I'd probably be doing that. I always thought it was pretty cool."

Jeff and Rita Schenn raised two sons who became first round picks in the NHL -- Luke was defenseman picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the fifth pick overall in the 2008 Entry Draft ... Brayden was a center chosen by the Los Angeles Kings with the fifth overall pick one year later.

The Schenn's honest work ethic is engrained by his father. The hard work that each one of them put into making it to the NHL is, well, just natural.

A funny thing happened on Brayden's journey to the show. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers along with right winger Wayne Simonds and a second-round draft choice for captain Mike Richards and minor leaguer Rob Bordson in a blockbuster deal on June 23.

Some might draw some comparisons to the December 19, 1995 trade. Old history. Yes, but still an apt trade, when the Calgary Flames acquired much-heralded prospect Jarome Iginla and veteran center Corey Millen from the Dallas Stars for Joe Nieuwendyk. Iginla, the best hockey player not in the NHL at the time, proved he was true to his reputation in many years later as will Schenn.

Oops! The expectations for Schenn had completely gone off kilter for a 20-year-old kid like Iginla. Even one with so much promise.

If there was any stage fright in the opener of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was gone by the first intermission as the Flyers launched their counter-attack to the Penguins 3-0 lead.

One rookie in particular went to work. That right ... Brayden Schenn, who contributed one goal and two assists and showed signs of being the prototypical big-bodied winger so many teams crave in a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 of the playoffs and added two more assists in Game 3. It at this time, where we kind inject the fact that Brayden had only 12 goals and six assists in 54 games with the Flyers during the regular season.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was one who was ready to give the rookie his due.

"Last night was a big game for Brayden, but it's not something that just popped up," Laviolette said. "He's been a really strong player for us the last half dozen to 10 games."

"He's thick and plays hard and skates well," said Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal, who was often matched against Schenn. "He's another player in the lineup we have to watch out for."

Now, the match questions for those youngsters who were taught to look for tight checking in beyond in the playoffs.

So ... you've got a 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 ... and 8-5 in Game 2 ... and 8-4 in Game 3. Something had gone mysterious wrong. The 20 goals were the most by the Flyers in three games in the team's playoff history. And six of those goals were scored by rookies.

"My father said no matter what the score competitiveness is the key," Brayden recalled in another of a long line of phrases form Jeff Schenn. "The Edmonton Oilers once won a game 10-8. It matters whether both teams are fighting and battling."

How can so many first-year players have such a meaningful impact? Part of it is talent, of course, and part of it is mindset. If you think you are a rookie, you'll play like one -- and we're talking six (count them six) first-year pros in the Flyers lineup. While that would call for many ups and downs you would imagine, not quite. These are veteran players in the making.

Actually, Jaromir Jagr chimed in ...

"My first year (former Penguins coach Bob Johnson) said after 50 games, you're not a rookie anymore," Jagr said. "I think 50 games is what you need in the NHL to feel comfortable.

"They all played the whole season and played great. Most of them have big responsibilities on the team."

Sounds like what former Colorado Avalanche coach Bob Hartley said in one of infamous moments. The man for many sayings said of his Stanley Cup champion Avs remembered, "When you play older guys, they just get older. On the other hand, when you play younger guys, they learn from the experience and get better."


"It speaks volumes about the character in our room," explained Laviolette.

The best player on the ice in the opener wasn't Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh or even Claude Giroux of Philadelphia. It was Schenn.

Schenn's development has been steady ... and with each game you can sense his confidence growing, especially in the latter stages of the season. The only thing holding him back in his rookie seasons has been injuries.

"Every time he hasn't been injured, he's improved by leaps and bounds," Simmonds said. "He's so confident with the puck, he's a big body and he plays the game the right way. You see him improving almost every night he's out there.

"He's not afraid to be physical and he's got a lot of offensive upside."

Trying to replace captain Mike Richards is daunting to say the least. Hard nosed. Rugged. A player who could not only excel on the regular shift, he would kill penalties and play the power play.

That's why this trade was confusing to Flyers fans. But Schenn understood.

"Brayden could be the next Mike Richards," said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

Wow! What, you may ask, was wrong with the original one according to Flyers fans.

"That's one guy I tried to pattern myself after and I've heard people compare me to him," Schenn said. "Now to get traded for him is quite the compliment. He's a Canadian Olympian, he was close to winning the Stanley Cup and he's a great player. For me and Wayne to get traded for him, there might be a little more expectations, but at the same time you have to go out there and not change anything just because you got traded for Mike Richards.

"I'm not Mike Richards. I'm trying to be like him. ... I'm going to try to prove myself and play like him. That's a pretty good compliment from some people saying I do play like him because he is a great player."

The Saskatoon, B.C., native, stands 6-foot, 193-pounds. He says, "I try to play the complete package -- do it all. Hit guys and put up points. That's what I'm all about."

Schenn is a character kid, he's a blue-collar player, he fits into whatever system you use. He's gritty, he's got good hands, he can play the power play, he can be a very, very good penalty killer for us. All those factors you are looking for.

"Dreams don’t always come true, but in our circumstance, we're lucky they did," Brayden said of he and his brother Luke. "You work hard and you push each other along the whole way. Him being a forward, me being a defenseman. We had one-on-one battles growing up as a kid in the backyard rink in Saskatoon."

Memories.  Resiliency.

We're just now getting to know all about Brayden Schenn.

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